The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pass the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”) in the early morning hours of Saturday, March 14, 2020. President Trump has endorsed the legislation. However, there's uncertainty over when the U.S. Senate will vote on the bill, and the House has already amended it once.
The Act would be the second emergency coronavirus response measure to be passed. President Trump previously signed a bill to provide funding to federal health agencies and declared a national emergency on March 13 related to the pandemic. A third emergency measure is also being discussed.
Provisions of the Act include funding for economic assistance and COVID-19 testing, but of more concern to employers and their workers, it provides for:
Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA)
- EFMLEA would apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and employees working for at least 30 days for a covered employer would be eligible immediately to use leave. Employers with fewer than 50 employees may also request a hardship waiver or exemption.
- EFMLEA may be taken:
- To comply with a recommendation or order by a public official or health care provider to quarantine due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus, and the employee could not perform the essential functions of the job while also complying with such recommendation or order;
- To care for a family member who's in quarantine based on a recommendation or order due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus; and
- To care for a child if the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the child-care provider is unavailable due to coronavirus.
- The first 14 days of EFMLEA leave is unpaid, but employees may choose to substitute accrued vacation, personal leave or sick leave (see below for updated paid family leave added as part of the Act).
- After the first 14 days, employers must pay the employee not less than two-thirds of an employee’s regular rate of pay for each day of EFMLEA leave taken thereafter.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
- Employers at companies with fewer than 500 employees would be required to provide all full-time employees – regardless of their length of employment – 80 hours of paid sick leave immediately. Part-time employees would get a prorated amount.
- Leave may be taken to:
- Quarantine or self-isolate because an employee might be sick;
- Seek a diagnosis or for preventive care due to coronavirus;
- To care for a family member who is quarantined or self-isolating because they have or may have coronavirus; and
- To care for a child whose school has closed or whose child care provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus.
- These new sick leave amounts are in addition to any other state or federally mandated or existing employer-provided paid sick leave benefits, and employers must permit employees to use this coronavirus-related sick leave before other sick leave if applicable.
- The rate of sick pay is the employee’s regular rate unless leave is for an eligible family member or for child-care needs, and then it's two-thirds the employee’s regular rate.
The Act also provides tax credit for employers that provide paid sick leave benefits required by the Act, and emergency leave benefits for workers would expire on Dec. 31, 2020.
The Senate returned to Washington on Monday, March 16 and will begin debates on this bill, with a vote on it expected sometime this week. We'll continue to provide information as it's made available. In the interim, employers should continue to follow the Department of Labor’s Coronavirus Resource page as well as the Center for Disease Control’s Guidance for Employers. Additionally, many national labor and employment law firms have set up COVID-19 informational pages and webinars for employers, including Fisher Phillips, Mintz and FordHarrison.