The DOL on a Roll – More FFRCA Q&As Issued

Posted on: March 31, 2020 0

by Marti Cardi, Esq – Vice President Product Compliance

March 31, 2020

 

In the fast-paced COVID-19 world, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued more Questions and Answers about the Families First Corona Virus Reponses Act (FFCRA).  And not only are we now up to 59 questions (a good indicator of how tough it is to understand the FFCRA), but in the latest issue the DOL went back and revised some of the answers given just the day before!!  You can find the current full set of Q&As, the gift that keeps on giving, here.

This discussion includes material revisions to DOL answers previously provided in earlier versions of the Q&A, and coverage of Questions 15 through 59.  For even more information, see my post about the act itself as passed, and this post with analysis of the first 14 questions. (How cute that seems now – it seems like just yesterday!)   

Even though this is a lengthy post, persist! And I encourage employers to read the actual Q&As for more details on topics of interest to them. 

As used here, EPSL refers to the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and its benefits.  EFMLA refers to the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and its benefits.

Documentation (Questions 15-16):  Employers, don’t be lax on the documentation requirements if you want to get those tax credits.  An employer must obtain appropriate documentation for an employee’s paid leave (whether sick leave or EFMLA) if the employer intends to claim a tax credit under the FFCRA for such payments.  Unfortunately, the DOL provides little guidance regarding what is sufficient documentation, punting instead to the IRS.  (“You should consult Internal Revenue Service (IRS) applicable forms, instructions, and information for the procedures that must be followed to claim a tax credit, including any needed substantiation to be retained to support the credit.”)   As of this writing the IRS has yet to  publish any such materials.

There is a little more help with respect to documentation for paid leave under EFMLA, which covers only leaves necessitated by the employee’s child’s school closure or unavailability of child care due to COVID-19.  Employers may require documentation for this leave reason “to the extent permitted under the certification rules for conventional FMLA leave requests,” whatever that means! But the DOL does provide examples, such as a notice that has been posted on a government, school, or day care website, or published in a newspaper; or an email from an employee or official of the school, place of care, or child care provider. 

An employer is not required to provide EPSL or paid EFMLA leave if materials sufficient to support the applicable tax credit have not been provided by the employee.

Telework (Questions 17-19).  If an employer offers and an employee is able to work from home, then the employee is not entitled to EPSL or EFMLA leave and benefits. The answer to Question 19 states, “Of course, to the extent you are able to telework while caring for your child, EPSL and expanded family and medical leave is not available. Thus, it appears that if an employee declines telework arrangements although he is able to work from home (at least during normal work hours) he is not entitled to the FFCRA pay benefits. This might arise, for example, when the employee is staying home due to a school closure but the employee’s child is old enough to care for himself at home during the day; or when the employee is quarantined but has not developed COVID-19.

Intermittent leave (Questions 20-22).  A telework employee can take intermittent leave under both EPSL and EFMLA in any increment as long as the employer and employee agree (a new concept that we wish applied to regular FMLA intermittent leave!).  

For work at the employee’s usual worksite, the availability of intermittent leave is more limited. EPSL must be taken in full-day increments, and cannot be used intermittently at all if, for example, the employee (or a family member) is under quarantine or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis. Intermittent leave is available, if the employer and employee agree, for both EPSL and EFMLA when the need for leave is due to a child’s school or day care closure.

Once started, the employee must continue using EPSL until the reason no longer exists or the employee exhausts the EPSL allotment. However, if the employee no longer has a qualifying reason for taking EPSL before she exhausts her allotment, she may take any remaining EPSL at a later time, until December 31, 2020, if another qualifying reason occurs.

Closed worksites, furlough, reduced hours, and FFCRA benefits (Questions 23-28).  It appears that the closure of a worksite – for whatever reason – trumps (ahem!) the right to EPSL or enhanced FMLA. That is, even if an employee is experiencing a situation that would entitle her to paid leave and/or FMLA protections, those are not available once the business closes because the employee is no longer missing work due to the covered reason. In other words, there is no work to take leave from. The same applies if an employee is furloughed. The employer must pay for any qualifying leave taken while the business was open or before the furlough, but not more than that. Similarly, if an employer orders reduced hours, the employee cannot claim FFCRA benefits for the missed work hours because the employee is not prevented from working due to a FFCRA-qualifying reason.

Coordination with other paid leave policies, laws, and CBAs (Questions 31-34, 46).  If an employer offers paid leave benefits (such as vacation, PTO, sick leave, etc.) the employee gets to choose which benefit to use – one from the employer’s existing policies or a benefit under the FFCRA. They cannot be used concurrently unless the employer agrees to allow the employee to supplement or top off FFCRA benefits with company paid leave benefits, up to the employee’s normal earnings. Whether to use such benefits, if offered by the employer, is up to the employee.  

EPSL is in addition to other leave mandated by any federal, state, or local law. The employer must comply with both separately. The same goes for leave provided by a collective bargaining agreement.

