Emergency Coronavirus Response Bill: Brief Overview of Employer-Paid Sick Leave Obligations

By Lauren Barghols Hanna

Phillips Murrah attorney Lauren Hanna

Lauren Barghols Hanna

As of publication, there are 167,517 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in 135 countries around the world, with the United States currently confirming more than 3,000 cases.  On Friday, President Trump declared a national state of emergency.  In response, the Department of Labor issued helpful Q&A guidance for employers seeking to clarify current payroll and leave obligations to employees and offices affected by the coronavirus.

On Saturday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—an emergency spending bill which would provide free coronavirus screening tests and guarantee employer-paid employment leave for individuals affected by COVID-19.  The Senate is expected to consider the bill early this coming week.

As currently drafted, the below provisions will apply to public employers and all private employers with fewer than 500 employees and may be offset by refundable tax credits. Below are the main takeaways of the employer-paid leave provisions of the bill, as it was passed by the House of Representatives:

Paid Sick Time

All employees, regardless of tenure with the company, may take up to two weeks of paid sick leave for the following reasons:

  • To self-isolate due to exposure to or symptoms of the coronavirus;
  • To care for an at-risk family member who is following a required or recommended period of self-isolation due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus; and
  • To care for a child of the employee, if the child’s school or childcare has been closed or is unavailable due to the coronavirus.

Employees will be paid at 100% of their regular wages to self-isolate due to exposure or to symptoms of the coronavirus and at 2/3 of their regular wages to care for a family member for such purposes or to care for a child whose school or childcare facility is closed or unavailable.

Amendment to the Family and Medical Leave Act

Employees who have worked at least 30 days may take up to 12 weeks of leave to be used in any of the circumstances outlined above in the paid sick time section.

After the employee’s first two weeks of leave, employers must provide paid leave for the duration of the employee’s need at a rate of no less than two-thirds of the employee’s usual pay.

Next Steps

As currently drafted, these employee leave programs and protections would need to be implemented by covered employers (those who employ fewer than 500 employees) no later than 15 days after enactment—so companies should begin assessing potential implementation challenges now, while waiting for the final version to be passed by the Senate and signed into law.

Phillips Murrah’s labor and employment attorneys continue to monitor new developments and stand ready to assist your company timely and efficiently implement these expansive new leave obligations as they are signed into law.  For more detailed information about this expansive new employer-paid sick leave program and examples of how paid leave would be calculated in various scenarios, please follow this link.