As more employees are finding themselves on self-quarantine or limited duty and looking at possible furloughs and layoffs the state and federal governments are looking at ways to provide financial relief.
Early Saturday morning the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act through bipartisan efforts brokered by Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Some of the highlights of the bill are as follows:
Emergency Paid Sick Leave
Employers with fewer than 500 employees would be required to provide two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave to employees at the employee’s regular rate of pay in the event of illness, to seek testing or preventative care, or to quarantine. Employees would be paid 2/3 of their regular rate of pay to care for a family member, to care for children if their schools are closed, or to care for children if their regular caregiver is not available due to coronavirus.
Family and Medical Leave Act Expansion
The bill expands FMLA eligibility to employees who have been with the employer for at least 30 days (as opposed to a year under the current act). It also clarifies and expands reasons for job protected leave to include required or recommended quarantine, to care for a family member who is at risk, or to care for a child whose school is closed or if the regular care provider is not available. This leave would be paid at a rate not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay.
The requirements for paid sick or family leave would expire as of 12/31/20. Large employers are excluded, and companies employing fewer than 50 could seek exemption from the Department of Labor upon a showing that paid leave “would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”
Small businesses would receive tax credits up to the amounts paid out in leave benefits.
Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access
The House bill also provides $1 billion in emergency grants to states to buffer unemployment programs, both with staffing and administration support as well as direct dollars for benefits. This could include extended benefits for states which experience a job loss rate of 10% or more.
These benefits could provide needed respite for employees out of work due to the economic troubles being experienced by their employers as a result of the virus.
President Trump has expressed his support of this bill. However, as of Sunday night, no vote had been scheduled in the Senate. The hope is that a vote will take place shortly. If a different version is passed by the Senate, additional negotiations will delay getting a law signed.
On the state level, New Hampshire Governor Sununu on March 12 proposed that state unemployment benefits be expanded on a temporary basis to allow employees impacted by coronavirus for the following reasons to obtain benefits: 1) individuals quarantined due to confirmed or potential exposure; 2) individuals needing to care for themselves due to their own illness; 3) individuals needing to care for an ill family member; and 4) individuals needing to care for a dependent. Those experiencing a layoff or work stoppage are eligible for benefits already.
Sununu also proposed eliminating the current one week waiting period before benefits begin, also on a temporary basis. Finally, he advocated for allowing self-employed individuals, currently not eligible for any benefits, to collect directly from the insurance trust even though they have not previously paid into the system.
In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker has announced that a bill expected to be filed today will relax some of the requirements for individuals filing unemployment claims. The state is expected to waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment and expand eligibility for people impacted by virus-related business closures.
It is important to note that none of these relief measures, state or federal are yet in effect. Your McLane Middleton attorneys will keep you advised of the progress of these measures, in an environment which changes hour to hour and day to day.