In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, Congress and the Trump Administration have greatly expanded the protections available to workers affected by the disease. On April 2, 2020, both the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLEA”) and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”) will go into effect, and both will remain in effect until December 31, 2020.
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
The EFMLEA applies to all employers with fewer than 500 employees. Employees who worked for the employer for at least 30 days prior to the designated leave are entitled to up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave. However, the reason for the emergency leave is especially narrow, and only applies to an employee who is unable to work or telework due to the need to care for the employee’s child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the childcare provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency. Due to the proactive measures taken by Governor Mike DeWine, many employees in Ohio may find themselves covered under the EFMLEA.
Employees who qualify for leave under the EFMLEA are entitled to partially paid leave. For the first 10 days of the leave, employees are not entitled to pay. However, employees can substitute accrued paid leave or EPSLA (explained below) to bridge this gap. After the 10-day period, a full-time employee is entitled to pay at a rate two-thirds their regular rate, capped at $200 per day and $10,000 aggregate. Hours for part-time employees are to be calculated as the average of the hours worked in the preceding six months.
At the conclusion of the leave, employers with 25 or more employees must return the employee to the same or equivalent position. Employers with fewer than 25 employees are excluded from the requirement if the employee’s position no longer exists following leave due to an economic downturn. However, the employer must still make a reasonable attempt to return the employee to an equivalent position.
The EFMLEA further permits the Secretary of Labor to exclude emergency responders and healthcare providers from eligibility, and to exempt small businesses (defined as employing less than 50 employees) if the leave would jeopardize the viability of their business.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
The EPSLA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, but healthcare providers and emergency responders may elect to be exempt. Employees qualify for paid sick leave under the EPSLA if the employee is:
- subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
- advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
- experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis;
- caring for an individual subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
- caring for the employee’s child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child’s care provider is unavailable due to public health emergency; or
- experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.
Qualifying employees are generally entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave at their regular rate under the EPSLA (employees who are taking sick leave for the fourth, fifth, or sixth listed reason above are entitled to a two-thirds pay rate). The paid sick leave is capped at $511 per day for the employee’s own use, and $200 to care for others.
A Word of Caution
Because the EFMLEA amends the Family Medical Leave Act, the anti-retaliation and discrimination provisions of the same apply. It is illegal for employers to interfere with employees exercise of their rights under the FMLA or to otherwise discriminate against them.
Similarly, the EPSLA prohibits employers from requiring employees to use other paid leave provided by the employer to the employee before the employee uses EPSLA sick time. Further, the EPSLA prohibits employers from retaliating or discriminating against employees who elect to utilize the EPSLA.
Our labor attorneys are well-versed in the rights and obligations of both employers and employees, including the rapidly-evolving COVID-19 changes. For assistance with these matters, consult Stephen E. Imm (513.943-5678) and Matthew S. Okiishi (513.943-6659).