Beginning in April, many more employees will be eligible for paid sick leave and paid time off to care for children. President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Act on March 18. The paid leave provisions will take effect by April 2, and will expire at the end of this year.
Although the law will provide welcome relief to many employees, many are excluded from its protections, including those who work for employers with at least 500 employees. The law may also exclude those who work for certain employers with fewer than 50 employees. Here are the basics.
Two Weeks of Emergency Paid Sick Leave
Under the Families First Coronavirus Act, eligible employees could be paid for up to ten days of sick leave related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Who Is Eligible for Emergency Paid Sick Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Act
All government employees are protected by the new law, as are many private employees. However, those who work for private employers with 500 or more employees are not covered by the law. In addition, if you are a health care provider or an emergency responder, your employer has the right to exclude you from these protections. Finally, the new law gives the Secretary of Labor the authority to exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees, if complying with the law would jeopardize the viability of the business. Depending on how this authority is used, many more employees could lose coverage under the law.
Which Conditions Qualify for Paid Sick Leave
You are entitled to paid leave under the law if you fit into any of these categories:
- You are subject to a COVID-19 quarantine or isolation order issued by the federal, state, or local government.
- You have been advised to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns by a health care provider.
- You are caring for someone who fits into one of the two categories above.
- You have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking diagnosis.
- You are caring for a son or daughter whose school or care facility is closed, or whose childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 concerns.
- You are experiencing a condition substantially similar to COVID-19, as specified by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in consultation with other government officials.
How Much Will You Be Paid—and for How Long?
Your leave entitlement depends on your work hours and reason for leave. Eligible employees are entitled to ten days of paid sick leave according to their usual work schedule. If you work full-time, you are entitled to up to 80 hours of leave. Part-time employees can take up to the number of hours they work, on average, during a two-week period.
The amount you are paid depends on why you need leave:
- If you take time off because you are ill, under self-quarantine, or subject to a quarantine or isolation order, you must be paid at your regular pay rate or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is more, up to a maximum of $511 per day or $5,110 total.
- If you take time off to care for a child or another person, or because you are suffering from a substantially similar condition, you are entitled to be paid two-thirds of your regular pay rate, up to a cap of $200 per day or $2,000 total.
Up to 12 Weeks of Public Health Emergency Leave to Care for Children
The new law also expands the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to provide paid leave for parents who need time off to care for a child whose school is closed or care provider is unavailable due to a government-declared emergency relating to the coronavirus.
Who Is Eligible for Public Health Emergency Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Act
Similar to paid sick leave, employers with 500 or more employees do not have to provide paid public health emergency leave. And the Secretary of Labor has the right to exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees if providing the leave would threaten the business’s viability. In addition, if you are a health care provider or first responder, your employer can decide whether to exempt you.
But an additional restriction applies here: Employees are eligible only if they have worked for their employer for at least 30 days. This is much more lenient than the requirement for regular unpaid FMLA leave, which requires at least a year of employment, and at least 1,250 hours in the past year.
Which Conditions Qualify for Public Health Emergency Leave
You may take public health emergency leave in only one circumstance: if you cannot work or telework because you are caring for your son or daughter whose school or care provider is closed or unavailable because of a COVID-19 public health emergency. If you are sick or your workplace is closed, you don’t qualify for leave under this provision. (The Department of Labor has published information on how the regular FMLA applies to COVID-19 related absences for other reasons.)
How Much Will You Be Paid for Emergency Leave – and for How Long?
The first ten days of public health emergency leave are unpaid, although you may use (or your employer may require you to use) any accrued paid leave you may have during that time. After ten days, you are entitled to be paid two-thirds of your usual pay, up to a cap of $200 per day or $10,000 total. You may take up to 12 weeks of public health emergency leave, at your usual work schedule.
Getting Your Job Back
The FMLA requires employers to restore employees to their job once their leave is through, with a few exceptions. If you take public health emergency leave, employers with fewer than 25 employees have a bit more leeway. Your employer does not have to give you back your job if all of the following are true:
- Your position no longer exists due to economic or operational changes caused by the COVID-19 emergency.
- Your employer makes reasonable efforts to restore you to an equivalent position.
- If those efforts fail, your employer makes reasonable efforts to contact you if an equivalent position becomes available in the year after your need for leave ends.
The paid leave provisions are brand new, and we’ll learn more soon about how they will be interpreted and enforced. For now, however, at least some employees will get some relief from the huge financial toll of the coronavirus emergency.
To learn more about workers’ rights in your state, see Legal Consumer’s wage and hour law learning center.
If you’ve already lost your job and want to learn more about unemployment benefits in your state, see our unemployment benefits learning center.