An employer may elect to pay employees more than the amount required under the FFCRA, whether by allowing the employee to supplement FFCRA payments with existing paid leave or by simply paying more than the FFCRA requires. However, the employer will not receive tax credit for any excess amounts paid.

“Son or daughter” (Question 40).  Both EPSL and EFMLA provide job-protected, paid leave when an employee needs to care for a “son or daughter” due to the closure of the child’s school or the unavailability of child care due to COVID-19. The DOL has clarified that both laws include not only a child under age 18, but also one 18 years or older who (1) has a mental or physical disability, and (2) is incapable of self-care because of that disability. This resolves an inconsistency between the two laws. For additional information on requirements relating to an adult son or daughter, see the DOL’s FMLA Fact Sheet #28K.

Job protection (Question 43).  Both EPSL and EFMLA entitle the employee after leave to be restored to the same or equivalent position. However, as with regular FMLA, an employee is not protected from employment actions that would have affected the worker’s employment regardless of leave. The DOL uses the example of a layoff that would have occurred whether or not the employee took leave. In reality, this also applies if an employee is terminated for cause that has nothing to do with the employee’s covered leave or request for leave. The “key employee” provision of the FMLA is also still applicable.

In addition, there is an exemption to the job restoration requirement for employers with fewer than 25 employees if the position was eliminated for reasons related to COVID-19 and the employer makes reasonable efforts to restore the employee to an equivalent position for the next 12 months. 

Interaction of EPSL and FMLA (Questions 44-47).  The EPSL and FMLA of any type are separate entitlements. If the employee’s reason for taking EPSL coincides with the EFMLA reason, the two run concurrently and the employee is entitled to the benefits of both.  Example:

  • An employee’s child’s school closes due to COVID-19. The employee can take EPSL to
    receive paid time off for the first 80 hours/2 weeks.  If the employee has been working for
    the employer for at least 30 days, the employee is also entitled to EFMLA protections
    during the first 10 days of leave and the EFMLA pay benefits that commence after 10 days.

On the other hand, EPSL used for other covered reasons, such as the employee’s or family member’s quarantine, does not count as FMLA and does not reduce the employee’s FMLA entitlement.  One possible exception is where the employee or a family member is showing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis. In that case, EPSL would be available and the employee’s or family member’s condition might ultimately satisfy the definition of serious health condition under the FMLA and qualify for coverage by both – but not the 2/3 pay provisions of EFMLA.

The EFMLA provisions do not increase the amount of FMLA leave an employee is entitled to.  The total entitlement for all leave reasons combined remains at 12 weeks in a 12-month period.  And, remember that FMLA for school closures ends on December 31, 2020. 

Part time” and “full time” under FFCRA (Questions 48-49).  Under the EPSL, full-time employees are entitled to up to 80 hours of paid leave and part-time employees are entitled to pay for the number of hours they typically work in a 2-week period. EPSL does not define full time and part time. The DOL now tells us that a full-time employee is normally scheduled to work 40 or more hours per week, and a part-time employee is normally scheduled to work fewer than 40 hours per week. 

In contrast, the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act does not distinguish between full- and part-time employees; but the number of hours an employee normally works each week will affect the amount of pay the employee is eligible to receive.

Applicability of FFCRA to public employers/employees (Questions 52-54).  OK, I don’t have much to say here.  My head is spinning from reading 54 questions and answers so far. The answers to whether EPSL and EFMLA apply to public sector workers are different. EPSL?  “Generally, yes.”  EFMLA?  “It depends.”  So I recommend anyone affected by this issue read Questions 52 and 53, which offer a lot of detail. 

Who is a “health care provider”?  (Questions 55-56).  We have two answers to this question. First, a “health care provider” (HCP), as the term is used to determine who can tell an employee to self-quarantine due to COVID-19, means a licensed doctor of medicine, nurse practitioner, or other HCP permitted to issue an FMLA certification.

Second, both EPSL and EFMLA allow an employer to exempt HCPs from coverage. For this purpose, the term includes anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital . . . clinic . . . medical school . . . nursing facility . . . pharmacy . . . including any permanent or temporary facility . . .   You get the idea – the list is very extensive and I have left out many examples, so read Question 56 if this is important to you. 

Who is an “emergency responder”?  (Question 57).  Both EPSL and EFMLA allow an employer to exempt emergency responders from coverage. For this purpose, the term includes “an employee who is necessary for the provision of transport, care, health care, comfort, and nutrition of such patients, or whose services are otherwise needed to limit the spread of COVID-19.”  Examples include national guard, law enforcement officers, various types of emergency personnel, and 911 operators. The DOL provides many more examples in Question 57. 

Small business exemption (Questions 58-59).  An employer with fewer than 50 employees is exempt from providing EPSL and EFMLA when doing so would jeopardize the viability of the small business as a going concern, but ONLY as to school/child care closures or unavailability due to COVID-19.  There is no exemption for the other 5 reasons for EPSL (see our prior blog post here for the list). 

