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US DOL Publishes Revised Guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

DOL Publishes Revised Guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

This weekend, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) released a revised and updated set of Questions and Answers (“Q&A”) regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  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.

Notably, the new guidance includes a revision to the guidance that was just issued last Thursday, March 26, regarding what documentation employers must collect from employees requesting leave under the FFCRA.  Our summary of the DOL’s initial guidance is available here, but please note that in light of the DOL’s updated guidance, employers should rely on this post’s summary of documentation requirements.  The new guidance does not explicitly outline what documentation employers must collect.  Instead, it notes that if employers want to seek a tax credit for the Paid Sick Leave or Emergency FMLA Leave, they should “retain appropriate documentation.” The DOL then refers employers to consult with “Internal Revenue Service (IRS) applicable forms, instructions, and information for the procedures that must be followed to claim a tax credit, including any needed substantiation to be retained to support the credit.”

In addition to this revision, the updated guidance includes a number of questions and answers regarding new and key

U.S. DOL Publishes Additional Guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On March 26, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) released an updated set of Questions and Answers (“Q&A”) regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  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 updated Q&A builds on guidance and model notices that the DOL published earlier this week.  Below are some highlights from the updated Q&A for employers to consider as they prepare to comply with the FFCRA:

  • Documentation: Employers must require employees to provide appropriate documentation to support their need for Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA Leave. This documentation must be retained if an employer intends to seek a tax credit for the leave.
    • For Paid Sick Leave – This documentation should include the employee’s name, qualifying reason for requesting leave, statement that the employee is unable to work (including telework) for that reason, and the date(s) for which leave is requested. Employers should also require documentation demonstrating the reason why the leave is necessary, including: (i) the sources of any quarantine or isolation order (including a copy of any federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order); and/or (ii) the name of the health care provider advising the employee to self-quarantine, along with a note

DOL Publishes Model Notice for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On March 25, 2020, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) published model notices for federal and private employers regarding employees’ rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).  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 and emergency family and medical leave (“Emergency FMLA”) benefits to employees in connection with COVID-19.

The model notices, along with Frequently Asked Questions regarding the notices, follow a series of other informal guidance issued by the DOL in the last week.  Below are some highlights from the new guidance for employers to consider regarding the notices:

  • Posting Requirement: All covered employers, including small businesses, must post the model notice.
  • Posting Location: Employers must post the notice either in one location where all employees will see it or in various locations to accommodate all employees if no single location is available.  If workplaces are closed due to local stay-at-home orders, physical posting may not be possible at this time, in which case electronic posting is probably required.
  • Electronic Posting: Employers may, but are not required to, satisfy their posting obligations by emailing or direct mailing this notice to employees, or posting this notice on an employee information internal or external website.
  • Languages Other than English: The DOL is working on non-English versions of the model notices, but employers are not required to post the notices in any

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Emergency Family and Medical Leave Provisions (Part 2 of 2)

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA or Act”).  The FFCRA provides for two types of leave for employees:  Paid Sick Leave (up to 80 hours) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave (up to 12 weeks of combined paid and unpaid leave).  This post is part 2 of 2 summarizing the requirements of the FFCRA and focuses on Emergency Family and Medical Leave.

  • Scope: Unlike the paid sick leave provisions of the FFCRA, the emergency family and medical leave provisions are not standalone law.  Rather, these provisions amend the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), thus providing for “Emergency FMLA” leave.  However, the amendments (such as the changed definition of Covered Employer and Eligible Employee) apply only to Emergency FMLA provisions and do not amend the pre-existing provisions of the FMLA.
  • Effective Dates: The Act will become effective no later than April 2, 2020 and expire on December 31, 2020.
  • Covered Employer: Anyone who has fewer than 500 employees[1] and otherwise satisfies the elements of the definition of “Employer” under the FMLA.[2]
    • EXCEPTIONS:
      • DOL may issue guidance excluding employers with fewer than 50 employees from the requirement to provide Emergency FMLA, if the Emergency FMLA would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”
      • Regardless of whether such guidance is issued, employers with fewer than 50 employees will not be subject to an FMLA action by employees for failing to provide

