The federal government is actively working to adopt the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) into law in an effort to help combat the current COVID-19 health pandemic sweeping our nation. While the final text and application of the anticipated legislation remains subject to debate and revisions, the current version of the FFCRA (which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on Saturday, March 14, 2020) is generally designed to provide financial aid and relief to Americans through increased access to paid sick leave, enhancements to unemployment insurance, expanded funding for food assistance and easier access to coronavirus testing.
Among other relief on the employer/employee front, the current draft FFCRA will afford two weeks of paid sick leave to employees of companies having fewer than 500 workers, as well as to government employees. This leave period obligates employers to pay their employees at their regular rate of pay if the leave is utilized by an employee in connection with a quarantine or while seeking medical care for coronavirus. Alternatively, if the leave period is utilized to care for a family member or to care for a child (in the event of a school closure or the unavailability of the employee’s regular child care provider), then the employee is entitled to two-thirds of their regular rate of pay.
In addition, the current FFCRA provides for an emergency expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for those workers (of employers with few than 500 employees, as well as government employees), who are quarantined, caring for an at-risk family member, or caring for children currently out of school or who are unable to utilize the services of their normal child care provider. This would entitle such impacted employees to at least 30 days of job-protected leave, with the right to take up to 12 weeks of such leave, with payment benefits after the first two weeks at two-thirds of the worker’s average monthly earnings. However, employees already receiving such pay or unemployment compensation directly from their employers are ineligible for these additional leave payments.
Under both the expanded paid sick leave and FMLA benefits noted above, the FFCRA is expected to include refundable tax credits for 100% of qualified wages paid by employers to their employees, as well as for self-employed individuals.