President Signs Coronavirus Bill Into Law

March 20, 2020

On March 18, 2020, the President signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was passed by the House last week and the Senate yesterday. It will go into effect in 15 days and will sunset on December 31, 2020. The Act provides for emergency paid sick leave and expands FMLA leave for conditions related to the Coronavirus, among other things. 

Emergency Paid Sick Leave
Employers with fewer than 500 employees will be required to provide full-time employees experiencing a qualifying Coronavirus emergency with at least 80 hours of paid sick leave, regardless of how long the employee has worked for the employer. Part-time employees would receive a commensurate amount of sick leave based on the hours worked over a two-week period.  Employers may not require employees to use other paid leave before using leave under the Act. Emergency sick leave does not carry over to the next year. 

Employees would qualify for leave if the employee is unable to work or telework because:

  • The employee is subject to a government Coronavirus quarantine order;
  • A healthcare provider has advised the employee to quarantine;
  • The employee has Coronavirus symptoms and is seeking medical care;
  • The employee is caring for an individual who has been quarantined;
  • The employee is caring for a child whose school has closed;
  • “any other substantially similar condition” as determined by the secretary of Health and Human Services.

However, employers may exclude health care providers and emergency responders. 

If leave is for the employee’s own health condition, the employee must be compensated at the employee’s regular rate of pay. If leave is to care for a sick individual, a child whose school has been closed, or a substantially similar condition, employees must be compensated at two-thirds of their regular rate.  Pay during the leave is not to exceed $511 per day ($5,110 aggregate) when sick leave is used for government or medical quarantine or seeking medical care for symptoms, and $200 per day ($2,000 in the aggregate) when used for care of an individual, child care, or a substantially similar condition. 

Employers would receive a limited refundable employment tax credit for pay under this provision.

FMLA Leave Expansion
The law expands Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave for employees who cannot work or telework because they need to care for a child whose school has been closed or whose childcare provider is unavailable due to Coronavirus. For the first 10 days, leave may be unpaid. Thereafter, employers must provide two-thirds of the employee’s pay for up to 10 weeks.  Paid leave is not to exceed $200 per day and $10,000 in aggregate.

Unlike other provisions of the FMLA, employers with fewer than 50 employees are required to provide this leave. Employees are eligible for the expanded leave if they have been employed for at least 30 days. Employers with 25 or more employees are required to reinstate returning employees to their position after leave. Employees with fewer than 25 employees do not have to reinstate returning employees if the employee’s position no longer exists due to economic conditions related to Coronavirus and the employer makes reasonable efforts to place the employee in an equivalent position. Employees must provide as much notice of the need for leave as is practicable. 

There is a limited employment tax credit equal to payments made to employees for expanded FMLA leave, with a maximum per employee of $200 for each day of leave up to $10,000 per employee for the year.

The Act prohibits retaliating against an employee for using paid leave under the bill or complaining about unlawful practices. 

Employers will be required to post information about these benefits once the Secretary of Labor publishes them. 

Other Provisions
In addition, the Act allows states to expand unemployment insurance benefits, provides for free testing as recommended by the patient’s doctor, and increases the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and funding for Medicaid.