Emergency Paid Leave Act & Other COVID-19 Legislation Affecting the Workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation that has seen new, emergency legislation rapidly moving through every level of government. Management and HR professionals must be mindful of new laws and come into compliance as quickly as possible. Below are the primary federal laws that have recently been passed or will be shortly.  

Emergency Paid Leave Act of 2020

Effective Date: January 19, 2020 through March 2021

Deadline to File: 180 days after the ends of the applicable Benefit Period

The Emergency Paid Leave Act of 2020 aims to protect workers who fall ill, or who are caring for family members who have fallen ill. Anyone with reported wages or self-employment income at least 30 days prior to their first emergency leave day are eligible. 

Criteria for Covered Emergency Leave

The reasons a worker may use emergency leave are tied to COVID-19 and include:

  • Worker is diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Worker is under quarantine to prevent further spread of COVID-19. This includes self-imposed quarantine, per a health care provider, or employer. Covered quarantines can also be implemented by local, state, or federal governments.
    • Many organizations, including CTR, have implemented social distancing policies including indefinite, mandatory remote working policies. 
  • Workers caring for another individual diagnosed with COVID-19 or is under quarantine for the reasons listed above.
  • Workers care for children or adults due to facilities closed because of COVID-19, such as schools or assisted living communities.

Please note that employees still receiving compensation from their employer through established paid sick leave policies are not covered under the Emergency Paid Leave Act. Employees eligible for unemployment are also not covered. 

In other words, this act does not diminish an employer’s obligation to comply with their own paid sick leave policies as well as local, state, and other programs. The Emergency Paid Leave act only takes over once an employee has exhausted all remaining paid sick leave. 

Businesses that are forced to temporarily close due to government mandates (restaurants, bars, and non-essential retailers) who must place employees on unpaid leave are not covered by this act.  

Explanation of Benefits Under the Emergency Paid Leave Act

Eligible employees are entitled to 3 benefits periods, each spanning 30 days. The Social Security Administration will pay this benefit directly to employees electronically or by mail. The benefit pay will cover ⅔ of the employee’s average monthly earnings, not exceeding $4,000/month. However, this income is non-taxable and will therefore remain close to the employee’s normal take-home pay. 

Average monthly earnings are calculated by dividing the total wages an employee earned in the most recent calendar year, divided by 12.   

Emergency Paid Leave Act FMLA Amendments

As anticipated, the Emergency Paid Leave Act of 2020 will require certain amendments to the Family and Medical Leave of 1993. These amendments will take effect from the date of enactment of the Emergency Paid Leave Act and will last for 2 years.

Covered leave under the FMLA will now include Public Health Emergency Leave. This is defined as leave resulting from a declared public health emergency for the workplace, residences, and/or community spaces. This leave is now in effect. 

Additionally Public Health Emergency Leave pertains to:

  • An employee’s presence at work could risk his/her health as well as others due to exposure to COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms of the virus. 
  • Employees are unable to perform their jobs because of contracting COVID-19.
    • Note: This can still apply to employees already practicing social distancing/working remotely
  • Employees caring for family members how have been exposed the virus
  • Employees caring for children whose schools, daycares, etc. have closed to limit exposure. 

The FMLA has expanded the definition of covered employers to include all organizations and businesses if the employee’s request for leave pertains to a declared Public Health Emergency. However, there remain some notable restrictions:

  • Public Health Emergency leave may not be taken intermittently.
  • Restoration to Position will not apply to organizations with fewer than 25 employees. This is only the case if the employee takes leave because of a Public Health Emergency and economic conditions affecting employment were caused by the aforementioned Public Health Emergency. In other words, loss of business or revenue may result in downsizing. 
  • The employer must make a reasonable effort to restore the employee to an equivalent position, including pay, benefits, and terms of employment. 

Pittsburgh Paid Sick Leave Act

Effective Date: March 15, 2020

As announced earlier this year, the City of Pittsburgh will begin mandating that all employees working within city limits accrue paid sick time. This ordinance went into effect earlier this week 

The Paid Sick Leave Act mandates that employees acquire 1 hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, capping annually at 56 hours of paid sick leave. Accrual of paid sick leave begins on the hire date and can be used after the 60th calendar day of employment. However, in the event of a Public Health Emergency, employees may begin using their paid sick leave immediately. 

While it’s true that under normal circumstances, an organization whose policy meets or exceeds the paid sick leave time requirements does not need to offer any additional time. However, in the event of a public health emergency, employers are obligated to provide additional leave to employees working within the City of Pittsburgh. More specifically:

  • Full-time employees who take off 14 continuous work days will not see any reduction in pay
  • Part-time or hourly employees will be paid sick time based on the number of hours they were scheduled to work or the number of hours they normally work over a 14-day period.    

Note: Termination of employee does not require paying out any unused paid sick leave.

Employers with 50 or fewer employees will be reimbursed by the Treasury Department for any employee wages accrued through extra paid sick leave in response to a public health emergency. This will require employers to submit an affidavit to the Labor Department with the amount of additional paid sick leave pay as well as provide records of the pay perdio and wages associated therewith. 

Health Care Workers Emergency Protection Act of 2020

Effective Date: Once passed, the Labor Department must post temporary emergency standards to protect any business or organization from occupational exposure to COVID-19

The Health Care Workers Emergency Protection Act will be overseen by OSHA and, as its name suggests, provide temporary measures to limit health care workers’ exposure to COVID-19. This includes all employees working within the health care sector as well as any other sectors the CDC and OSHA have defined as having elevated risk of exposure. 

This act will expound upon the CDC’s 2007 Guideline for Isolation Precautions

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Effective Date: March 12, 2020

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act went into effect with last week’s declaration of a public health emergency and will last through September 30 of this year. However, the Emergency Paid Sick Days Program will be provided funding through September 20, 2022.

Read the entirety of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and Health Care Emergency Protection Act here.  

Contact Your CTR Representative with any Questions

We understand how overwhelming all of this information can be—especially in the face of a global pandemic. CTR is ready to assist you in sorting out any part of this legislation. For tips on how your organization can respond to COVID-19, please read our previous post.

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