The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires businesses with fewer than 500 employees to give two weeks of paid sick leave and 10 weeks of partially paid FMLA leave to employees affected by the virus. An expert explains what you need to know.
The newly passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which went into effect April 1, adds new requirements for paid sick leave and family medical leave act (FMLA) enhancements for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Sara Curtis, MBA, SPHR, CAE, director of human resources at the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), offered some clarity on what the new requirements mean for associations.
“I think some people are confused that these are government programs,” Curtis said. “[Associations] are responsible for any of the payments.”
While the law applies to any employer with fewer than 500 employees, employers with less than 50 employees can seek hardship exemptions for some of the requirements.
“I think the main thing [associations] need to understand that if they are between 50 and 500, it applies for them,” Curtis said.
The FFCRA has two components: paid sick leave and expanded paid FMLA. Employers must provide two weeks of sick leave at the usual pay rate to employees who are sick with COVID-19 or under quarantine. Employees do not have to first exhaust previously earned sick leave in order to use COVID-19 paid sick leave. Employees can receive two weeks of sick leave at two-thirds pay to care for a family member affected by COVID-19.
Under the expanded FMLA, employers must provide up to 10 additional weeks of paid leave related to the employee or employee’s family dealing with COVID-19. This includes loss of childcare due to COVID-19 closures. The COVID-19 FMLA is paid at two-thirds the employee’s usual salary, up to $200 per day.
As these new requirements are paid for by employers, it could be a financial stretch for organizations that are already reeling from revenue losses caused by canceled conferences and other coronavirus-related closures. “Some of the smaller associations are already struggling to keep staff,” Curtis said. “Positions like receptionists, they are already furloughing.”
To help with this, the FFCRA offers organizations a tax credit to offset the costs of the payouts. Organizations that have fewer than 50 employees can request a hardship exemption to the rules, but as the law is new, it is unknown how often those will be granted.
“It’s not clear how easy it will be to get an exception,” Curtis said. She recommended trying to do the two weeks of paid sick leave, if you’re able, and save the hardship exemption requests for the longer period.
Curtis noted that if an employee does get COVID-19 and needs to use leave, associations are still bound by federal privacy regulations. “We can tell staff, generally, that someone has been exposed, but not who,” Curtis said. “My thing would be asking the employee, ‘Do you mind?’ Even if not their name, can we tell specific departments that they have been exposed?”
The good news, she said, is that many people are working from home, so that reduces the likelihood staff will have been in contact with coworkers who are now coming down with the virus.
Curtis noted that if an association has several employees out who are sick, while also needing to pay leave, it will be a stretch for budgets. “People are trying to keep the operations going,” she said. “It’s harder to adjust when someone is out on leave. You might have to ask some people to do double coverage.”
At ASA, Curtis said they have created a COVID-19 task force to help. “We have one team responsible for business continuity, staff safety, and IT/helpdesk,” she said. This group helps keep the organization up-to-date on new changes like FFCRA and on task in all they need to do to respond. Curtis recommends having such a task force at your organization.
Because the FFCRA is brand new, more details will be known as regulators begin implementing it. “This came out so fast, I don’t think they addressed all the steps,” Curtis said. “They are going to come out with FAQs, so watch their site for more information.”