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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’
  • 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

    New FMLA Forms Available From DOL

    First, the bad news:  As if HR personnel who are responsible for managing leave requests aren’t already stretched thin due to COVID-19 issues, they now have another item for their to do list:  Become familiar with, and begin using, new Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) forms issued late last week by the federal Department of Labor (“DOL”).

    Now, the good news:  Overall, despite being longer and wordier, the new FMLA forms appear likely to be embraced by employers, employees, and medical providers alike for being more clear, helpful, and user-friendly than prior versions.

    The new FMLA forms are available on the DOL’s website.  They include revised versions of the following forms:

    • Combined Eligibility Notice / Notice of Rights and Responsibilities (WH-381);
    • Designation Notice (WH-382);
    • Certification of Health Care Provider (one for employee’s own serious health condition; one for leave relating to care of a covered family member; WH-380 E and WH-380 F);
    • Certification of Military Family Leave (including forms relating to Qualifying Exigency leave and leave relating to a Current Servicemember or Veteran; WH-384 and WH-385/WH-385-V).

    One overarching revision is that each form now includes more “explanatory” language relating to FMLA rights and obligations.  For example, the Eligibility Notice includes a description of the eligibility rules and definitions of such key terms as “spouse,” “child” and “parent.”  The Rights and Responsibilities Notice (which, as before, is combined with the Eligibility Notice) includes expanded explanations regarding the substitution of paid

    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

    US COVID-19: Managing FFCRA “Child Care” Leave During The Summer

    The advent of summer has brought the reality of “child care” leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) to the forefront of employers’ minds:  Are employees really entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave to care for their children during “summer vacation” from school?  And, if yes, how do we manage this leave?

    The answer to the first question is, “possibly.”  Eligible employees of employers covered by the FFCRA are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19: (a) two weeks of Paid Sick Leave; and (b) up to ten additional weeks of Emergency FMLA Leave.

    While this entitlement creates the potential for employees to be on leave all summer (and mostly paid leave, at that:  employers must play employees 2/3rds pay at employee’s normal rate, subject to caps) there are a number of steps employers can take to effectively manage this leave.

    Step 1:  Ensure the Employee has a Qualifying Reason for Leave, and Document the Reason

    The Department of Labor has made it clear that “summer vacation” does not, in itself, create a qualifying reason for FFCRA leave, because school being closed for the summer is not a “reason related to COVID-19.”  See DOL FFCRA Q&A #93.  It is only when the employee’s plans for summer care for the child have fallen through because of a COVID-19 related reason that FFCRA leave could be

    U.S. COVID-19: My Employee Has COVID-19 – What Leave Entitlements Apply?

    The call to HR is becoming more common:  I have COVID-19. Should I go on a leave of absence, and if so, will I be paid while I am out?

    It is clear that an employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 (or who is likely positive based on symptoms and/or exposure) should remain away from the workplace so as to avoid spreading the disease.  What can sometimes be less clear is what leave entitlements apply to the employee, and whether the employee will be paid for all or some portion of the leave.  When faced with these questions, employers should consider the following:

    Leave Entitlements Under Federal Law

    For employers covered by the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), an eligible employee may be entitled to up to 80 hours of Paid Sick Leave, if the employee is unable to work (including telework) due to either:

    • Having COVID-19 and being advised by a healthcare professional to self-quarantine; or
    • Having symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a diagnosis from a healthcare professional.

    Importantly, this leave is both job-protected and paid (subject to caps, although employers may permit employees to supplement these wages with other available accrued paid leave).  Of course, some employees who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms and are able to keep working (remotely).  In these cases, the FFCRA does not apply.  Click here for our latest blog posts on the FFCRA.

    The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) may

    U.S. COVID-19: DOL (Yet Again) Publishes Revised Guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

    This weekend, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) released yet another set of updated and revised Questions and Answers (“Q&A”) regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  This updated informal guidance comes just days after the DOL published its formal Temporary Rules (“Rules”) interpreting the FFRCA.  As we’ve summarized in earlier posts, the FFCRA was signed into law on March 18, 2020 and generally requires U.S. employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid sick leave (“Paid Sick Leave”) and emergency family and medical leave (“Emergency FMLA Leave”) benefits to employees in connection with COVID-19.

    The FFCRA’s Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA Leave provisions became effective on April 1, 2020; however, as the DOL previously announced, to enable covered employers to come into compliance with the new law, the DOL will observe a temporary period of non-enforcement through April 17, 2020.  This temporary period of non-enforcement only applies if an employer makes a reasonable, good faith attempt to comply with the FFCRA.  As such, if they have not already, employers should take steps to comply with the FFCRA immediately, and should continue to monitor and incorporate guidance from the DOL into their policies and practices.

    Below is a summary of new or revised guidance outlined in the updated Q&A (that was not previously summarized in our earlier posts) that employers should consider as they comply with the FFCRA.  Links to our posts summarizing the earlier guidance are available here.

    Revised Q&A Guidance

    U.S. COVID-19: DOL Publishes Temporary Rules on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

    Over the past two weeks, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) has issued a variety of informal guidance regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  The FFCRA became effective on April 1, 2020, and on that same day, the DOL published a set of temporary rules interpreting the law (the “Rules”), which are effective immediately.  As we’ve summarized in earlier posts, the FFCRA was signed into law on March 18, 2020 and generally requires U.S. employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid sick leave (“Paid Sick Leave”) and emergency family and medical leave (“Emergency FMLA Leave”) benefits to employees in connection with COVID-19.

    Our summaries of the DOL’s informal guidance are available here, here, here, here, and here.  Below is a summary of new or revised information outlined in the Rules (that was not previously summarized in our earlier posts) that employers should consider as they begin complying with the FFCRA.

    • Covered Employers:
      • 500-Employee Threshold: The Rules confirm that the following individuals do not count toward the 500-employee threshold:
        • Independent contractors who provide services for an employer; and
        • Employees who have been laid off or furloughed and have not subsequently been reemployed.[1]
          • In light of this rule, employers who are above but relatively close to the 500-Employee Threshold should realize that, going forward over the course of 2020, layoffs and/or furloughs could bring them under the threshold and thus require compliance
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