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COVID-19: Important Changes to Employment Law

Congress recently enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) (Copy Here), which included a number of important changes.  Given the disastrous impact of the pandemic on the workplace, businesses that are still operating have to adhere to health and safety requirements.  OSHA guidelines require companies to sanitize the workplace, and require employees to use protective equipment. 

OSHA has released guidance on COVID-19 in the workplace (here) which underscores a business’ obligation to prevent employees who have the virus from spreading the virus.  Businesses have to implement procedures to identify employees who may be infected and ensure they are isolated to protect other employees from the virus. 

OSHA also prohibits businesses from requiring employees to travel (unless absolutely essential) when such travel may cause an illness.  Airports and train stations are high-risk locations and travel involving air or train travel should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

Companies have to demonstrate sensitivity to privacy issues.  Businesses have an obligation to maintain a safe workplace.  If a business owner or manager learns that an employee has the virus, businesses have to act to protect other employees without unfairly and inappropriately identifying the employee that may have the virus.

The FFCRA amended the Family Medical Leave Act and related Emergency Expansion Act.  The changes apply to all companies and applies to all employees who have worked for an employer for at least 30 days and have 500 or fewer employees.  Any employee who is subject to a government isolation order, or has to care for a minor child due to the closing of a school, or has the virus, symptoms of the virus, or has been exposed to the virus, qualifies for leave under the Expansion Act (which expires on December 31, 2020).

Employers are required to pay any employee who needs to take more than 10 days sick leave at least two-thirds of their regular pay for as much as 80 hours of leave.  Employees may substitute other paid leave for any leave under the identified qualifying events.  Business are required to provide paid leave after an initial 10 day period at least at the two-thirds rate up to an aggregate of $10,000.  Full-time employees are entitiled to 80 hours of paid sick leave. 

To offset the increased paid leave expenses, the FFCRA provides a tax credit equal to 100 percent of the qualified sick leave wages.  If the credit exceeds the tax payment, such overpayment will be credited and refunded.

Each employer with 500 or fewer employees must post a notice of the FFCRA requirements in a conspicuous place on its premises.  This requirement may be satisfied by emailing or direct mailing the notice to employees or posting this notice on an internal or external website.  The FFCRA applies as of March 25, 2020 only to current employees and not future employees or job applicants.

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