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On August 3, 2020, a federal court in New York state struck down portions of the regulations implementing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). In litigation brought by the state of New York against the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”), a U.S. District Court, among other things, substantially narrowed the “health care provider” exception to the FFCRA.
The FFCRA requires employers to provide employees paid leave benefits in connection with certain COVID-19-related absences. The health care provider exception allows employers to deny FFCRA’s leave benefits to employee health care providers. The court rejected as too broad DOL’s regulatory definition of “health care provider” which included:
“[A]nyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, Employer, or entity. This includes any permanent or temporary institution, facility, location, or site where medical services are provided that are similar to such institutions, as well as any individual employed by an entity that contracts with any of these institution . . . .”
DOL Final Rule at 19,351 (§ 826.25). Instead, after recognizing its applicability to the FFCRA, the court applied the narrower Family Medical Leave Act “health care provider” definition:
“(A) a doctor of medicine or osteopathy who is authorized to practice medicine or surgery (as appropriate) by the State in which the doctor practices; or (B) any other person determined by the Secretary to be capable of providing health care services.”
29 U.S.C. § 2611(6); State of New York v. U.S. Department of Labor, et al., No. 1:20-cv-03020 (S.D. N.Y. Aug. 3, 2020).
In that same decision, the court also: rejected a DOL rule which denied FFRCA leave to employees in the absence of available work for the employee to perform (e.g. during a furlough); vacated a DOL rule requiring employer consent to intermittent use of FFCRA leave; and struck down a DOL requirement that employees provide FFCRA documentation in advance of taking leave.
The court’s decision substantially affects key components of the FFCRA. Significantly, for healthcare sector employers, it may reduce the ability to exempt most employees from FFCRA leave benefits. It also raises the question of potential liability for employers who denied employees FFCRA leave based upon DOL’s now-vacated regulations. Finally, the impact of the court’s decision outside the state of New York is currently unclear. Employers are encouraged to speak with an attorney if they have questions about FFCRA compliance or other employee leave-related matters.
For more information regarding the implications of the court’s decision, the FFCRA or other employment-related matters, please contact attorney John Conley at (602) 792-3500.