Last week Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First) to help the American people deal with caring for themselves, children, and loved ones without fear of losing their job. The Families First Act provides assistance to the businesses that need to support their employees who will be trying to stay afloat in the months to come and is a direct response to the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on the daily lives of people and businesses.
The law is set to take effect on April 2 (intended to end on December 31, 2020), and requires employers to provide paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave for COVID-19 related reasons. The Families First Act makes temporary changes to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and allows employers a tax credit for payments made to employees of sick leave and FMLA leave related to Coronavirus.
Small businesses and tax-exempt organizations with fewer than 500 employees are required to provide 10 days of short-term emergency Paid Sick Leave and, if needed, Paid FMLA for up to 12 weeks. Businesses and tax-exempt organizations that pay for the benefits will receive tax credits in return. Eligible employers will be able to claim these credits based on qualifying leave they provide between the effective date and December 31, 2020.
Here are the provisions of the Families First Act that have an impact on how you can support your employees when the need arises:
Emergency paid sick leave: Covered employers must provide full-time employees with up to 80 hours (10 days) of paid sick leave if an employee is unable to work (or telework) due to the impact of the coronavirus. Part-time employees are entitled to paid sick leave based on the average number of worked over a two-week period. This is in addition to any sick time policy already offered by employers. Employers must allow employees to use this emergency paid sick leave before any other company paid sick time policy.
Reasons for Use:
Employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order regarding COVID-19
Employee has been “advised” by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19
Employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis
Employee is caring for “an individual” subject to the first 2 qualifying events
Employee is caring for a minor child if school or place of care has closed or the childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions (also payable under paid FMLA)
Employee is “experiencing any other substantially similar condition” specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Department of Transportation and Department of Labor
Payment: Payment to the employee is based on the reason for taking the leave – for example, if an employee needs to care for a child if the school or place of care has been closed due to COVID-19 precautions, the employee may be compensated two-thirds of their regular rate or minimum wage, whichever is greater.
Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Under current FMLA, qualified workers are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid time leave to care for oneself and others for a serious medical conditions. The Families First Act temporary amends the FMLA to include paid leave. However, the first 10 days of leave can be unpaid, but individuals can use the emergency sick leave or their own vacation, sick, or personal days.
Eligibility: workers for companies or non-profits with less than 500 employees and who have worked at least 30 days. Workers who work for a health care provider and emergency responders are excluded.
Reasons to take leave: eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks of paid FMLA if they can’t work or telework because they have to care for a minor child whose school or place of care has closed, or the childcare is unavailable, due to a public health emergency regarding COVID-19. This leave does not cover individuals diagnosed or quarantined due to COVID-19.
Benefits: compensation to employees is two-thirds (67%) of their regular rate of pay, capped at $200 per day and $10,000 overall.
Reimbursement to Organizations: Organizations will be reimbursed for the full amount within three months, in the form of a payroll tax credit. The reimbursement will also cover the employer’s contribution to health insurance premiums during the leave. It’s fully refundable, which means that if the amount that employers pay workers who take leave is larger than what they owe in taxes, the government will send them a check for the remainder. (That goes for self-employed and gig economy workers, too.)
Medical Assistance: Private health insurance companies and government programs like Medicare and Medicaid are required to cover the cost for Coronavirus testing, including emergency room visits and doctor fees. This also covers Americans without insurance.
New York State Paid Sick Leave (PSL) and EXPANDED Disability Benefits Leave (DBL) and New York Paid Family Leave (NYPFL)
New York State quickly enacted a law, effective immediately, to help New York residents in dealing with COVID-19. Most employers are now required to provide Paid Sick Leave (PSL) between one to two weeks, depending on employer size and revenue. Employees who need to be out of work for longer than two weeks can then be eligible for emergency leave using NY Disability (DBL) or NY Paid Family Leave (NYPFL). These new provisions remain in effect until a quarantine order is lifted.
Eligibility: New York employees who are unable to work due to a mandatory or precautionary quarantine order issued by state agencies or a governmental entity including caring for a minor child. An eligible employee does not need to be diagnosed with or have COVID-19 symptoms
Number of PSL Days: this will depend on the employer size. For employers between 10 to 99 employees, the organization must provide at least 5 days of paid sick leave. This is in addition to an employer's current PTO policy.
Interaction with Emergency DBL and NYPFL: For employees who work for organizations with under 100 employees; the employee is eligible for emergency DBL or NYPFL after they have used up the PSL. Employees are eligible for emergency DBL only if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, this requirement keeps in line with the spirit of disability law. An employee can use emergency NYPFL when asked to be quarantined or for when they need to care for their child, under 18, who is subject to an isolation order.
Benefits: For employers with 99 or fewer employees, an employee’s period of quarantine or isolation that extends beyond available paid sick time as described above is eligible to apply for NYPFL and DBL benefits concurrently. Benefits would be a combination of payments from NYPFL and DBL up to 100% of an employee’s average weekly wage for those employees earning up to 150,000 per year. For example:
Interaction with Federal FMLA: If COVID-19 benefits are paid under the Families First Act, then the NY benefit is not payable unless NY’s benefit is greater than the federal benefit. If there is a difference, then it will be paid by the NY benefit providers.
For more information on how we can support your organization, please contact us, your HR representative.