COVID-19: FMLA Reminders and Recommendations

March 18, 2020

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As employers navigate the implications of COVID-19 and the workplace, one of the subjects to keep in mind is the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Employers should be aware that currently pending legislation would temporarily amend the FMLA to, among other things, change the scope of the employers covered by the FMLA (with respect to the new provisions), expand eligibility in certain respects, and provide certain paid leave obligations in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).  If that legislation becomes law, employers are encouraged to consult legal counsel to assess what, if any, new obligations they may have.

In the meantime, this post is intended to provide employers with reminders and recommendations for complying with the current version of the FMLA. In addition to reviewing this post, employers should review the FMLA guidance issued recently by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL):  https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla/pandemic.

Eligibility:  Resist the urge to make FMLA available for everyone regardless of eligibility status.

  • While making FMLA leave available to all may seem generous, the DOL has emphasized that it is not permissible to count leave against an employee’s 12-week FMLA entitlement if the employee is not yet eligible for leave (i.e., has not worked for the employer for 12 months, has not worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months before the leave is to begin, or does not work at a location with 50 employees in a 75 mile radius).
  • Rather than providing “FMLA leave” to an employee who is not yet

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act May Bring (Slightly Modified) Paid Leave to Employees Working For Employers With Fewer Than 500 Employees And To Government Employers

March 18, 2020

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With the novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) continuing to spread across the country, the U.S. House of Representatives (“House”) voted in the early hours of March 14, 2020 to provide emergency relief to Americans through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”).  While the Act has not yet become law – it must still be passed by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Donald Trump – it is already getting a great deal of attention.

The version of the Act that the House first adopted on March 14th included a variety of resources and benefits, including emergency paid sick leave and emergency paid family and medical leave, for which the Act provides covered employers with a tax credit.  Just two days later, however, on March 16, 2020, the House voted to trim back some of these benefits with respect to emergency paid family and medical leave.

Below is a summary of the latest version of the Act’s highlights for employers; however, employers should note that if the Act becomes law, the emergency paid leave provisions described below will generally only apply to private employers with fewer than 500 employees and to government employers.

In addition, employers should also note that if the Act becomes law, it will take effect 15 days after President Trump’s execution of the law and will remain effective until December 31, 2020.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave

  • Under the Act, full-time employees will immediately become entitled to up to 80 hours of emergency paid leave

When Employee’s Trip to the Beach May NOT Support A Suspicion of FMLA Fraud

Employers are not obligated to tolerate employee misuse of FMLA leave.  Examples abound in which an employer learns – often through an employee’s social media posts or through information from an employee’s co-workers – that an employee on intermittent FMLA leave has been having a good time while absent from work, such as taking a trip to the beach (or Las Vegas, Cancun, ….), playing golf, going fishing, etc.  In those situations, when an employer takes action to discipline or terminate the employee after conducting a reasonable investigation and reaching an honest belief of FMLA fraud, the employer will often successfully defeat a resulting FMLA retaliation claim (and, often an FMLA interference claim as well).

The case of Meyer v. Town of Wake Forest, No. 5:16-CV-348-FL, 2018 WL 4689447 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 28, 2018), however, provides an example of when an employee going to the beach during FMLA leave may not provide good grounds for an “honest belief” of FMLA fraud.  In Meyer, the employee was approved for intermittent FMLA leave both to care for his wife who was recovering from childbirth and to bond with his newborn son.  A co-worker reported to the employer that, while on approved FMLA leave, the employee had been to the beach with his family, and that he also planned to go with them to the state fair.  Based on the employee’s subsequent admission that he had engaged in these activities and that he had recorded his time as sick time under the employer’s

DOL: Employers May Not Delay FMLA Designation, Even at Employee’s Request

It is not uncommon for employees to ask whether they can first use paid time off available under the employer’s leave policies and “save” their unpaid – and protected – Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave entitlement until later, in the event that they need additional leave.  Some employers permit this approach, perhaps out of a desire to be “generous” to employees with respect to leave, or sometimes inadvertently due to not realizing that paid leave and unpaid FMLA leave can run concurrently, or even because of a failure to recognize at the beginning of an employee’s leave that the FMLA applies.

