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The United States Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division has issued revisions to the regulations implementing the paid leave provisions of the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” (FFCRA). Responding to a recent federal court decision striking down key provisions of the DOL’s previously-issued regulations, the DOL has reaffirmed certain regulations, amended other regulations, and further explained the rationale behind its positions. The revised regulations went into effect on September 16, 2020.
FFCRA PAID LEAVE BASICS
Signed into law on March 18, 2020, the FFCRA authorized an emergency relief package providing support for individuals impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency, including temporary paid sick and emergency family leave for eligible employees. The law applies to private sector employers with fewer than 500 employees as well as government entities, though certain exceptions may apply.
The FFCRA became effective on April 1, 2020 and is designated to expire on December 31, 2020.
Paid Sick Leave
The FFCRA provides paid sick leave to employees who are unable to work (or telework) due to the following COVID-19-related reasons:
1) The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
2) The employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
3) The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
4) The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order as described in subparagraph (1) or has been advised as described in subparagraph (2).
5) The employee is caring for their son or daughter if the school or place of care of the son or daughter has been closed, or the childcare provider of the son or daughter is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions.
6) The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.
Under the law, full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of immediately-available paid sick leave. Part-time employees are entitled to paid sick leave in an amount that is equivalent to their normal work hours in a two-week period.
Employees must be paid their normal rate of pay or minimum wage – whichever is greater. With respect to self-care, paid sick leave is capped at $511/day and $5,110 in the aggregate. In cases in which an employee uses paid sick leave to care for others, the cap is $200/day and $2,000 in the aggregate.
Emergency Family Leave
The FFCRA (as an expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act or “FMLA”) provides up to 12 weeks of emergency family leave (or ten weeks of emergency family leave and two weeks of paid sick leave) to eligible employees who are unable to work (or telework) due to a need to care for a minor child whose school/daycare is closed or because the child’s childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.
Eligible employees are any part-time or full-time employee who has been on the job for at least 30 days.
An employer is permitted to designate the first ten days of emergency family leave as unpaid (although an employee can opt to use vacation time or other paid time off, including paid sick leave provided under the FFCRA, to cover the unpaid time).
Beyond the first ten days, emergency family leave is paid at two-thirds the employee’s normal rate of pay with a cap of $200/day and $10,000 in the aggregate.
Emergency family leave does not change the overall amount of FMLA leave available to employees during an applicable FMLA 12-month period.
THE REVISED REGULATIONS
Narrowing the definition of “healthcare provider”
Under the FFCRA, employers of “healthcare providers” may elect to exclude such employees from taking paid leave. While the initial regulations broadly defined “healthcare provider” to include nearly any person employed in a doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic, the revised regulations significantly narrow this definition to the following:
1) A “healthcare provider” as defined by the FMLA. The definition includes doctors (M.D.s and D.O.s), podiatrists, dentists, clinical psychologists, optometrists, chiropractors, nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, clinical social workers, physician assistants, certain Christian Science Practitioners, and other limited health care providers; or
2) Any other employee of a covered employer who is capable of providing health care services, “meaning he or she is employed to provide diagnostic services, preventive services, treatment services or other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provision of patient care and, if not provided, would adversely impact patient care.” This category of “healthcare providers” includes nurses, nurse assistants, medical technicians, and laboratory technicians.
The revised regulations provide examples of employees who will not be considered a “healthcare provider” for purposes of the FFCRA, including IT professionals, maintenance staff, human resources personnel, records managers, billers, and consultants.
Relaxing the requirement for providing notice and supporting documentation
The initial regulations required employees to provide employers with notice and documentation establishing the need for paid leave prior to taking the leave.
The revised regulations relax that standard. Rather than dictating that employees provide notice and documentation before taking leave, the revised regulations clarify that employees may provide documentation “as soon as practicable.”
In cases in which the need for leave is foreseeable, e.g., an employee knows that his or her child’s school is closed in advance, the DOL anticipates that the employee generally will provide notice before taking leave.
Reiterating paid leave is only available to employees “unable” to work/telework
An employee’s reason for taking paid leave must be the sole reason the employee is unable to work/telework (i.e., “but-for” the employee’s need to take leave, the employee would otherwise be working).
This means that an employee cannot use paid leave if his or her employer closes its worksite or otherwise does not have work available for the employee for reasons other than the employee’s need to take leave (i.e., paid leave is not available to employees who are furloughed, laid off, or on a reduced schedule due to lack of work or business).
With that said, the revised regulations underscore that employers may not arbitrarily withhold work or reduce an employee’s hours to prevent the employee from taking paid leave. An unavailability of work must be due to legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons and not simply that an employer is attempting to thwart an employee’s ability to take paid leave.
Clarifying when an employee can take intermittent leave
For employees who are teleworking or working onsite, the revised regulations reiterate that employees may take intermittent emergency family leave or paid sick leave only with the consent of their employer.
With respect to employees who work onsite, the revised regulations also reaffirm that employees can only take intermittent paid sick leave because of a need to care for a minor child whose school/daycare is closed or because the child’s childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 (i.e., employees who work onsite cannot take intermittent paid sick leave for any other qualifying reasons).
The revised regulations also elaborate on the meaning of “intermittent.” The DOL provides an example of an employee’s child who is participating in hybrid learning in which the child attends school only certain days during the week and is at home the remaining days. In this case, the DOL clarifies that an employee who takes emergency family leave, for example, Mondays and Wednesdays (when the employee’s child is not in school) and then works Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays (when the employee’s child is in school) is not considered to be taking intermittent leave (and therefore does not require consent of his or her employer).
TAKEAWAYS FOR EMPLOYERS
Employers should make necessary adjustments to their FFCRA paid leave policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the revised regulations. Importantly, healthcare employers should take note of the DOL’s updated (and much narrower) definition of “healthcare provider” when determining which employees can be exempted from the FFCRA’s paid leave benefits.
The attorneys at Milligan Lawless will continue to update employers on various workplace issues arising from the COVID-19 public health emergency.
If you have any questions regarding how the FFCRA’s paid sick leave or emergency leave requirements affect your workplace, please contact John Conley or Kylie Mote at (602) 792-3500.