The Families First Coronavirus Response Act may require employers to pay sick leave for holiday travel

Sick Leave

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), effective April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020, requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave

Under FFCRA, employees are eligible for Emergency Paid Sick Leave if they are unable to work or telework due to any of the following reasons:

  1. Employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order;
  2. Employee had been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
  3. Employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis
  4. Employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order described in (1) or (2) above;
  5. Employee is caring for a child (under 18 years of age) of such employee if school or day care has been closed, or childcare provider is unavailable;
  6. Employee is 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.

Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or childcare unavailability if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.

Employers in violation of the first two weeks paid sick time or unlawful termination provisions of the FFCRA will be subject to the penalties. In addition, employers may not discharge, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against any employee who takes paid sick leave under the FFCRA

Duration of Leave

For reasons (1)-(4) and (6): A full-time employee is eligible for 80 hours of leave, and a part-time employee is eligible for the number of hours of leave that the employee works on average over a two-week period.

For reason (5): A full-time employee is eligible for up to 12 weeks of leave (two weeks of paid sick leave followed by up to 10 weeks of paid expanded family & medical leave) at 40 hours a week, and a part-time employee is eligible for leave for the number of hours that the employee is normally scheduled to work over that period.

Rate of Pay

The paid sick leave will be at regular rate of pay for reasons (1)-(3) above. Paid sick leave will be at 2/3 of regular rate of pay for reasons (4)-(6) above.

Tax Credits Available

FFCRA helps employers that have fewer than 500 employees with payroll tax credits for the cost of providing employees with paid leave taken for specified reasons listed above. The law enables employers to keep their workers on their payrolls, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus. The tax credit stipulates that every dollar of required paid leave (plus the cost of the employer’s health insurance premiums during leave) will be 100% covered by a dollar-for-dollar refundable tax credit available to the employer.

Eligible Employers will report their total qualified leave wages (and allocable qualified health plan expenses and the Eligible Employer’s share of Medicare tax on the qualified leave wages) for each quarter on their federal employment tax return, usually Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return.

Chicago Emergency Travel Order

On Thursday, July 2, Chicago Department of Public Health issued an Emergency Travel Order directing travelers entering or returning to Chicago from states experiencing a surge in new COVID-19 cases to quarantine for a 14-day period from the time of last contact within the identified state.

As of 10/26, the list of States on the travel order has 32 states including Indiana and Wisconsin. The list of applicable states updates weekly based on COVID metrics. You can find the complete list here.

Exception to the Order

Essential workers are not subject to the mandatory self-quarantine if their travel is for work purposes. An essential worker whose travel is for non-work purposes is subject to the mandatory self-quarantine. Exceptions to the Order for personal travel will be permitted for travel for medical care and parental shared custody.

With the holidays approaching, many Chicago residents might travel to states requiring a two-week quarantine. If the employer is covered under the FFCRA and if the employee is unable to work or telework due to one of the specified COVID-related reasons in the FFCRA, the employee is likely eligible for up to two weeks of paid leave under the FFCRA.

Will the FFCRA be extended?

Currently, provisions under the FFCRA are temporary through December 31, 2020. This might be a problem for employees who require quarantine after the year end. Chances of an FFCRA extension are likely given that FFCRA enjoyed bipartisan support.

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