The exemption is available only if:

  • The business has fewer than 50 employees;
  • Leave is requested because of the employee’s son or daughter’s school/child care closure
    or unavailability due to COVID-19; and
  • An authorized officer of the business has determined that at least one of the following
    three conditions exists:
    • The provision of leave would result in the small business’s expenses and financial
      obligations exceeding available business revenues and cause the small business to
      cease operating at a minimal capacity; or 
    • The absence of the employee or employees requesting leave would entail a substantial
      risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the small business because of
      their specialized skills, knowledge of the business, or responsibilities; or  
    • There are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be
      available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services provided by
      the employee or employees requesting leave and these labor or services are needed
      for the small business to operate at a minimal capacity.

WHEW! Is anyone else ready for a cold beverage? We’re done – at least for now – but please remember to check back frequently for updates, as things are changing in this COVID-19 world by the hour.

Matrix Can Help!

At Matrix we don’t just track all this state and federal legislation on a daily (hourly?) basis – we prepare to jump into action!  We are constantly updating our leave administration practices and staff training to apply each new COVID-19-related provision as fast as they come out of the oven, still warm and chewy. So reach out to your account manager with specific questions and check back with us early and often.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act – Details, DOL and More, Oh My!

Posted on: March 26, 2020 0

by Marti Cardi, Esq – Vice President Product Compliance

March 26, 2020

With record speed for a governmental agency, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a respectable amount of information to help employers understand the brand spankin’ new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) enacted on March 18.  Among other things, the Act:

  • Expands the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide job-protected
    leave when an employee is unable to work (or telework) due to a
    need to care for the employee’s child under age 18 if the child’s
    school or place of care has been closed or the child care provider
    is unavailable due to COVID-19.
  • Provides paid sick leave for 6 qualifying reasons related to COVID-19.

We provided more details on the FFCRA in our blog post hereIn addition, in collaboration with our sister company Reliance Standard, we have prepared an extensive set of Frequently Asked Questions. Thanks to my colleagues Kim Dunn and Nuri Noaz at RSL for their great work on the FAQs.

Here’s a quick look at new materials provided by the DOL as of yesterday, together with some surprise answers to questions.

FFCRA Questions and Answers

The DOL issued a Q&A guidance late on March 24, 2020.  Here’s a summary of what it covers:

Effective April 1.  The FFCRA provides that it will be effective “not later than 15 days after the date of enactment.”  Most of the world counted on the calendar and assumed this would mean April 2, 2020.  April Fool’s!  The DOL has identified April 1, 2020, as the effective date.  Go figure!

Size of Employer.  The FMLA expansion and paid sick leave provisions apply only to private employers with fewer than 500 employees.  In the Q&A the DOL has explained how to count employees to determine coverage:

  • The point of measurement is at the time an employee’s requested leave is to be taken.
    For employers hovering near that 500 threshold, this means that coverage (and whether
    to provide the leave) could change day by day as the employer’s headcount fluctuates
    over and under 500.
  • The count of employees includes full-time and part-time employees, employees on leave,
    temporary employees jointly employed two employers (regardless of whose payroll the
    employee is on), and day laborers supplied by a temp agency. Independent contractors
    do not count (but remember it is very hard to establish a true independent contractor
    arrangement).
  • Typically a corporation will be considered a single employer. However, the rules regarding
    joint employers and integrated employers apply.  You can find these rules explained in
    the FMLA regulations here.

Public sector employers of any size appear to be covered but the Q&A states that additional FAQs on public employers will be forthcoming.

Paid Sick Leave – Hours and Rate of Pay.  This benefit is available for all employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees, but the amount of leave depends on whether the employee is full time or part time (80 hours for full time and the equivalent of 2 weeks’ work for part time).  Neither of these terms is yet defined.  The Q&A addresses how to calculate the employee’s rate of pay and the employee’s hours of work (including for an employee with a variable schedule).

A welcome clarification is that the Act provides a one-time-only allotment of paid sick leave, not 80 hours/2 weeks per covered event.  And, 80 hours means 80 hours.  An employee who typically works 50 hours per week can take 50 hours of paid sick leave in one week but then will have only 30 hours in the next week.  Still not clear is whether the paid sick leave can be used intermittently and/or at separate times for different covered events, up to the total maximum.

Applicability of Both Benefits.  If an employee needs leave due to a school closure or daycare, they may be eligible for both the enhanced FMLA leave and pay (after 30 days of employment) and the paid sick leave (immediately upon employment).  Because the first 10 days of FMLA for this reason is unpaid the employee can use the paid sick leave entitlement for that period, after which time the pay benefits of the enhanced FMLA would kick in.

