Between now and December 31st of this year, the U.S. Department of Labor's Families First Coronavirus Response Act (or FFCRA) requires certain types of employers to give their employees a set amount of paid sick leave, expanded family leave, or medical leave in accordance with a list of specified COVID-19-related reasons.
Of course, this sentence alone raises plenty of questions (not to mention the regulations of the FFCRA itself). Because the Department of Labor’s (Department) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) will be administering and enforcing the paid leave requirements of this new law, it's essential that all offices and employees alike understand what this new COVID-19 assistance truly entails.
The Basics of the FFCRA
At the start, the Department of Labor's Families First Coronavirus Response Act defines the kind of coverage employers qualify for under the act:
- A work week’s equivalent of paid sick leave, set at the employee's normal salary, to be allotted when the employee is unable to work because of a Federal, State, or local government-ordered, advised, or medically-advised quarantine.
- A work week’s equivalent of paid sick leave, set at the employee's normal salary, to be allotted when the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
- A work week’s equivalent of paid sick leave, set at 2/3 the employee's normal salary, to be allotted when the employee can't work because of a need to take care of someone in quarantine.
- A work week’s equivalent of paid sick leave, set at 2/3 the employee's normal salary, to be allotted when the employee has to take care of a child (defined as anyone under 18) whose school or child care provider is closed or unaccessible because of COVID-19.
- Up to 10 additional weeks of expanded family or medical leave, set at 2/3 the employee’s normal salary, to be allotted when an employee needs to take care of a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unaccessible because of COVID-19.
Additionally, the DOL quotes these six reasons why someone might need to take FFCRA:
- “If the employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.”
- “If the employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19.”
- “If the employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis.”
- “If the employee is caring for an individual subject to an order described in the first point or self-quarantine as described in the second.”
- “If the employee is caring for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons.”
- “If the employee is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”
While some of this is relatively straightforward, an office manager might be receiving plenty of questions (and might even have questions themselves) about what some of these guidelines mean. Thankfully, this Q&A should provide some clarity. Explore the section below to find out more.
FFCRA Back to School Questions and Answers
What if the school isn't closed but is doing distance learning?
If the school is doing distance learning and the physical location is closed, then the school is considered "closed" for paid sick leave, expanded family leave, and medical leave purposes. It doesn't matter if some or all of the educational instruction is being done online. If teaching is being done online in any capacity instead of in person and your child is expected to be doing their work via the internet, then the school is "closed" according to the FFCRA.
What if an employee doesn't have to be home for their child’s distance learning, but wants to be?
If the employee has other options for their child and are not required to be home with them due to child care issues, then they may not be eligible for leave under FFCRA. Still, regardless of whether a request is approved or denied, the FFCRA requires you to keep a record of:
- The name of the employee requesting leave
- The date(s) they're requesting the leave
- Their reasoning for requesting the leave
- A written statement from the employee explaining why they're unable to work
If the employee is asking for leave because they're under a quarantine order or need to care for someone under a quarantine order, then the office manager also needs to keep track of the name of the person that issued the order. If they're requesting leave to complete a medically-advised self-quarantine, there also needs to be a record of the health care provider who gave the advice.
If an employee asks for leave so they can take care of their child whose school or daycare facility is closed, the practice also needs to take note of:
- The name of the child
- The name of the school or child care provider that is closed or inaccessible
- A written statement from the employee explaining why they're the only one who can care for the child
What if they have a high school kid doing distance learning and can be home alone but their parents don't want to leave them alone?
Truth be told, it honestly depends on the situation. According to the FFCRA, paid sick leave, expanded family leave, or medical leave includes having to care for one or more children, but leave can only be granted if the child is under the age of 18. However, if your child is above the age of 18 and has a disability, then paid sick leave, expanded family leave, or medical leave can be granted (as long as the proper documentation and parameters can be met as detailed above).
Can employees take leave intermittently to care for children that have some days at home and some days at school?
As long as an office manager or practice owner works out a plan with their employees, paid sick leave can absolutely be granted intermittently. For example, if an employee's child is at home on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and in school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then the employee can be granted leave every other day and while being expected to be in the office when their student is at school.
For more details on how the FFCRA rules apply to employees with childcare issues, Ali Oromchian, JD, LL.M breaks it down in this video:
Further Questions and Answers About the FFCRA
What if an employee has been teleworking with kids at home successfully until now, but they are now requesting leave under FFCRA?
If this kind of scenario comes about, it's ultimately up to your discretion as the office manager. If you grant them leave, just have them provide the proper documentation and emphasize that their written statement will need to detail why they are suddenly unable to telework. As long as the employee can properly defend their reasoning, then it's up to you to make the decision. Things change, especially during such unpredictable times as a global pandemic, and the Department of Labor definitely encourages flexibility to reduce everyone's stress.
For example, an employee may not have told you that they weren't able to properly care for the children while teleworking or, perhaps, the employee might have a spouse whose working conditions have changed and have consequentially thrown off the employee's working situation. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for an employee to request leave, they just need to be able to explain it properly in their statement.
(Of course, this does not mean you can't reprimand an employee who unlawfully takes paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave based on lies or mistruths — this is never okay.)
What about small practices who would be significantly impacted by multiple employees on sick leave?
If providing paid sick leave would seriously financially jeopardize your office or practice, then you are exempt from certain FFCRA requirements. However, this only applies if:
- You employ fewer than 50 employees
- The leave is requested because the child’s school or daycare is closed as a result of COVID-19
- If one of the following three applies to your office or practice:
- The allowance of paid sick leave, expanded family leave, or medical leave would result in a financial loss that forces you to close.
- The employee or employees are essential to the day-to-day operations because of their specialized skills, knowledge, or responsibilities.
- The loss of the employee or employees requesting leave would result in too few employees left in the office or practice and would result in you being forced to close.
Also, to qualify for this exemption, the authorized officer of the business has to document why their office with fewer than 50 employees meets the parameters set by the Department.
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Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services