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US COVID-19: Under the American Rescue Plan, Providing FFCRA Leave Remains Voluntary

The American Rescue Plan (“ARP”), signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, does not place any new paid leave requirements on private employers who were previously covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  However, as they have been able to do through the first quarter of 2021, such employers may voluntarily continue to provide Paid Sick Leave (“PSL”) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (“EFMLA”) leave as set forth in the FFCRA and receive certain payroll tax credits for such wages.

In addition, the ARP expands various aspects of the FFCRA:

Expansion of PSL:

  • Employees can be given a new 10-day allotment of PSL for use from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021, even if they exhausted their PSL days during 2020 or used PSL with the employer’s permission during the period January 1 – March 31, 2021.
  • PSL can be used for additional reasons (subject to the FFCRA requirement that the employee be unable to work due to the qualifying reason), specifically:
    • for leave needed when the employee is seeking or awaiting the results of a diagnostic test for, or a medical diagnosis of, COVID 19, where such employee has

US COVID-19: COVID-Related Leave – When Does The FMLA Apply?

COVID-19 has led to significant employee absences from the workplace.  While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may well apply to certain such absences, employers must avoid the temptation to count all COVID-related leave against employees’ FMLA entitlement without considering the specific circumstances.  Over-designating absences as FMLA leave when the FMLA does not actually apply can create just as many legal issues as failing to designate covered absences under the FMLA.

For example, an FMLA interference claim may result if an employee is denied additional FMLA leave after the employee’s FMLA entitlement is exhausted due to absences that did not truly count as FMLA leave.  Conversely, by offering FMLA protections when the FMLA does not apply, employers may be establishing a right to reinstatement or other benefits when no such right should exist.  At a minimum, improperly designating absences as FMLA leave can create confusion and administrative nightmares.

Accordingly, COVID-related absences must be evaluated carefully and designated as FMLA leave only in appropriate circumstances.  As a general overview – but with the caveat that this post is not intended to provide legal advice concerning specific situations – below are examples of COVID-related situations in which the FMLA typically

US COVID-19: DOL Issues FMLA, FFCRA Guidance

The United States Department of Labor (DOL) wrapped up 2020 by issuing COVID-related guidance under both the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

FMLA Guidance

The DOL issued new FMLA guidance in the form of two “Field Assistance Bulletins” (FAB)[1], noting in a press release that the guidance is part of the DOL’s “ongoing efforts to support the American workforce through the pandemic recovery.”

In FAB 2020-7, the DOL addressed the employer notice provisions of various federal labor laws.[2]  With respect to the required posting of the general FMLA notice, the DOL explained that it will consider electronic posting by employers to satisfy the posting requirement when: (a) all hiring and work is done remotely; and (b) the employer posts the FMLA notice on an internal or external website that is accessible to all employees and applicants at all times.   To the extent an employer has a hybrid workforce (i.e. employees who work remotely and employees who work on-site), the DOL encourages employers to use electronic postings to supplement, not replace, their posting requirement of the general FMLA notice.

In FAB 2020-8, the DOL indicated that it

New California Family Rights Act Dramatically Expands Employee Rights and Employer Obligations

On September 17, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 1383, which repealed the current California Family Rights Act (CFRA), eliminated the California New Parent Leave Act, and replaced those statutes with a new CFRA, codified in California Government Code Section 12945.2, et seq.  Effective Janu­ary 1, 2021, CFRA will cover employers with as few as five employees and expand the reasons for which CFRA leave may be used, among several other changes.  Important aspects of the new law, as well as key considerations for employers to consider in developing compliance plans, are set forth below.

Expanded to Cover Smaller Employers

Currently, CFRA (modeled largely after the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)) applies to private employers with 50 or more employees and public employers of any size.  The new CFRA lowers the employee threshold and applies to private employers with five or more employees.

Therefore, CFRA will now apply to much smaller employers. Many smaller employers likely never had to comply with FMLA or CFRA, so there may be a steep learning curve between now and January 1, 2021.

Expanded to Cover More Employees:  75-Mile-Radius Eligibility Requirement Eliminated

To be eligible for leave under the current

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

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.

  1. 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

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

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

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

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

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