As summer turns to fall, the coronavirus pandemic rages on. Despite continued high case counts across the country, some aspects of daily life have resumed: most businesses are open for in-person service to masked customers, doctor’s offices are resuming non-essential patient care, and many Americans are returning to school or work.

For those Americans still unable to resume working because their employer remains closed, is operating at reduced capacity or hours, or has not hired them back, unemployment checks have recently dropped in value. That is likely because the extra $600.00 per week provided by Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”), a federal initiative, is no longer being added to their benefits.

However, other coronavirus-related programs remain in force, at least through the end of the year. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), enacted on April 1, 2020, contains one such program that this blog post focuses on: expanded family- and medical leave. Most of us know about the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), which provides the majority of working people with the right to up to 12 weeks of continuous or intermittent leave due to employees’ own health conditions, the need to care for family with health conditions, or the birth or adoption of a child. FMLA leave is unpaid but job-protected: employees must be brought back to the same role or a substantially equivalent role after their leave period.

FFCRA expanded FMLA rights in several important ways. First, it provides for up to two weeks, or 80 hours, of 100% paid leave for employees under a government stay-at-home order, advised by a doctor to self-quarantine, or seeking COVID-19 diagnosis due to symptoms or likely exposure. Also, it provides up to two weeks, or 80 hours, of 2/3-paid leave for employees caring for someone under a government stay-at-home order or someone advised by a doctor to self-quarantine, and for employees caring for children whose schools or care providers are closed or unavailable due to COVID-19.

Some employers and their employees are, however, exempt from this program. Employers who employ “health care providers” – from doctors to nursing home staff to pharmacists and even hospital custodians – may choose to exempt these workers from expanded COVID-19-related leave. So too might employers who employ “first responders,” including military personnel, doctors, nurses, EMTs, paramedics, law enforcement officers, and 911 operators.

There are several other eligibility criteria that exclude some workers and some employers. Some employers also try to escape their obligations to provide this leave to their employees. If you have questions about your eligibility to take paid COVID-19 leave, or if you think leave you have taken since April 1 should have been covered, please contact the Hawks Quindel, S.C. employment team for assistance.

If you should need to avail yourself of expanded coronavirus-related leave, there are a few basic steps to take. First, if you feel sick or worry you were exposed to the virus, you must seek a diagnosis from a doctor, or otherwise see a doctor who advises self-quarantine in writing. Next, you must request this leave from your employer, and provide basic information about which scenario applies to your COVID-19 expanded leave.

Lili Behm
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