What is the FMLA? The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed in 1993. It is a federal law that guarantees employees unpaid leave for medical or family reasons, including their own illness, to take care of an ill family member, or to tend to a newborn (or newly adopted) child. Prior to the passage of the FMLA, employees were much more likely to face termination if they took extended time off from work for family or medical reasons.
Under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government deemed FMLA insufficient to protect employees. Accordingly, it put in place temporary regulations under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). This law is in effect from April 2, 2020 through December 31, 2020. It provides protections beyond those under the FMLA for certain employees. There are two main components of the FFCRA, and we will explain both of them in more detail.
The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA)
Under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, certain employees are eligible to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave for reasons related to COVID-19. Any employee of a covered employer is eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave. However, it is only applicable if the employee is unable to work because of a quarantine or related COVID-19 order, self-quarantine due to the possibility of COVID-19 exposure, because the employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or because the employee is providing care for an individual in quarantine or with COVID-19, or a child whose school is closed. To be clear, the reasons for paid sick live under this law are limited to COVID-19 reasons.
The employee’s rate of pay depends upon the reason for the leave. In general, if the employee is unable to work due to his or her own quarantine or COVID-19 symptoms, the employee is entitled to the regular rate of pay. In general, if the employee is taking leave to care for another person due to COVID-19 restrictions or illness, the employee is entitled to 2/3 of their regular rate of pay.
The law applies to private employers with fewer than 500 employees and government agencies.
The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) amends Title I of the FMLA. In so doing, it allows certain employees to take up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave (with 10 weeks of paid leave) for reasons related to COVID-19. To clarify, beyond the two weeks of paid leave provided by the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act allows employees to take up to 10 additional paid weeks of family at medical leave at 2/3 the regular rate of pay if the employee has been employed for at least 30 calendar days prior to taking the leave. This additional 10 weeks of paid leave includes pay for an employee who is unable to work due to the need to care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The law applies to private employers with fewer than 500 employees and government agencies. Other provisions of the FMLA remain in effect. Employers should also know that there are tax credits related to the new mandated paid leave. Under the new law, employers are entitled to a refundable tax credit that is equal to 100 percent of EPSLA and EFMLEA leave wages paid to employees.