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Lawsuits Over COVID-19 Leave are Expected to Increase Soon

When Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), they did so with the hope that it would protect Americans from losing their jobs during a pandemic. The law mainly focused on providing COVID-19 leave for employees who encountered difficulties related to the spreading disease. Unfortunately, lawmakers may have been hasty in their work.

We'll undoubtedly see many coronavirus lawsuits in the coming months, but legal experts expect those related to COVID-19 leave to spike during the fall. A steady increase is already occurring across the country, and unfortunately for medical professionals, filings within their industry have already made their way into federal courts.

COVID-19 Leave in the Law

If you're running a small practice, you no doubt followed the safety precautions for reopening medical offices after COVID-19. In addition to protecting the health of your patients and employees, these steps could minimize your legal exposure if someone were to contract the disease. Unfortunately, many practices will still face legal peril. 

When the FFCRA went into effect in April, its goal was to provide COVID-19 leave for employees and tax relief for companies that followed key guidance under the law. The legislation contained several important elements, but the following were among the most important:

  • Two weeks paid leave if symptomatic or under quarantine order.
  • Two weeks partial paid leave if caring for someone under quarantine or a child whose school/daycare closes.
  • 10 weeks additional family leave if children cannot attend school or lack child care due to pandemic. 
  • Employers with less than 500 workers fall under the law, but there are a few key exceptions - such as the recent update in California

Once it became apparent how disruptive coronavirus would be on daily lives, Congress acted fast to provide COVID-19 leave under the FFCRA. Some experts feel this was hastily done and caused many potential flaws. Legal experts expect that the lack of clarity in the law will soon result in a groundswell of litigation before expiring at the end of the year.

Protecting your practice legally starts with human resources. Contact HR for Health today for a consultation that may help you better understand your duties under the law and avoid a coronavirus lawsuit. You can also take our 5-minute COVID-19 HR Risk Assessment here

Legal Issues of FFCRA

We're only beginning to see the potential legal repercussions of the FFCRA. In the time that the law went into effect until the end of August, there were only 72 coronavirus lawsuits filed federally related to COVID-19 leave. Some of these have already been dismissed, but most are in the very early stages. 

The biggest problems related to FFCRA are linked to a lack of understanding in employer obligations. 

Legal experts say that the law is difficult to comply with, and a lot was left unclear in the legislation. In fact, many human resources professionals have recommended granting leave to be on the safe side until more guidance on implementation is released. 

There were many uncertainties prior to the most recent DOL release. Some of the most confusing were: :

  • Protection status of healthcare workers (there is confusion regarding exemptions).
  • Can COVID-19 leave that's covered under the law be taken intermittently?
  • What must employers do to justify refusing leave under the law? 

The lack of clarity regarding these issues partially stemmed from the relatively small amount of litigation that has occurred thus far. Some expected an immediate influx of lawsuits, but considering how much everyone was dealing with initially, it's understandable that few had time to file litigation. Trying to understand Paycheck Protection Program guidance and ever-changing public safety orders contributed to this confusing time. 

Since the COVID-19 leave provided in the FFCRA only lasts until the expiration of the law, though, it's likely that federal courts will see an influx of cases in the fall. Many of these lawsuits will come from parents who weren't given flexibility with leave, employees who had symptoms but were fired or required to return to work, and those who were given telework options but unable to meet traditional work requirements. 

Where are COVID-19 Leave Lawsuits Coming From?

If you feel your dental, chiropractic or other medical practice is safe due to exemptions in the FFCRA, contacting the friendly professionals at HR for Health is still recommended. Even though new guidance from the DOL has cleared up some confusion regarding healthcare workers, consequential litigation is currently still making its way through federal courts. The following industries and employees are involved in most cases so far:

  • Mechanics
  • Food and beverage
  • Landscaping
  • Office workers
  • Medical professionals

While most of these cases involve people who feel they were wrongfully terminated, a small percentage were filed by individuals who received COVID-19 leave but said they received no compensation during that time. Florida has experienced the highest number of lawsuits, but other states will no doubt catch up as shutdown orders are increasingly lifted. 

Even if you feel confident that your healthcare practice is exempt from COVID-19 leave requirements, it's imperative that you document all leave requests, your decision to grant or deny them, and a written explanation for any denials. While offering flexible work schedules can go a long way, helping your employees understand their rights and the reasoning for your decisions can be even more beneficial.

Protect Your Practice

Exemptions written into the law seem to provide some level of protection from lawsuits to healthcare managers and practice owners. And even though the DOL released much needed clarity, there are still many unknowns regarding the legislation. While we'll learn more as an influx of cases hit the courts, it probably isn't wise to risk falling into this groundswell of litigation based on hopeful interpretations of the law. 

HR for Health is here to make sure you're in compliance with all necessary laws and that you maintain proper documentation to protect your office. Contact us today to learn how we can assist in safeguarding your practice.

Schedule an HR Consultation

Did you know that we at HR for Health monitor all the specific laws and regulations that affect your practice? If you have questions about compliance issues, please reach out to us. Schedule a call, call (877) 779-4747, or email compliance@hrforhealth.com now to learn more.

HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices.