Email: Federal COVID-19 Legislation: What Employers Need to Know (3/19/20)
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R.6201), Phase 2 of the federal government’s response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, sending the bill to the President’s desk, where he signed the bill into law. Phase 1 included $8.3 billion for research and development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Highlights of H.R. 6201 are provided below, and a full detailed explanation can be found here.
- Unemployment Compensation
- States will have more flexibility over waiting periods and the “able, available and actively looking” test for Unemployment Compensation (U.C.) eligibility. Some states, significantly impacted by COVID-19, will also have unemployment benefits extend past the normal 26 weeks, which will be funded by the federal government.
- Paid Sick Leave
- All employers with less than 500 employees will be mandated to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to employees effected by COVID-19, including an employee who is a caregiver for a child whose school or daycare is closed.
- Paid Family and Medical Leave (FMLA)
- Employers with less than 500 employees will be required to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of paid FMLA if they are unable to work or telework because of a public health emergency and cannot care for their children if schools are closed, or their daycare is unavailable.
Over the course of vetting this bill, we have heard many concerns from small businesses – specifically related to the upfront costs required to pay for sick leave or FMLA. The provisions in the House bill include regulatory flexibility to waive penalties for businesses not submitting their payroll taxes if they do so in anticipation of a refund under this bill. In terms of FMLA, the bill exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees if paying leave would jeopardize the business. Leave under the bill is not available if an employee can perform their job remotely, and the qualifying conditions for providing paid family leave have been scaled back in terms of taking care of children when school is closed, or their ordinary caregiver is not available.
Phase 3 of the Federal Government’s Response
Phase 3 is expected to be the passage of a large economic stimulus package. Exact language for Phase 3 legislation has not yet been announced; however, a stimulus package proposed by the U.S. Department of Treasury includes:
- Money for the airline industry
- Money for critical sectors
- Payments to individual taxpayers
- Money for small business loans
Given the many new provisions of H.R. 6201 affecting employers, as well as Governor McMaster’s recent orders, the S.C. Chamber is hosting a webinar presented by employment attorneys with Fisher Phillips Friday, March 20 at 3p E.T. You can register for the webinar here.