The following has been updated to reflect the law's new April 1, 2020 effective date.
On March 18, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The law, which goes into effect on April 1, gives employees affected by the virus a lifeline in the form of paid leave.
The problem? For companies and their HR teams, the law is anything but straightforward. Prior to the outbreak, there was no federal paid leave mandate — now there are two. The Resources for Humans Slack community has been bustling with questions around the new law. We’ll break down the FFCRA’s main points.
FMLA Eligibility and Benefits
Since 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has entitled most employees to unpaid, job-protected leave. This simply means that employees can take their leave of absence without worrying about being fired or reassigned when they return.
Historically, employees could take as much as 12 weeks off per year to care for a new child, to care for a seriously ill family member, or to recover from their own illness. The FFCRA adds a new scenario to the list: caring for a minor whose school or daycare has been closed due to COVID-19.
This is important: Unlike traditional FMLA, which is unpaid, employees taking leave due to school or daycare closure are entitled to some paid leave. While the first two weeks are unpaid, the remaining 10 weeks must be paid at two-thirds of regular wages, capped at $200 per day.
The number of companies subject to the FMLA has also grown. Before the outbreak, only businesses with 50 or more employees were required to comply. The FFCRA now extends that to all companies with less than 500 employees. The law carves out a few exceptions, namely for healthcare providers, emergency services, and small businesses that can make the case that compliance would “jeopardize the viability of the business.” The Department of Labor is responsible for approving those exceptions.
Paid Leave Mandate
The FFCRA comes bundled with a separate paid leave mandate, granting employees a total of 80 hours (or two weeks). There’s no accrual process or minimum tenure required to qualify. The circumstances in which employees can request leave are also much broader. Under the FFCRA, the following scenarios all qualify for paid leave:
- Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
- Being issued a federal, state, or local quarantine order.
- Being advised by a health provider to self-quarantine.
- Needing to care for someone that’s subject to quarantine.
- Caring for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19.
Unlike the new FMLA provisions, payment varies depending on the situation. Sick employees or those going into quarantine or isolation will receive their full wages, up to $511 per day, for two weeks. Those caring for someone else (like a child or a loved one affected by the virus) are entitled to two-thirds of their pay, capped at $200 per day. In either case, companies can’t require employees to use vacation days in lieu of paid leave.
The FFCRA has left many scratching their heads because it contains two disparate sets of exceptions and payout rules. Both FMLA and paid leave benefits can be used in conjunction with each other, resulting in a few permutations.
Here’s the gist: At most, some employees are entitled to 14 weeks of leave — 12 weeks of partially paid leave, plus two weeks of unpaid leave. On the flip side, employees who get sick will receive two weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Sound complicated? Here’s a visual, adapted from one published by legal professor Elizabeth Tippett, that breaks down the requirements by scenario.
Remember that traditional, unpaid FMLA hasn’t gone anywhere. Individuals who are sick, quarantined, isolated, or need to care for a sick loved one will still be eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave after their first two weeks of paid leave.
Similarly, state and local paid leave rules still apply. In cases where these differ from the above, remember HR compliance’s golden rule: The most generous program always takes precedence. If your jurisdiction requires you to offer leave that goes beyond FFRCA minimum guidelines, you’ll need to comply with those rules.
Keep in mind that while companies are required to pay for both forms of leave, they’ll receive a 100% payroll tax credit for doing so. What’s more, all of the above requirements are temporary and will expire on December 31.
In advance of the FFRCA’s April 1 effective date, companies should inform employees that they’re entitled to these benefits. Learn how 8,000+ other HR professionals are handling the process by joining the conversation in the Resources for Humans Slack community.