Not Retroactive.  The Act does not apply retroactively.   The employer must give employees all of the leave and pay benefits required by the Act from April 1 on.  Anything provided by the employer before that date does not satisfy its obligations (and also won’t qualify for the tax benefits).

Required Employer Notices

Each covered employer must post a notice of the FFCRA requirements in a conspicuous place on its premises. For remote workers, an employer may satisfy this requirement by emailing or direct mailing this notice to employees, or posting this notice on an employee information internal or external website.  The DOL issued the approved notice form on March 25.  Here it is, along with a related FAQ:  Employee Rights: Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave under The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

More to Come!

The DOL is authorized by the Act to issue certain regulations relating to both the expanded FMLA provisions and the paid sick leave, but no due date or deadline is provided.  Regulations will cover at least the possible exemptions for health care providers and emergency responders, the small business exemption for crew with fewer than 50 employees if compliance would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern, and other regulations as necessary to carry out the paid sick leave provisions and ensure consistency between those and the expanded FMLA provisions.

For all things DOL and COVID-19-related, checkout the DOL’s ever-expanding pandemic website here.

Matrix Can Help!  

Is it me, or does this seem to be drifting into something resembling the “new normal?” While it still feels a bit like the first time on a scary roller coaster, we are taking it in, figuring it out and helping each other – the way you’d hope. Keep checking back, and if you have specific questions we have armed our account managers with up to the moment answers that are refreshed daily. Just ask, and we at Matrix and Reliance Standard will do our best to keep you and your employees stay safe and informed.

 

Coronavirus UPDATES Du Jour: Senate Passes and President Signs FMLA Expansion and Paid Sick Leave; State Paid Leave Laws – When & How Do They Apply?

Posted on: March 19, 2020 0

by Marti Cardi, Esq – Vice President Product Compliance

March 19, 2020

 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

In the past two days we have reported on the progress of House of Representatives Bill 6201 proposing expansions of the Family and Medical Leave Act and new paid sick leave requirements here and the House amendments here (or if you widely bookmarked Matrix-Radar, just scroll down!).  On March 18 that bill passed the U.S. Senate and was signed into law by President Trump.  The final version was unchanged from H.R. 6201, so our summary in those two blog posts is still accurate – read them both, and we will follow up soon with more details. In the meantime, remember it goes into effect April 2, 2020; and still impacts only employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Moving on:

State Paid Family and Medical/Disability Laws

Now let’s take a look at how existing or recently-modified state leave laws (paid and unpaid) relate to COVID-19 situations.  NOTE!  This is a very fluid and fast changing situation.  This information is accurate as of press time. We will update this post as needed for new developments.

This overview relates primarily to state paid family and medical or disability benefits and leave laws.  Many states also have paid sick and safe leave laws, and a good number of those cover employee absences due to the closure of schools and day care facilities. In addition, some situations where an employee is ordered by the employer to stay home, or experiences reduced hours or a business closure, may be covered by state unemployment insurance. These are mentioned below only if the state COVID-19 information website specifically addresses the issue. 

A Better Balance is a great resource for state and municipal/county paid sick leave laws.  Check out their website for a comprehensive chart.

California.  The Golden State has taken several steps to provide or clarify state benefits coverage to situations relating to COVID-19:

  • Disability and employee quarantine: An employee may qualify for disability insurance due to their own
    illness and/or quarantine. “Disability” is defined by California statute to include inability to work due to
    a nonwork illness or injury and also “because of a written order from a state or local health officer to an
    individual infected with, or suspected of being infected with, a communicable disease.”
    CA Unemp Ins Code § 2626 (2017).

The Employment Development Department is waiving the one-week elimination period for DI claims for individuals who are unemployed and disabled as a result of COVID-19.  See Governor’s Executive Order. So far this does not appear to apply to voluntary plans. EDD still requires a medical certification signed by a treating physician or a practitioner that includes a diagnosis and ICD-10 code, or if no diagnosis has been obtained, a statement of symptoms; the start date of the condition; its probable duration; and the treating physician’s or practitioner’s license number or facility information. This requirement can also be met by a written order from a state or local health officer that is specific to the employee.

  • Paid Family Leave: Employees missing work to care for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19
    may qualify for paid family leave (presently up to 6 weeks, increasing to 8 weeks on July 1, 2020).
    “Family member” is defined as a seriously ill child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling,
    spouse, or registered domestic partner. EDD still requires a medical certification for the family member
    from a treating physician or a practitioner that includes a diagnosis and ICD-10 code, or if no diagnosis
    has been obtained, a statement with the same information listed above for disabilities. This requirement
    can also be met by a written order from a state or local health officer that is specific to the family member’s
    situation.
  • School Closures: If an employee has to miss work because their child’s school is closed, they may be eligible
    for Unemployment Insurance benefits. Eligibility considerations include if the employee has no other
    care options and if they are unable to continue working normal hours remotely.
  • Work closures or reduced hours: Again, unemployment benefits may be available to employees if the
    employer closes its business or reduces work hours. In these cases the employee is not required to actively
    look for other employment but must be ready and available to work throughout the period of
    unemployment or reduced schedule.

