In a bipartisan effort, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This federal law includes a new paid sick leave requirement to help employees who miss work due to COVID-19. It’s called the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (the Act).
When can employees start taking paid sick leave under the Act? April 2, 2020*, regardless of how long they have been employed.
*EFFECTIVE DATE UPDATE: Pursuant to the Act, the paid sick leave requirements “shall take effect not later than 15 days after the date of enactment.” On March 24, 2020, the Department of Labor announced that the Act will become effective April 1, 2020, which is only 14 days after the date of enactment.
Which employers are required to provide paid sick leave? The Act applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees. However, the Secretary of Labor has the authority to exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees if paying sick leave would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.
Which employees are eligible for paid sick leave? Employees who are unable to work or telework because they:
- are subject to a Federal, State or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID–19;
- have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19;
- are experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;
- are caring for an individual who has been ordered to quarantine or advised to self-quarantine;
- are caring for a son or daughter whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable due to COVID–19 precautions; or
- are experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor.
How many hours of paid sick time does the Act provide? Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick time. Part-time employees are generally entitled to the average number of hours worked over a 2-week period, though special rules are used for part-time employees who work irregular hours.
How much must employees be paid while out on sick leave? Employees must be paid no less than their regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is greater. Those taking leave for reasons 4, 5 or 6 above are entitled to two-thirds of such amount. Employees taking leave for reasons 1, 2 or 3 above cannot be paid more than $511 per day ($5,110 in the aggregate). Those taking leave for reasons 4, 5 or 6 cannot be paid more than $200 per day ($2,000 in the aggregate).
What are some other significant provisions in the Act?
- Employers cannot require employees to use other types of paid leave before using the paid leave provided by the Act.
- Employers may not retaliate or discriminate against employees who take leave pursuant to the Act.
- Violations of the Act will be enforced like violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage requirement.
- The Secretary of Labor is required to create a model notice about the Act’s requirements that employers will be required to post in a conspicuous place.
- The Act automatically expires December 31, 2020.
Employers and employees alike are awaiting the Secretary of Labor’s regulations, particularly those pertaining to potential exemptions from the Act’s paid sick leave requirements for employers with fewer than 50 employees. Until then, employers are encouraged to get familiar with the Act’s requirements and consult with legal counsel if necessary.