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THE EMERGENCY COVID-19 BILL

The Emergency Coronavirus Bill:

What Employers Need to Know

Regarding the Legislative Response

to COVID-19


Article By

James J. Plunkett

Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.


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Sunday, March 15, 2020

During the early morning hours of March 14, 2020, the U.S. House of

Representatives passed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” (H.R. 6201)

by an overwhelming vote of 363-40. The bill now heads to the Senate where it is

expected to pass sometime early next week. Besides dealing with immediate public

health related matters, the bill contains several provisions that will impact

employers. Set forth below are summaries of the bill’s provisions relating to paid

family medical leave, paid sick leave, and unemployment insurance.

Note that, as drafted, the leave provisions apply only to employers with fewer than

500 employees. At this time, it is unclear why the bill was drafted this way or

whether additional legislation may be forthcoming for employers with more than 500

employees. It may be, for example, that the intent is to focus these immediate

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measures in the context of relief and aid for small businesses, in light of the fact

that the bill also provides tax credits to assist employers in making the leave

payments.

Paid Family Medical Leave

The bill provides 12 weeks of job-protected paid Family and Medical Leave Act

(FMLA) leave—of which the first 14 days may be unpaid—for employees of

employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Employees may use accrued personal or sick leave during the first 14 days, but

employers may not require employees to do so.

This leave benefit covers employees who have been working for at least 30

calendar days.

Among other uses, employees may use the leave to respond to quarantine

requirements or recommendations, to care for family members who are

responding to quarantine requirements or recommendations, and to care for a

child whose school has been closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the first 14 days, employers must compensate employees in an amount

that is not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. These pay

requirements apply to only the COVID-19-related leave reasons listed above.

The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire

on December 31, 2020.

Paid Sick Leave

Employers with fewer than 500 employees will be required to provide full-time

employees 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for specific circumstances

related to COVID-19 (e.g., self-isolating, doctors’ visits, etc.).

Part-time employees are entitled to the number of hours of paid sick time equal

to the number of hours they work, on average, over a 2-week period.

Employers must compensate employees for any paid sick time they take at their

regular rates of pay.

Employers will be required to post a notice informing employees of their rights

to leave.

As currently drafted, the bill expressly provides that it does not preempt

existing state or local paid sick leave entitlements.

The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire

on December 31, 2020.

Unemployment Insurance

The bill provides $1 billion in emergency unemployment insurance (UI) relief to the

states: $500 million for costs associated with increased administration of each

state’s UI program and $500 million held in reserve to assist states with a 10

percent increase in unemployment. Besides the necessary increase in

unemployment, in order to receive a portion of this grant money, states must

temporarily relax certain UI eligibility requirements, such as waiting periods and

work search requirements.

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What’s Next?

While the situation regarding Congress’ response to COVID-19 is very fluid, the

Senate will take up the bill early next week. All indications now are that the Senate

will pass the bill.

© 2020, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.,

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