March 31, 2020

By: Robbins, Salomon & Patt, Ltd.

The Department of Labor (DOL) just issued its latest round of guidance on the FFCRA’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Expanded FMLA (E-FMLA) requirements. The additional guidance is found in Questions #38-59 of DOL’s running Q&A document posted on the DOL’s website.  Below are the highlights.

The FFCRA referred to a small business exemption for employers with fewer than 50 employees. Did the DOL issue any more guidance in this area?

Yes. The DOL has confirmed that employers with less than 50 employees may be exempt from having to provide E-FMLA and EPSL Category #5 (leave to care for a child due to the school or childcare provider being closed/unavailable due to COVID-19). Note that this exemption only applies to E-FMLA and EPSL due to school/childcare closure – not to other types of EPSL.

In order to claim exemption from providing E-FMLA or EPSL Category #5, an officer of a business with less than 50 employees who is authorized to do so must determine that one of the following is true:

  1. Providing EPSL or E-FMLA would result in expenses and financial obligations exceeding available business revenues and cause the business to cease operating at a minimal capacity;
  2. The absence of the employee(s) requesting EPSL or E-FMLA would entail a substantial risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the business because of their specialized skills, knowledge of the business, or responsibilities; or
  3. There are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services provided by the employee(s) requesting EPSL or E-FMLA, and these labor or services are needed for the small business to operate at a minimal capacity.

A written record of the officer’s determination needs to be maintained to support this action by the employer.

Does the EPSL or E-FMLA apply to taking care of any child or just some children whose school or childcare is closed?

The FFCRA only provides leave to care for a “son or daughter” whose school or childcare is closed or unavailable – not any child. The DOL now clarifies that “son or daughter” includes any “biological, adopted, or foster child, your stepchild, a legal ward, or a child for whom you are standing in loco parentis—someone with day-to-day responsibilities to care for or financially support a child.” The child must be the employee’s responsibility – EPSL is not available for the employee to take care of someone else’s child.

If an employee used FMLA earlier in the year, does that impact EPSL and E-FMLA?

The DOL has clarified that E-FMLA counts toward the total 12 weeks contemplated under the FMLA. So, if an employee has taken FMLA within the last 12-months, their total regular FMLA and E-FMLA can’t exceed 12 weeks. Similarly, an employee who takes E-FMLA, will have that time counted against their annual FMLA entitlement.

What is a full-time employee for purposes of EPSL? What is a part-time employee?

For purposes of EPSL, a full-time employee is one who is normally scheduled to work 40 hours or more per week. A part-time employee is one normally scheduled to work fewer than 40 hours. This matters for EPSL, because it determines how many hours of EPSL the employee is eligible to receive.

Who is a “health care provider?” Which employees can be denied EPSL/E-FMLA?

Employers can refuse EPSL and E-FMLA for “health care providers.” The DOL has now indicated that the definition of a health care provider is very broad. It is anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, employer, or entity.

“Health care provider” also includes anyone employed by an entity that contracts with any of health care institution to provide service or to maintain the operation of the facility. It includes anyone employed by an entity that “provides medical services, produces medical products, or is otherwise involved in the making of COVID-19 related medical equipment, tests, drugs, vaccines, diagnostic vehicles, or treatments” and anyone that the highest official of a state or territory (generally, a governor) determines is a health care provider necessary for that state or territory’s response to COVID-19.

Nevertheless, the DOL encourages employers to be judicious with their reliance on the “health care provider” exemption in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Who is an “emergency responder” for purposes of determining which employees can be denied EPSL/E-FMLA?

The DOL has also defined “emergency responders” very broadly, stating that it is an employee who is necessary for the provision of transport, care, health care, comfort and nutrition, or whose services are otherwise needed to limit the spread of COVID-19. The DOL states that this includes, but is not limited to, “military or national guard, law enforcement officers, correctional institution personnel, fire fighters, emergency medical services personnel, physicians, nurses, public health personnel, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, emergency management personnel, 911 operators, public works personnel, and persons with skills or training in operating specialized equipment or other skills needed to provide aid in a declared emergency as well as individuals who work for such facilities employing these individuals and whose work is necessary to maintain the operation of the facility.” In addition, anyone that the highest official of a state or territory (generally, a governor) determines is an emergency responder necessary for that state or territory’s response to COVID-19 is deemed to be an emergency responder.

However, the DOL encourages employers to be judicious with their reliance on the “emergency responder” exemption in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

Is a company required to return an employee to the same position after his or her leave?

Yes, in most circumstances. Employers can’t take an adverse employment action (firing, disciplining, etc.) against an employee for taking EPSL or E-FMLA. However, employees aren’t protected from employment action that would have impacted them regardless of their being on leave – such as layoffs or furloughs.

Employers with fewer than 25 employees also have some specific provisions that apply to an employee returning from E-FMLA. If your company is in that position, refer to Question #43 in the Q&A or contact us to discuss.