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Q&A: Coronavirus (COVID-19) & the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Lance M. Roasa, DVM, MS, JD, The Roasa Law Group, Omaha, Nebraska

Steve Kellner , The Roasa Law Group, Omaha Nebraska

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Q&A: Coronavirus (COVID-19) & the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
Editor's note: This is a developing situation. Readers are encouraged to check back frequently for updates.
Published Tuesday, March 24, 2020, at 5:00 PM CST

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This act contains multiple measures to help slow the spread of the virus and provide relief for the American workforce—including mandatory paid leave for employees that are impacted by COVID-19.

What is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?

This act (now law) mandates employers give paid leave to employees who are unable to work while personally affected by the virus or caring for someone affected by the virus.

Two types of leave are available to employees, best distilled as “short-term” or “long-term” leave.

Short-Term Leave

Short-term leave (ie, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act [EPSLA] component) for coronavirus-related reasons is defined as coverage for the first 10 days if the conditions below are met:

  • The employee is subject to federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
    • Subject to a cap of $511 per day ($5,110 total)
  • The employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
    • Subject to a cap of $511 per day ($5,110 total)
  • The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
    • Subject to a cap of $511 per day ($5,110 total)
  • The employee is caring for a child or other dependent due to a COVID-19-related closing of their school, childcare facility, or other care program.
    • Subject to a cap of $200 per day ($2,000 total)

This type of leave requires the employee’s salary to be paid for 80 hours for full-time employees (ie, 10 days).

Long-Term Leave

The long-term leave (ie, the Family and Medical Leave Act [FMLA] expansion component) requires the employee to be paid two-thirds of their salary for up to 10 weeks (ie, after the first 10 days are unpaid or EPSLA is utilized) in order to comply with a public health or health care provider recommendation to remain out of work due to exposure or symptoms of coronavirus, to care for a family member who has been recommended to stay home, or if caring for a child under the age of 18 if the school or child care facility is closed. This long-term component pays up to $200 per day and is capped at $10,000 in total.

Poll

How is childcare impacting your team members?


Leave in Review

In total, 12 weeks of paid leave are available if the conditions are met. The short-term leave covers 100% of the employee’s pay for the first 10 days if the employee is sick, and two-thirds of the employee’s pay if the employee is caring for someone else. The long-term leave covers two-thirds of the salary for the remaining 10 weeks. 

Who is going to pay for this?

The employer is required to make these payments to the employee (ie, out of pocket), then receive tax credits against the employer’s portion of Social Security taxes (ie, 6.2% of each employee’s salary). If the paid leave exceeds the Social Security tax, the government will issue the employer a check.

Employers should record when and why employees are taking leave. Employers should also record the rates of pay for leave and whether the employee is subject to quarantine or isolation (vs caring for someone else).

When does this go into effect?

This act was passed and signed into law March 19, 2020, and will be in effect within 15 days of the date of signature.

Which companies and workers are affected?

Companies with more than 500 employees are exempted. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be exempted at a future time by the Department of Labor if "the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern."

Of note, these regulations are due to be published the week of March 24.

This results in a big question for practice owners: do you provide paid leave for employees that have taken leave and meet the requirements (as currently drafted this week, pending further regulations next week)? The author’s opinion is that you will be reimbursed for the leave, and paid leave will drastically help those employees in the meantime.

What about part-time workers?

Part-time workers are entitled to leave based on the average number of hours over the previous 6 months they work in a given 2-week period.

What about work from home?

If you can assign affected employees duties that they can perform at home, they will be paid their normal wages. If you only have partial work for them, you must provide paid leave for them. 

Can the employer force the worker to find their own replacement?

No, nor can the employer discharge or discriminate against workers for requesting paid sick leave.

Can the employer require the employee to use other paid leave first?

No. The employer must pay the EPSLA leave before the employee uses vacation or sick leave. The employee may choose to use other leave first, or take the leave unpaid.

Do I need to tell my employees about this? How will they know?

The Department of Labor will produce a poster that is due within the week of March 27 that posted near other Employment and Labor posters in the practice. Employers should look for the poster as a free download to print and post with other employee notices.

What about self-employed and independent contractors?

Self-employed workers (ie, independent contractors) can also be reimbursed as a credit against their self-employment tax in the same amounts as an employee.

This means that relief veterinarians and veterinary technicians should record and track the days and reasons off that they have taken because of COVID-19.

What remains to be known?

There are still unknowns regarding:

  • Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees
  • Large companies with multiple locations and Employee Identification Numbers
  • How the tax refund and checks will be administered

COVID-19 Resources

Clinician’s Brief is gathering information for veterinarians facing the coronavirus pandemic. Get the latest safety tips and guidelines here.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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