Updated Information: Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Updated 3/19/20

Note: This reflects the final changes passed on 3/18/20.

Both the Senate and President passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on 3/18/20. All leave provisions will go into effect on 4/2/20.

Timing: This program will become effective 15 days after its enactment by President Trump and remain in effect until December 31, 2020.

This Coronavirus Response Act includes several provisions that apply to employers, such as paid sick leave for employees impacted by COVID-19 and those serving as caregivers for infected individuals.

There are two provisions providing paid leave to employees forced to miss work because of the COVID-19 outbreak: an emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a new federal paid sick leave law and expanded unemployment insurance benefits.

Paid And Unpaid Leave For Coronavirus-Related Reasons

Expanded Coverage
The Act significantly amends and expands FMLA on a temporary basis during this pandemic. It now applies to employers with 50 or more employees instead of covering those employers with fewer than 500 employees. It also lowers the eligibility requirement for any employee who has worked for the employer for at least 30 days prior to the designated leave may be eligible to receive paid family and medical leave as well. As a result, numerous employers throughout the United States who might not have been previously subject to the FMLA may be required to provide job-protected leave to employees for a COVID-19 coronavirus-designated reason. A new update for the Coronavirus Response Act now allows the Secretary of Labor to exclude both healthcare providers and emergency responders from the definition of employees who are allowed to take such leave. In addition, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are now exempt if the required leave would jeopardize the viability of their business.

Emergency Paid Sick Days
Employees may take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave who is not able to work from home (many employers have already put into place a remote work program) and individuals who have to care for their child (under 18) who is out of school or daycare. These are now the only qualifying needs for Emergency FMLA.

Free Remote Employee Agreement for Coronavirus

Emergency Paid Leave
The first 10 days (rather than 14 days as presented originally) of Emergency FMLA may be unpaid by the employer. During this 10-day period, an employee can use any accrued paid time off such as PTO or vacation days (depending on the structure of the company) to cover some or all of the 10-day unpaid period. After the 10-day period, the employer generally must pay full-time employees at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate for the number of hours the employee would otherwise be normally scheduled.

The new Coronavirus Response Act provisions now limits this pay to $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate per employee, if the individual qualifies. Eligible workers would receive benefits for a month (the program goes up to three months), and the benefit amount would be two-thirds of the individual’s average monthly earnings. Those who are receiving pay or unemployment compensation directly through their employers aren’t eligible for this. 

Expanded unemployment insurance: The bill would direct $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs and waive measures like work search requirements or waiting weeks to those either diagnosed with Covid-19, or those who have lost their jobs due to the spread of the virus.

Additional Information

Free Coronavirus Testing
Free Coronavirus testing to increase access by requiring private health insurers (plus government programs like Medicare and Medicaid) to cover the cost of testing, including emergency room visits and doctor fees. This will also cover Americans without insurance.’

Expanding food security
The bill also expands access to programs like SNAP, WIC and the emergency food assistance program throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Progressive economists have long believed that expanding existing safety net programs is a highly effective way of stimulating the economy because the low-income people who benefit from them are highly likely to immediately spend any extra money they get — helping stabilize economy-wide demand. The 2009 stimulus bill featured many provisions along these lines.

The bill’s protections are a major, particularly with respect to paid sick leave: The US is one of the few industrialized nations in the world to not offer a standard paid sick leave program. While some private employers offer paid sick leave as a benefit, many industries do not. In the foodservice industry, for example, just a quarter of workers receive paid sick days.

This emergency package won’t change American policy in the long term, however. The bill’s mandated sick leave program will last only through the year.

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