California EDD COVID-19 website:  https://edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019.htm

New Jersey:

  • Disability and employee quarantine: The state’s Temporary Disability Insurance will cover an individual who
    has tested positive for COVID-19 or has symptoms and is unable to work.  The employee must first exhaust
    their leave available under New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave law, which provides up to 40 hours of paid sick time.
    The employee must still provide the usual medical support from a health care provider, including diagnosis
    and duration the employee is expected to be off work. New Jersey TDI does not cover employee quarantine
    situations.
  • Paid Family Leave: New Jersey Family Leave Insurance (FLI) will apply to employee time off needed to care
    for a family member with a serious health condition. There are no provisions relating to caring for a family
    member due to a COVID-19-related quarantine.
  • School closures: Employee absences due to school or day care closures are not covered under New Jersey FLI.
    New Jersey’s Earned Sick Leave law provides paid sick time (up to 40 hours) that employees can use when their
    children’s school or child care facility is closed due to an epidemic or public health emergency.
  • Work closures or reduced hours: Unemployment benefits may be available to employees if the employer
    closes its business or reduces work hours.

New Jersey COVID-19 website:  https://www.nj.gov/labor/worker-protections/earnedsick/covid.shtml

New York

NOTE:  On March 18, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed emergency legislation guaranteeing job protection and pay for New Yorkers who have been quarantined as a result of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. Here are the specifics: 

  • Employers are required to provide sick leave for absences due to a COVID-19-related quarantine ordered
    by the state or an authorized state or local department or board of health, according to the employer’s
    size and net income:

    • Employers with 10 or fewer employees: unpaid leave for the duration of the quarantine.
    • Employers with 10 or fewer employees and net income greater than $1 million: 5 days of paid leave,
      plus unpaid leave for the duration of the quarantine.
    • Employers with 11-99 employees: 5 days of paid leave, plus unpaid leave for the duration of the
      quarantine.
    • Employers with 100 or more employees: 14 days of paid leave (no reference to unpaid leave for
      the duration of a quarantine).
  • The employee can apply for New York disability and paid family leave (PFL) benefits after using the mandated
    paid leave. The waiting period is waived for employees of employers with 10 or fewer employees and $1 million
    or less in net income.
  • This paid sick leave must be provided without loss of an employee’s other accrued sick leave.
  • The definition of “disability” for purposes of disability benefits is expanded to include the inability of the
    employee to perform the duties of his/her position or other offered position due to an order of quarantine
    relating to COVID-19, after exhaustion of the paid sick leave (PSL) offered by the employer (presumably
    including company-offered PSL and the newly mandated PSL).
  • Paid family leave is expanded to include leave taken by an employee subject to an order of quarantine relating
    to COVID-19 applicable to the employee or to the employee’s minor dependent child.
  • Benefits available under the disability law and paid family leave run concurrently, with the PFL benefits
    being primary.
  • The amount of benefits available for COVID-19-related disability is a maximum of $2,043.92 per week, and
    for COVID-19-related PFL is a maximum of $840.70 per week. After application of PFL benefits, the amount
    of disability benefits is capped so that the employee does not receive in total more than the employee’s
    average weekly wage.
  • If the federal government provides sick leave and/or employee benefits for employees related to COVID-19,
    then the federal benefits apply first and the state benefits described above serve as a top-off up to the
    limits provide by the New York bill.
  • The employee must be restored to his/her position held prior to the quarantine (so, same position, not
    an equivalent position
    ).

Rhode Island:

  • Disability and employee quarantine: Employee COVID-19-related illnesses may be covered by Rhode Island
    Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI).  The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (DLT) will waive
    the 7-day minimum claim duration so employees can get coverage from their first day of COVID-19 illness.

By its terms TDI does not to apply to an employee under quarantine but not actually diagnosed with COVID-19 or exhibiting symptoms. However, the Rhode Island COVID-19 Workplace Fact Sheet provides this statement:  “For individuals under quarantine, DLT will waive the required medical certification, and instead will allow them to temporary qualify via self-attestation that they were under quarantine due to COVID-19.”  This appears intended only to waive the medical certification requirement if someone is quarantined, not to create new TDI coverage.

  • Paid Family Leave: Rhode Island Temporary Caregivers Insurance (TCI) provides 4 weeks of time off to care
    for a seriously ill family member (child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, parent-in-law, or grandparent).
    There is no TCI coverage because a family member is in quarantine.
  • School closures: Employee absences due to school or day care closures are not covered under Rhode Island TCI.
  • Work closures or reduced hours: If a workplace closes or an employee is directed by the employer to remain
    home, the employee may be eligible for unemployment insurance.

