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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

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Paid Sick Leave Provisions (Part 1 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 with a combination of paid and unpaid leave).  This post is part 1 of 2 summarizing the requirements of the FFCRA and focuses on Paid Sick Leave. 

  • Effective Dates: The Act will become effective no later than April 2, 2020 and expire on December 31, 2020.
  • Department of Labor (“DOL”) Obligations: Must issue a “Model Notice” for employers to post within 7 days of enactment and guidance within 15 days of enactment.
  • Covered Employer – Anyone engaged in commerce with fewer than 500 employees,[1] as defined under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).
    • EXCEPTION – The DOL may issue guidance excluding employers with fewer than 50 employees from the paid leave requirements of the Act if the paid sick leave would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”
  • Eligible Employees – All employees (as defined under the FLSA), regardless of length of employment, and regardless of whether full-time or part-time.
    • EXCEPTION: If an employee is a healthcare provider or an emergency responder, the employer may choose not to provide paid sick leave to those employees.  (The DOL may issue guidance on this point.)
  • Affirmative Requirements for Employers under the Act:

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

Coronavirus – Top 5 HR tips for UK employers

Summary

The outbreak of the coronavirus has created real challenges for businesses. From a people perspective, employers need to bear in mind both employment law and health and safety obligations.

Our top 5 HR tips are:

  • Restrict non-essential travel to high risk areas – for example, many UK employers at present operate a very restrictive policy on travel to mainland China, and strongly discourage non-essential travel to Asia in general.
  • Quarantine staff who have returned from specified infected zones for a period – for example, require staff to work remotely from home for a 14 day period following their return. If the nature of their role means they are unable to work remotely, the general principle is that employees who are ready and willing to work are entitled to continue to be paid. Note however that an employer’s obligations in this regard depend on the actual contractual employment terms in place.
  • Deal appropriately and sensitively with staff who refuse to come to work for fear of infection – employers should listen to concerns staff may have and look to resolve genuine issues constructively. Ultimately, however, employers are entitled to discipline staff who refuse to obey a reasonable management instruction to come to work.
  • Minimise disease transmission within the office – remind staff to maintain hygiene standards, and consider installing hygiene facilities such as hand sanitisers at exit and entry points and enhancing existing office cleaning services.
  • Deal with discriminatory behaviours – monitor complaints or grievances which could indicate discriminatory behaviour towards employees of Asian origin.
  • For more information

    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

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

    September 21, 2018

    Categories

    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

    FMLA-Related Updates from the DOL: New Opinion Letters and (Kind of) New Forms

    The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently released two new opinion letters relating to the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), which provides eligible employees the right to unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons.  The DOL also issued “new” forms relating to FMLA leave, which should be used on a going-forward basis.

    The full opinion letters are available here and here, and the new forms are available here.

    Organ Donors

    In the first opinion letter, the DOL addressed the question of whether leave resulting from organ donation, including post-operative treatment, could qualify for FMLA leave.  The brief answer:  Yes, so long as the need for leave meets the FMLA’s definition of serious health condition.  An employee’s organ donation can qualify as a serious health condition when it involves “inpatient care” or “continuing treatment.” See 29 C.F.R. §§ 825.114, .115. And, since an organ donation would qualify as a serious health condition whenever it results in an overnight stay in a hospital – which is commonly involved in such donation – it is likely that the FMLA would apply.

    Importantly, the reason for the organ donation – e.g., the fact that the organ donor is in good health before the donation or chooses to donate the organ solely to improve someone else’s health – played no bearing in the DOL’s response.  The takeaway:  The DOL is not going to delve into the reason someone has a serious health condition requiring leave (and neither should the

    Paid Sick Leave to Take Effect in Maryland, Despite Governor’s Veto

    Maryland has joined the growing ranks of states across the country mandating employee sick leave. Last year, the General Assembly passed the Healthy Working Families Act, requiring employers to allow employees to earn time off from work.  While Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the bill late last year, the General Assembly reconvened in January and overrode the veto. The Act takes effect on February 11, 2018, and employers should be prepared to implement changes quickly.

    Coverage:

    The Act applies to full-time, part-time, and temporary employees. However, it does not apply to any employee who works fewer than 12 hours per week, or employees under 18 years old.  Additionally, the Act contains other exceptions for certain categories of workers, including agricultural workers, construction industry employees that are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and “as needed” shift employees in the healthcare industry.

    Whether sick leave is paid or unpaid depends on the size of the employer. Employers with 15 or more employees must provide up 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.  Employers with 14 or fewer employees must provide employees the same amount of unpaid sick leave.

    Accrual:

    An employee begins accruing leave immediately upon starting work.  Employers must allow employees to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, and the accrual rate is the same whether leave is paid or unpaid.  Additionally, employers must allow employees to carryover at least 40 hours of earned sick leave from one year to the next.  However, employers

    California Enacts New Law Expanding Parental Leave to Small Employers

    On Thursday, October 12, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that extends twelve weeks of unpaid parental leave to California employees who work for small businesses.  The New Parent Leave Act applies generally to California employers with at least 20 and no more than 49 employees.  The practical effect of the Act is to expand the parental leave required under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) to smaller employers.  The new law takes effect on January 1, 2018.

    Under the New Parent Leave Act, an employee may take up to twelve weeks of unpaid parental leave within one year of a child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement, so long as the employee (1) works at a location where the employer has at least 20 employees within a 75 mile radius, (2) has at least twelve months of service with the employer, and (3) has worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous twelve months.  The new law requires the employer to maintain the employee’s health care coverage, but the employer can recover the premium paid if the employee fails to return from leave due to a reason other than a serious health condition or “other circumstances beyond the control of the employee.”

    The law also creates a “parental leave mediation pilot program” that will last through January 1, 2020.  Under the “pilot” mediation program, if an employer requests mediation within 60 days of receiving a right to sue notice,

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