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US COVID-19: DOL Issues Revised FFCRA Regulations In Response to NY Decision

In August, we informed you of a decision by a federal district court in New York (the “Court”) that invalidated four key provisions of the federal Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) regulations interpreting the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  On September 11, 2020, the DOL acknowledged the nationwide impact of the Court’s ruling, and issued much-anticipated revised regulations addressing the four provisions.  The new regulations will be formally published, and become effective, on September 16, 2020.

As described in detail below, in the new regulations, the DOL: (a) affirmed the “work-availability” requirement; (b) affirmed the “employer consent” requirement for intermittent leave; (c) narrowed the scope of the “health care provider” definition for purposes of the available exemption from the leave entitlement; and (d) clarified the timing of notice and documentation requirements.  The DOL also provided new and revised Q&As on these subjects (see Q&A #s 16, 21, 22, 56, and 98-103).

Work-Availability

In the revised regulations, the DOL held firm to the requirement that employees are only entitled to leave if they are unable to work “because of” a COVID-19 qualifying reason.  The DOL addressed the Court’s concerns with consistency by clarifying that this work-availability requirement applies to all qualifying reasons for FFCRA leave.  Thus, according to the DOL:

  • FFCRA leave (both Paid Sick Leave for any qualifying reason and Expanded FMLA leave) may only be taken if the employee has work from which to take leave. In other words, an employee cannot take FFCRA leave if the employer would

U.S. COVID-19: DOL Issues FFCRA Guidance Regarding School Reopening Plans

Last week, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published guidance (Q&A #s 98-100) on the impact of various school reopening plans on employees’ entitlement to leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  As anticipated, leave rights depend on the specific circumstances, with the key being whether the school is “closed” (not available for the child to attend in person):

  • No In-Person Program: If the school is not offering any in-person instruction and instead is providing only remote learning (aka virtual learning; e-learning; distance learning) to students, then an employee will have a qualifying reason for leave.
  • Hybrid Program: If the school is providing a hybrid program pursuant to which students are receiving in-person instruction on some days and doing remote learning on other days (such as alternating days or weeks in the classroom vs. at-home), then an employee will have a qualifying reason for leave but only on the days when in-person instruction is not available to their child.
  • Choice Between In-Person or Remote Program: If the school provides families with a choice between an in-person program or a remote program, and the employee chooses the remote option, the employee will not have a qualifying reason for leave.  This is true regardless of the reason for the employee’s choice (e.g., choosing remote learning due to fear of exposure to COVID will not provide a qualifying reason for leave when in-person learning is available).

Importantly, even when the school is closed, an employee will still be

U.S. COVID-19: New York Federal Court Invalidates Several Provisions of FFCRA Regulations

Employers’ efforts to comply with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) were further complicated on Monday when the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York invalidated several key provisions of the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) Final Rule (or regulations) interpreting the law.  Unfortunately, the Court’s holding creates a number of questions on key issues, including retroactivity and the applicability of the decision on a nationwide basis in light of the court’s failure to issue a nationwide injunction.  Further, the holding may not be final, because the DOL may appeal the ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  At minimum, it appears likely that the DOL will issue revised Questions & Answers, and potentially revised regulations, in light of Monday’s ruling.

As we await further guidance from the DOL and/or the courts, employers should become familiar with the changed FFCRA landscape and consider how Monday’s ruling may impact their FFCRA policy and practices.  Below is a discussion of the four provisions that have been struck down, at least within the Southern District of New York.

Work-Availability

The FFCRA statutory language provides that employees are only entitled to leave if they are unable to work “because of” a COVID-19 qualifying reason.  The DOL interpreted this language to mean that employees are not entitled to FFCRA leave if their employer has no work available for them, even if the lack of work is the result of a government directive such as a closure or “stay-at-home”

US COVID-19: Risky Business – Navigating Workplace Issues Involving High Risk Employees

As states across the country see spikes in COVID-19 cases, employers continue to wrestle with how to handle “high risk” employees, i.e., employees who are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.  Guidance from a variety of agencies on the topic, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), has been published in waves, leaving many to wonder how this guidance may or may not continue to be relevant.