Rhode Island COVID-19 Workplace Fact Sheet:  www.dlt.ri.gov/pdfs/COVID-19 Workplace Fact Sheet.pdf

Washington:

  • Disability and employee quarantine: Washington’s new Paid Family and Medical Leave law covers an employee’s
    absence from work due to a serious health condition.  Employees must still provide medical certification of the
    employee’s condition, but this can be obtained via email and the Employment Security Department will accept
    an electronic signature.  An employee’s time off from work due for purposes of quarantine is not covered by
    Washington PFML, but the employee may be eligible for unemployment insurance.
  • Paid Family Leave: Paid family leave is available to care for a family member with COVID-19 if a medical provider
    certifies that it qualifies as a serious health condition.
  • School closures: Employee absences due to school or day care closures are not covered under Washington PFML.
    Unemployment insurance may be available.
  • Work closures or reduced hours: If an employee is laid off work temporarily or if receives reduced hours due to
    a business slowdown or a lack of demand as a result of COVID-19, the employee may be able to receive
    unemployment benefits. If placed on “standby” status the employee does not have to look for another job while
    collecting unemployment benefits as long as certain conditions are met (including performing available telework).

Washington COVID-19 websites abound:

https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19

https://paidleave.wa.gov/coronavirus/

easy-to-read comparison guide

https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19#forms

 

Are we having fun yet?

Look, let’s get real for a moment. None of us have ever lived through something precisely like this moment in time. Scary? Sure. Complicated? You bet. Changing every sec- oh wait, there it goes again. Changing every second? Yup. Here’s the good news, because we all need some. We will get through this, together. From the Matrix-Radar team, you can be assured we will not take our eyes off the ball and continue to try and help make sense of every new rule and nuance (new-ance?). If you are a Matrix or Reliance Standard client with questions about your leave of absence and disability programs, your account manager will absolutely help – he or she is getting up to speed as we all are. Like you, we are social distancing, work-from-home-ing, loving our families and taking care of business like a boss. Stick with us and stay positive, we will come out stronger, together. 

Coronavirus FMLA Update – (1) House Amends H.R. 6201; (2) Applying FMLA to COVID-19 to the Rest of the Employer World

Posted on: March 17, 2020 0

by Marti Cardi, Esq – Vice President Product Compliance

March 17, 2020

 

 

Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed some amendments to its Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6201, originally passed just days ago on March 14.  You can read my original blog post summarizing the leave-related aspects of the bill here.  The amended bill is expected to go to the Senate, where it may be subject to more changes – or even rejection.  We will be watching for a final version (if there is one) and report on that as soon as possible.

In the meantime, here I provide a quick overview of what has changed under the House amendments.  I am not going to dive into much detail for the reasons above.  Then, keep reading for some pointers on applicability of FMLA in a coronavirus world to all covered employers.

PART 1 – FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT

Emergency Family And Medical Leave Expansion Act

Covered employers and eligible employees.  Nothing has changed here – as drafted, it still applies only to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and employees are eligible for FMLA protection under the bill if they have worked for the current employer for 30 days or more.

Covered leave reasons.  These have been scaled back substantially to include only time off to care for a child under 18 whose school or daycare has been closed due to a public health emergency (now defined as relating to COVID-19 specifically).  And, that leave reason does not apply unless the employee is “unable to work (or telework) due to a need for leave.”

Covered family relationships.   The expansion of covered family relationships has been eliminated.  Back to parent, son or daughter, spouse, as usual.

Paid FMLA time.  The first 10 days of FMLA leave (compared to original 14 days) is unpaid, although the employee can elect to use available paid time off.  After that, the FMLA time is paid at 2/3 the employee’s usual rate of pay but now with caps of $200 per day and $10,000 total.

EMERGENCY PAID SICK LEAVE ACT

Covered employers and eligible employees.  No changes; still applies only to employers with 500 or fewer employees, and no eligibility requirements for employees.

Covered leave reasons. An employee may use paid sick leave to the extent that the employee is unable to work (or telework) due to a need for leave because:

    • The employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related
      to COVID-19.
    • The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns
      related to COVID-19.
    • The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
    • The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order as described in
      subparagraph (1) or has been advised as described in paragraph (2).
    • The employee is caring for a son or daughter of such employee if the school or place of care
      of the son or daughter has been closed, or the child care provider of such son or daughter
      is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions.
    • The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary
      of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary
      of Labor.

NOTE:  An employer of an employee who is a health care provider or an emergency responder may elect to exclude such employee from the application of this leave requirement.

Amount of time off and pay. The amount of paid time off available remains at 80 hours for full-time employees and the number of hours typically worked over a 2-week period for part-time employees.  Leave for reasons (1), (2) and (3) is paid at the greater of the employee’s full pay or federal, state, or local minimum wage, but now capped at $511 per day or $5,110 total.  Leave for reasons (4), (5), and (6) is at 2/3 pay, now capped at $200 per day or $2,000 total.

