New DOL Guidance and Postings: What Employers Need to Know
Following up on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) enacted on March 18, the United States Department of Labor (DOL) has released additional information explaining employers’ obligations and answering certain questions that have been raised about the new law. On March 24, the DOL issued guidance to employers on complying with the FFCRA which they continued to update over the course of the week. Specifically, the DOL issued a fact sheet which may be found here.
The DOL confirmed that the FFCRA will go into effect as of April 1, 2020 (not April 2 as previously reported). The DOL confirmed that covered employers will qualify for dollar for dollar reimbursement through tax credits for all qualifying wages paid under the FFCRA and amounts paid by the employer to maintain health insurance coverage for the employee while on leave. The DOL also indicated that it will observe a temporary period of non-enforcement for the first 30 days after April 1, provided the employer has acted reasonably and in good faith to comply with the act. The DOL detailed what constitutes “good faith” in a service bulletin that may be found here.
Q&A on Employer Obligations
The DOL also released a set of Questions and Answers to assist employers in understanding their obligations under the FFCRA. Among the matters clarified in the Q&A’s was the calculation of the 500 employee threshold for coverage (only employers with fewer than 500 employees are covered). The DOL confirmed that both full time and part time employees working in the US are counted, and that two or more commonly ownership interests will be deemed separate employers unless they meet the integrated employer test under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
In calculating the employee’s rate of pay for paid leave purposes, commissions and tips are included. The DOL also indicated that an employee can only take 80 hours of leave for any purpose, such that the employee cannot use 80 hours of leave for self-quarantine and then later seek emergency sick leave for a different reason. An employee who is unable to work or telework because a child’s school is closed may take 2 weeks of paid emergency sick leave and 10 weeks of paid expanded FMLA leave; however, the employee may take no more than 12 weeks of FMLA leave in any 12 month period. The DOL also clarified the circumstances under which FFCRA expanded leave may be taken intermittently.
New Guidelines for Leave Requests
The DOL Q&A’s provided examples of documentation that an employer may require of the employee requesting leave. The DOL also clarified that if the employer closes its workplace or furloughs the employee before the employee requests leave, the employee will be ineligible for FFCRA leave. In addition, if the employer shuts its workplace during a leave, the leave will end. The same would be true if the employee’s position is among those being laid off; however, the employer would need to show that the employee’s layoff was unrelated to the leave. In addition, if the employer reduces the employee’s hours, the employee may not use paid sick leave or family leave to make up the hours.
Small Business Exemption Criteria
The DOL also detailed the requirements for an employer of fewer than 50 employees to take advantage of the small business exemption from the FFCRA. Specifically, a small business may claim this exemption if an authorized officer determines that one of the following three criteria are met:
- The provision of the requested leave would result in the employer’s expenses and financial obligations exceeding available revenues and cause the small business to cease operating at a minimal capacity;
- The absence of the employee requesting leave would entail a substantial risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the employer because of the employee’s specialized skills, knowledge of the business, or responsibilities; or
- There are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services provided by the employee requesting leave, and these labor or services are needed for the employer to operate at a minimal capacity.
Required Employee Notice and Poster
Finally, on March 26, the DOL provided additional guidance on the notice mandated to be given to employees by April 1, 2020, and the acceptable methods of physical and electronic communicating the notice. The DOL also provided a poster which employers may use to provide the notice.
Best Practices for Employers
The above summary of the latest DOL guidance on the FFCRA is not meant to be exhaustive and employers are encouraged to review the DOL guidance in its entirety. Employers also are encouraged to continuously review the DOL site as the information is being updated frequently. As the DOL guidance cannot anticipate every employer question based on their specific circumstances, employers should consult with an attorney with their specific questions or if they require more clarity on this new law.