In an opinion letter issued on March 14, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) took a firm stand against this practice, stating unequivocally that “the employer may not delay designating leave as FMLA-qualifying, even if the employee would prefer that the employer delay the designation.”  See FMLA2019-1-A.

In reaching this conclusion, the DOL relied heavily on the FMLA regulation precluding the waiver of FMLA rights, see 29 C.F.R. § 825.220(d), stating that, in light of the prohibition on such waivers, neither the employee nor the employer “may decline FMLA protection” for FMLA-qualifying leave.  The DOL also noted that delaying FMLA leave until after paid leave is exhausted would run afoul of the regulation that requires employers to provide the FMLA designation notice within five business days of having sufficient information to determine that leave is for an FMLA-qualifying reason.  See 29 C.F.R. § 825.300(d)(1).

Although

Does An Employer Have FMLA Obligations Even Before An Employee Satisfies the Eligibility Requirements For Taking FMLA Leave?

November 26, 2018

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In a word: Yes.  In fact, there are many.

The most notable obligation under the Family and Medical Leave Act – the obligation to provide protected leave for a qualifying reason – does not apply until the employee has become eligible for leave under the Act.  However, many other obligations apply even before an employee becomes FMLA-eligible:

  • Employers may not manipulate the size of a worksite or the number of work hours available to an employee in order to avoid employee eligibility for FMLA leave.
  • Employers may not induce an employee to waive prospective rights under the FMLA, such as inducing a pre-eligible employee to waive the right to take leave once the employee becomes eligible in exchange for some other employer-provided benefit.
  • Employers must not retaliate against an employee who, before becoming eligible for FMLA leave, requests leave that will begin after eligibility is achieved. See Pereda v. Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc., 666 F.3d 1269 (11th Jan. 10, 2012) (holding that the FMLA prohibits an employer from harassing, criticizing the performance of, and terminating an employee in response to a pre-eligibility request for post-eligibility leave, because to hold otherwise would create “a loophole . . . whereby an employer has total freedom to terminate an employee before she can ever become eligible.  Such a situation is contrary to the basic concept of the FMLA”).
  • Employers must give accurate information to an employee about whether the employee is eligible for leave. When an employee is given inaccurate information

On or Off? What to Do with Email When the Employee Is on FMLA Leave.

September 21, 2018

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When an employee goes out on continuous (not intermittent) leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (or analogous state law), the employer must decide whether to turn off the employee’s email access during the leave.  If the employer has a standard practice that applies to other comparable leaves of absence, then the employer should follow that practice for FMLA leave as well.  But if the employer has no existing practice, what practice should it adopt?

On the one hand, employees should not be expected to work while they are on FMLA leave and, generally, should not work.  Turning off the email access demonstrates the employer’s seriousness about compliance with this principle, precludes a one-off supervisor ignoring this principle and asking the employee to do something, and prevents the employee from ignoring this expectation and instead doing work (and making a claim later that he or she is entitled to pay and/or should not have had certain hours counted against the employee’s FMLA entitlement).

On the other hand, employers are permitted to communicate with employees while they are on leave, and may even ask employees on occasion to help briefly with something (like providing a summary of the status of a matter, or letting the employer know who the contact is for a project, or where to find a file) without violating the FMLA.  This is typically viewed as something akin to a professional courtesy and will not support an interference claim, so long as it does not cross the

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