Interaction with employer’s other paid leave policies is unclear. The amendments remove some of the prior language relating to this topic but the overall impact is not clear.

PART 2:  Current State – Applicability of FMLA to COVID-19

Remember, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act only attempts limited expansion of the FMLA.  The rest of the FMLA remains fully in effect.  There are many COVID-19-related leave issues not covered by H.R. 6201, especially due to the likely limitation of coverage to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

We have seen various articles encouraging employers to relax the FMLA rules to cover situations outside of the FMLA box. Think twice before you do that!  Remember, the FMLA is a law and neither the employer nor the employee can waive the applicability or nonapplicability of the law to a given situation. Employers need to consider other solutions for employees, such as flexible leave policies, but don’t call a leave FMLA if it is not.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently released a Question & Answer document (Q&A) relating to FMLA and COVID-19.  Three key things to take away:

  • “Serious health condition” definition still applies. The mere diagnosis of COVID-19 does not, in and
    of itself, invoke FMLA coverage.  The employee’s or family member’s condition must still meet the
    definition of “serious health condition” under the FMLA.  Nothing about the COVID-19 pandemic
    changes this.
As a reminder, a “serious health condition” means an illness, injury, impairment or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider.   29 C.F.R. §825.113.  Inpatient care means an overnight stay in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility, including any period of incapacity or any subsequent treatment in connection with such inpatient care.  29 C.F.R. § 825.114.  As is relevant here, continuing treatment includes a period of incapacity that exceeds 3 consecutive days and also involves treatment(s) by a health care provider.  29 C.F.R. § 825.115.
  • Absences due to a quarantine are not covered by the FMLA. The DOL’s Q&A clearly states,
    Leave taken by an employee for the purpose of avoiding exposure to the flu would not be protected
    under the FMLA.” 
  • Absences due to school closures or child care complications related to COVID-19 are not covered
    by the FMLA
    . The DOL Q&A states, “[E]mployers are not required by federal law to provide leave to
    employees caring for dependents who have been dismissed from school or child care.” 

Given the potential for significant illness under some pandemic influenza scenarios, employers are encouraged by the DOL to review their non-FMLA leave policies to consider providing increased flexibility to employees and their families.  The DOL cautions, however, that federal law mandates any flexible leave policies must be administered in a manner that does not discriminate against employees because of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age (40 and over), disability, or veteran status.

The DOL’s FMLA/COVID-19 Q&A contains a great deal more information, so well worth a read. The DOL has also published a Question & Answer document relating to the Fair Labor Standards Act and wage & hour issues that you can read here.

 

Coronavirus: The FMLA Amendments and Paid Leave

Posted on: March 16, 2020 0

by Marti Cardi, Esq – Vice President Product Compliance

March 16, 2020

 

Like many employers nationwide, Matrix Absence Management looks and sounds a lot like COVID Central these days. Which is to say, we are watching closely each development as it unfolds, and then – because we’re cool that way – trying to help you make sense of it in the context of employee absence and running your business. The hottest news relates to amendments to the FMLA and proposed paid sick leave flying through Congress.

Early on March 14 the U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a vote of 363-40, a bill relating to coronavirus issues. The text of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, H.R. 6201, is here. A congressional summary of H.R. 6201 is here.

As it relates to leave of absence, key components of the bill include:

  1. a major amendment to the Family and Medical Leave Act that provides paid and job-protected leave
    for certain coronavirus-related events; and
  2. a provision for paid sick leave, again relating to coronavirus events.

President Trump has tweeted his support for the bill and the Senate is expected to pass it, although perhaps not without changes.  Here are the current details.  Watch this blog for updates, as this is a fast-developing issue!

NOTE:  H.R. 2601 uses the term “coronavirus” and not specifically COVID-19.  “Coronavirus” is defined as “SARS– CoV–2 or another coronavirus with pandemic potential.”

FMLA Amendments – Paid Leave, New Leave Reasons, and More

Effective dates.  Effective not later than 15 days after passage; sunsets on December 31, 2020 (unless extended, of course).

Employee eligibility.  Applies to employees who have worked for 30 calendar days for the employer from whom they request leave. This is quite a cutback from the FMLA’s usual eligibility requirements of 12 months and 1250 hours worked. The DOL is authorized to draft regulations excluding certain health care provider and emergency responders from eligibility.

Covered employers.  Applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees. (What?!) Written this way, the bill burdens small employers and leaves roughly a jillion employees of large employers without the bill’s protections. An earlier version of the bill would have applied to employers with “1 or more employees.” Go figure.

The bill does have a provision authorizing the DOL to issue regulations to exempt small business with fewer than 50 employees from the requirements of the amendments “when the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”  It’s impossible to say when such regulations will be issued, and what happens to small employers and their employees in the meantime.

