The Families First Coronavirus
Response Act (the Act or FFCRA) became law when President Donald Trump
signed it on March 18, 2020, and it became effective on April 1, 2020.
The Act builds on an $8.3 billion emergency COVID-19 spending package
enacted into law on March 6, 2020, to address the immediate public
health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Broadly, these provisions
include, but are not limited to, the following: emergency paid sick
leave; emergency/expanded family and medical leave; unemployment benefits;
and free coronavirus testing.
The Act modifies U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) food assistance and nutrition programs
to allow certain waivers to requirements for school meal programs,
suspend the work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program), and allow
states to request waivers to provide certain emergency SNAP benefits.
In addition, the Act requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) to issue an emergency temporary standard that requires certain
employers to develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease
exposure control plan to protect healthcare workers.
The Act also includes
provisions that establish a federal emergency paid leave benefits
program to provide payments to employees taking unpaid leave due to
the COVID-19 outbreak, expand unemployment benefits and provide grants
to states for processing and paying claims, require employers to provide
paid sick leave to employees, establish requirements for providing
coronavirus diagnostic testing at no cost to consumers, treat personal
respiratory protective devices as covered countermeasures that are
eligible for certain liability protections, and temporarily increase
the Medicaid federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP).
Sick leave. The Act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide
up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for local-/state-/federal-imposed
quarantine or self-quarantine for COVID-19, for their own illness
or a family member’s illness related to COVID-19, and for school/daycare
closures related to COVID-19. Employees are not entitled to paid sick
leave, however, if they are simply home because their workplace is
closed. In these situations, employees may be eligible for unemployment
Paid leave required under
the Act is separate and above any existing sick leave entitlements.
Outside of those circumstances, an employee is subject to existing
sick leave entitlements.
For absences related
to the employee’s own exposure to the coronavirus, employers must
pay 100 percent of the employee’s regular wages. Pay may be capped
at $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate. For absences related
to the employee’s family member or school and/or childcare closings,
employers must pay the paid sick time at 2/3 the employee’s regular
wages. Pay may be capped at $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate.
Note that part-time employees are entitled to the number of paid sick
time hours equal to the average number of hours they work over a 2-week
and medical leave. The Act gives government employees and
employees of companies with fewer than 500 employees the right to
take up to 3 months of leave from their jobs if they have to care
for a family member who is quarantined or for a child whose school
has been closed.
Under the Emergency
Family and Medical Leave Act (Expanded FMLA or EFMLA), for absences
related to COVID-19, employees must only be employed for 30 consecutive
days, and there are no hours-worked requirements.
Specifically, the EFMLA
provisions temporarily expand the current FMLA to allow up to 12 weeks
of job-protected leave for employees who are unable to work because
they must care for a child whose school/daycare provider has closed
due to a public health emergency declared as a result of COVID-19
by a federal, state, or local authority. Paid FMLA leave for this
reason is required after the first 10 days (during which the paid
sick leave may be used). Employees may choose to use previously available
sick leave, vacation leave, or paid time off. Employers cannot require
employees to utilize such leave, however. Employees taking leave are
entitled to pay at 2/3 their regular rate or 2/3 the applicable minimum
wage, whichever is higher, up to $200 per day and $12,000 in the aggregate
(over a 12-week period). The Act also exempts certain healthcare providers
from the expanded coverage. The right to EFMLA leave related to COVID-19
expires December 31, 2020.
On March 24, 2020, the
Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued
additional guidance for employers and employees relating to the two
paid leave provisions of the FFCRA: the Emergency Paid Sick Leave
Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act.
The provisions will become
effective on April 1, 2020, and will apply to leave taken between
April 1, 2020, and December 31, 2020. The DOL noted that leave taken
and/or provided before April 1, 2020, will not count toward the FFCRA
UDPATE: As of April 8, 2020, the DOL has issued three separate FAQs to provide
guidance concerning the FFCRA. On March 28, 2020, the DOL released
its third batch of questions and answers (FAQs #38-59), which became
effective April 1, 2020. According to the most up-to-date guidance,
on April 1, the FFCRA will require private employers with 499 or fewer
employees, and certain public employers, to provide covered employees
with emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and emergency unpaid and paid
family leave (FMLA+). Additionally, the DOL also clarified some information
it previously provided in other questions and answers (FAQs #1-37).