Below are six important areas of the law to consider when navigating this evolving landscape.  As a reminder, each individual employee’s circumstances are unique, so while employers should have a consistent procedure in place for triaging high risk employees’ presence in the workplace, employers should also be prepared to develop individualized solutions based on an employee’s specific needs.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”): Employees with certain underlying health conditions may qualify as “high risk” and thus be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.  While accommodations may include a leave of absence or telework arrangement, other possible accommodations include permitting the employee more frequent hygiene breaks, excusing the employee from attending group meetings/gatherings, and reconfiguring the employee’s workspace.  It is important that employers not act unilaterally with respect to implementing accommodations.  Instead, the interactive dialogue process should be used early on to identify what, if any, accommodations an employee may need and/or receive.  As a reminder, employers’
  • Coronavirus: the UK government’s Job Retention Bonus scheme – key points for employers

    On 8 July 2020, we reported on the UK government’s Job Retention Bonus scheme.  The Job Retention Bonus Scheme (“JRBS“) is designed to incentivise employers to retain furloughed employees after the CJRS finishes at the end of October 2020. Employers will receive a one-off bonus of £1,000 for each furloughed employee who is still employed on 31 January 2021.

    Today, the UK government has issued a policy paper providing more information in relation to the JRBS. The key details for employers to note are as follows:

    • All employers are eligible for the JRBS, including recruitment agencies and umbrella companies.
    • A new employer may be eligible to claim under the JRBS in respect of employees of a previous business who were transferred to the new employer if either TUPE applies, the PAYE business succession rules apply to the change in ownership, or there is a business transfer where TUPE would have applied if the company was not in compulsory liquidation.  To claim under the JRBS under these circumstances, the transferred employees must have been furloughed and successfully claimed for under the CJRS by their new employer. An employer will not be eligible for a bonus under the JRBS in respect of any employee transferred under TUPE or under the business succession rules after 31 October 2020.
    • Employers will be able to claim for employees who meet all of the following criteria:
      • were furloughed and had a CJRS claim submitted for them that meets all relevant eligibility criteria for that

    US COVID-19: Remember the FMLA: DOL Issues New Q&A on COVID-related FMLA Issues

    With all of the attention being given to COVID-19-related leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), we mustn’t forget the (traditional) Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).  To remind us, the federal Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently issued new FMLA Q&A on COVID-19-related subjects.

    COVID-19 Testing:  The DOL clarified that the FMLA’s “reinstatement” requirement does not interfere with an employer’s ability to require all employees to take a COVID-19 test before coming to the office.  (See Q&A #13.)  This is because employees who have taken FMLA leave are still subject to the same actions that would have applied to the employee had the employee not taken FMLA leave.

    For BCLP discussions about what the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has said about COVID-19 related testing, see this blog post on 4 Takeaways from the EEOC’s New Guidance on Antibody Testing, Older Workers, and Accommodations and this one on EEOC Updates COVID-19 Guidance, Permitting Employers To Administer COVID-19 Tests and Clarifying Accommodation Obligations.

    Telemedicine:  The DOL clarified that, until December 31, 2020, and in light of the current pandemic-related demands on health care providers and PPE/supplies, “telemedicine” visits will count as “in-person visits” for FMLA purposes.  (See Q&A #12.)  This decision is significant because one of the common categories of serious health condition under the FMLA – “incapacity plus treatment” – requires certain “in-person” visits to a health care provider.  According to the DOL, a telemedicine visit will constitute an in-person visit as long as

    US COVID-19: New FFCRA Q&A – Return to Work Issues

    July 21, 2020

    Categories

    On July 20, as part of a barrage of new guidance relating to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the federal Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued four new FFCRA Q&As relating to “return to work” issues.

    Three of the new Q&As (95-97) explain the interconnection between FFCRA leave and furlough:

    • Hours of FFCRA leave taken prior to furlough count against an employee’s total FFCRA leave entitlement (i.e., the fact that an employee took FFCRA leave and subsequently was furloughed does not mean that the employee’s FFCRA entitlement starts over upon return to work);
    • Hours/weeks on furlough do not count against an employee’s FFCRA entitlement;
    • Post-furlough requests for FFCRA leave should be treated as “new” requests for FFCRA leave (i.e., employees should be required to provide appropriate documentation in support of post-furlough leave requests); and
    • Employers may not make furlough decisions (such as which employees to recall from furlough) based on a desire to avoid providing FFCRA leave.

