What Does the End of the FFCRA Mean for Your Dental, Optometry, or Veterinary Practice?
Let's start with the basics: What is FFCRA? The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was implemented at the federal level, effective April 2020.
It mandated that certain employers pay their team sick leave benefits throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Intended to help sustain American families, the benefits were paid to employees who were ill or unable to work from home for health reasons related to COVID-19 or a similar condition.
It helped provide expanded family leave, create new human services for sick people, and lay out the qualifying reasons for someone to take time off. Finally, it laid out acceptable leave reasons and specific leave provisions while also describing who were covered employers and penalties for non-enforcement.
However, when wondering what is the FFCRA, keep this in mind: The FFCRA ended on September 30, 2021. Finding fact sheets and FAQs that lay out its lasting impact can be harder.
Now that the FFCRA is no longer available, how can your dental, optometry, veterinary or medical practice adapt?
COVID Law Changes: How Your Sick Leave Policy Has Changed
Now that the FFCRA has ended, the provisions of the FFCRA no longer apply. Chief among them: On the federal level, employers are no longer required to give paid sick leave benefits to employees on extended periods of leave. (Please note, there are still some state guidelines that require COVID sick pay.) This is true whether they or a direct family member they care for suffers from COVID-19 complications. It will ultimately be up to each health care provider to manage these issues.
Employers can extend these benefits to their employees and expand the program internally. If an employee, their child, or their spouse contracts COVID-19, the employer can continue to offer paid benefits when the employee is on sick leave, but the government will no longer mandate it. However, it is essential to verify the local laws in your state concerning sick leave policies around COVID-19, as these can vary from state to state and based on the specific medical diagnosis of a full-time or part-time employee.
Practitioners operating dental, optometry, and physical therapy clinics, among others, will continue to face the dilemma of running their practice amid COVID for the foreseeable future. Providing job protection for your team is crucial to maintain and reassure your employees and maintain a safe working environment. Luckily, some government programs allow employers to protect employees without the FFCRA. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has announced different standards across various industries, including healthcare.
These standards may vary from state to state; some states, like California, may have additional requirements. It is worth checking with every state's Wage and Hour Division (WHD). That being said, when trying to figure out what the FFCRA is, remember that many of its provisions no longer apply.
Take a look at these
How to Manage Time Off for COVID-Related Absences
If employees need time off because of COVID-19, offering some benefit is beneficial for both your practice and your team. Employees already have enough challenges, including finding a good child care provider and getting to work. Allowing time off in this way reassures your employees that their positions will remain secure until their return. You can also choose to maintain their seniority and offer unpaid leave if your practice cannot sustain the cost.
Since the end of the FFCRA benefit, many employees have begun to fear for their families and their ability to support them. With so few qualified professionals to choose from, it may be more cost-effective for your practice to continue paying someone on sick leave than to find a new employee and train them. In these instances, you should calculate an employee's regular rate and then ensure that you provide their regular rate of pay. You'll also want to stay in touch with the employee in question to share any additional information. Last, be sure you know how many weeks of leave you will offer.
How Else Can Employers Help Employees With COVID-19?
Wondering what the FFCRA is and how its provisions can be met, even if the law is no longer binding? Keep in mind that there are other ways you can offer your employees benefits if they need time off from work.
If your employee falls ill with COVID-19, they may still be entitled to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is unpaid leave for employees suffering from a serious health condition. This can apply to COVID-19 as well. More than 20 states also offer Family Medical Leave, which can be either paid or unpaid depending on the state, the employer, and the employee. Such employee benefits are legally binding, so make sure you check the laws of your state.
Other states may also offer refundable tax credits for your practice enacting paid leave requirements. Such employee benefits — like paid family leave or health insurance — have to adhere to strict conditions.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also allows for unpaid leave for employees suffering from substantial impairment of physical or mental abilities. Employers may also allow sick employees to use their paid time off (PTO) or vacation days to secure their income as they deal with and recover from COVID-19. The important thing is to be sure you consistently apply COVID-19 policies in your practice. This will help protect you from claims of discrimination. Be sure to follow the same rules for everyone at all times.
You may also want to consider telework for employers who meet eligibility requirements and can work from home. Eligible employees may benefit from such flexibility, which may enable you to increase employee retention and satisfaction. Of course, many practice employees and emergency responders cannot engage in these practices. Private employers are free to implement whatever policies they choose, as long as they operate within the law's confines.
How to Prevent COVID-19 Disruptions in Your Practice
When considering what the FFCRA is, it is also essential to consider the availability of vaccines and vaccine mandates that may end the need for employees to self-quarantine (although they may still need to do so, depending on the advice of a health care provider). Can you mandate a vaccine among your employees? Yes. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, you may require all your employees to get vaccinated, especially since you work in the healthcare sector. However, you should still allow for exemptions related to true religious or medical reasons. Please note, some states require you offer paid leave for those employees getting the COVID vaccine.
If your employees are vaccinated, the likelihood of them requiring time off for COVID-related complications will be dramatically reduced. This can eliminate the issue of figuring out how to manage employee absences and provide job security to your employees over the coming months.
Get HR Help
If you need help to guide your practice and your employees through this health crisis, consider HR consultation. You can also read this to find out how the dental practice industry is handling human resources and compliance. The right HR professionals can help you navigate these unchartered waters as we work to rebuild the economy after the COVID-19 crisis. Indeed, HR guidance can help all employees, including medical practitioners and minimum wage workers.
Dealing with ill employees and their need for job security is an ongoing challenge for your practice, but there are ways you can inform yourself and work around these relatively recent problems. Managing your office can be simple, even during this unprecedented health crisis. Schedule a consultation today to see how HR for Health can streamline your HR process and help insulate your practice against inefficiency and legal threats.