New leave reasons.  For covered employers, the bill expands FMLA leave reasons to cover employee absences:

  • To comply with a recommendation or order by a public health official that the employee should stay off work
    due to the employee’s exposure to, or symptoms of, coronavirus (note the word “recommendation” leaves a
    lot of wiggle room)
  • To care for a family member when a public health official or medical provider determines that the family member
    should stay out of the community due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus
  • To care for a child under age 18 if the child’s school or day care provider has been closed or is unavailable due
    to coronavirus

Expanded definition of “family member.”  For purposes of the amendment, “family member” includes the usual parent, spouse, and child and:

  • Adds a pregnant woman, a senior citizen, an individual with a disability, or someone with access or functional
    needs who is also

    • The employee’s son or daughter, next of kin, grandparent, or grandchild.
  • Expands the definition of “parent” to include a biological, foster, or adoptive parent, stepparent, parent-in-law,
    parent of the employee’s domestic partner or the in loco parentis

Interestingly, the employee’s domestic partner is not an added relationship.

Duration of leave.  The full 12 weeks of FMLA entitlement is available for these reasons.

Paid leave.

  • The first 14 days of leave is unpaid under the FMLA-related amendment. The employee can elect to
    use other paid leave
    available from the employer. But, read below regarding the paid sick leave
    provisions of H.R. 6201.
  • After 14 days, further FMLA leave under H.R. 6201 is paid by the employer at two-thirds of the
    employee’s usual rate of pay.

Job protections.  Generally, employees will be entitled to the usual FMLA job protections (reinstatement to same or equivalent position) after coronavirus-related leave.  Employers with fewer than 25 employees may be excused from job restoration requirements if the situation meets certain conditions, including that the job has been eliminated due to factors related to the coronavirus and the employer makes efforts to restore the employee to an equivalent position for a period of 12 months following the end of the employee’s leave.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

Another key part of H.R. 6201 creates paid sick leave for absences related to coronavirus.

Effective dates. Effective not later than 15 days after passage; sunsets on December 31, 2020.

Eligible employees.  There are no eligibility requirements.  Employees can take this paid sick time immediately upon its effective date.

Covered employers.  Again, applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Leave reasons.  Allows the employee to take paid sick leave:

  • To self-isolate because the employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus
  • To obtain medical diagnosis or care if the employee is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus
  • To comply with a recommendation or order by a public health official that the employee should stay off
    work due to the employee’s exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus
  • To care for or assist a family member –
    • Who is self-isolating because the family member has been diagnosed with coronavirus
    • Who is experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and needs to obtain medical diagnosis or care
    • When a public health official or medical provider determines that the family member should stay out
      of the community due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus
  • To care for a child under age 18 if the child’s school or cay care provider has been closed or is unavailable
    due to coronavirus

Definition of “family member”.  Paid sick time to care for or assist a “family member” includes the following relationships:

  • Parent (biological, foster, or adoptive parent, stepparent, parent-in-law, parent of the employee’s domestic
    partner or in loco parentis)
  • Spouse (including domestic partner, broadly defined to include anyone in a “committed relationship”)
  • Child (no age limit) (biological, foster or adopted child, stepchild, child of domestic partner, legal ward, or child
    of a person standing in loco parentis under age 18)
  • A pregnant woman, a senior citizen, an individual with a disability, or someone with access or functional needs
    who is also

    • The employee’s sibling, next of kin, grandparent, or grandchild

Amount of paid sick leave hours:  Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave, and part-time employees get the number of hours they typically work over a 2-week period.  Unused paid sick leave cannot be carried over to a new year. Pay for leave to care for or assist a family member and to care for a child due to a school closure is paid at 2/3 pay; all other leave is paid at the greater of the employee’s full pay or federal, state or localminimum wage. It is not clear from the bill whether an employee can use the paid sick leave in more than one segment, such as for the employee’s own coronavirus diagnosis and then to care for a family member or due to a school closure.

Other paid sick leave provided by the employer.  The paid sick leave required by H.R. 2601 is in addition to other paid sick leave already offered by the employer as of the day before the bill is enacted. The employee can use the coronavirus-related sick leave first and preserve other paid sick leave for subsequent use.

Employer Tax Credits for Paid Leave

H.R. 2601 also includes provisions for tax credits for employers subject to the FMLA paid leave and the paid sick leave requirements. The tax credits go against Social Security taxes paid by the employer. I will not attempt to interpret these provisions (I never wanted to be a tax attorney!) but various resources are available online.

What about “Regular” FMLA?

H.R. 6201 does not make any changes relative to regular FMLA as we know and love it. Shortly we will provide a blog post about how FMLA applies to coronavirus-related situations for all employers, and especially now those with 500 or more employees. Stay tuned!

Matrix Can Help!

If you have questions about your leave of absence and disability services from Matrix please contact your account manager.  We are equipping our teams with the latest information for clients about how we are managing claims, our emergency preparedness, and more.  We’ll pull through this together!