    The remaining new Q&A (94) relates to the “reinstatement” obligation under the FFCRA.  While recognizing that employees who take protected FFCRA leave are, generally, entitled to be restored to their same or equivalent position when returning from leave, the DOL clarifies that employers may take certain steps to reduce potential exposure of employees in the workplace.

    Specifically, in regards to an employee who took Paid Sick Leave under the FFCRA to care for a family member who

    US COVID-19: FFCRA Implications of School Reopening Plans

    With school reopening plans currently a hot topic across the country, a natural corollary is:  What do those plans mean for employee requests for leave to care for a child under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”)?  Under the FFCRA regulations and previous guidance issued by the Department of Labor (“DOL”), the answer appears to be that if a child’s school is physically open and the child is permitted by the school to attend in person, then any personal choice by the child’s parents to instead have the child participate in remote schooling will not provide a qualifying reason for FFCRA leave.

    The FFCRA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to two weeks of Paid Sick Leave, and up to ten additional weeks of Expanded FMLA leave, when the employee is unable to work (including telework) due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19 (“Child Care Leave”).  See https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employee-paid-leave; 29 CFR §§ 826.20(a)(v), (b).

    Early on during the pandemic, the DOL made clear through its Q&A guidance that Child Care Leave is available when instruction has moved entirely online, due to the physical location of a school being closed:

  • My child’s school or place of care has moved to online instruction or to another model in which children are expected or required to complete assignments at home. Is it “closed”?
  •  

    Yes. If

    Coronavirus: HR impact of the economic statement by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer

    Following catastrophic falls in economic output during quarter 2, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer has, today, made a ground-breaking economic statement setting out the UK government’s second phase of its economic response, which includes a significant effort to “protect, support and retain jobs”.Given that largescale unemployment would be a key factor in creating long term scarring for the economy, a key emphasis has been on reducing the number of unemployed as we emerge from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (“CJRS”) at the end of October 2020.Set out below are the key points for employers:

    • Job Retention Bonus. To incentivise employers to bring furloughed employees back to work, the government will pay employers a bonus of £1,000 per employee on condition that following the end of the CJRS, they remain employed by their employer until at least January 2021, earning a minimum of £520 per month.
    • Kickstart Scheme. This scheme will provide new jobs to 16-24 year olds who are on Universal Credit.  The government will pay the national minimum wage of young people employed under this scheme for the first 6 months of their employment, subject to the job being a new one; salary being a national minimum wage or above and the role being for at least 25 hours per week.  There will be no cap on the number of places available under the scheme and participating employers will also receive £1,000 for administrative costs. It is estimated that this £2 billion scheme will see the creation of

    US COVID-19: Georgia Passes Legislation Creating Immunity for COVID-19 Liabilities

    On June 26, 2020, and in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Georgia’s Legislature passed the “Georgia COVID-19 Pandemic Business Safety Act” (the “Act”). The Act provides Georgia businesses with certain defenses and immunities for potential liability from claims related to the spread of COVID-19.

    What Immunities Does The Act Provide?

    Under the Act, no covered entity or individual will “be held liable for damages in an action involving a COVID-19 liability claim . . . unless the claimant proves that the actions . . . showed: gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct, reckless infliction of harm, or intentional infliction of harm.”

    The Act defines a “COVID-19 liability claim” as a cause of action for:

  • Transmission, infection, exposure, or potential exposure of COVID-19: (i) at any healthcare facility or on the premises of any entity, individual, or healthcare provider, that results in injury to or death of a claimant; or (ii) caused by actions of any healthcare provider or individual resulting in injury or death of a claimant;
  • Acts or omissions by a healthcare facility or healthcare provider in arranging for or providing healthcare services or medical care to the claimant; or
  • Manufacturing, labeling, donating, or distributing personal protective equipment or sanitizer that is directly related to providing personal protective equipment or sanitizer to claimant and which departs from the normal manufacturing, labeling, donating, or distributing of this equipment by such entity that proximately results in injury to or death of the claimant.
  • To Whom Do These Immunities

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