The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

DOL Addresses FAQs in Preamble of New Temporary Paid-Leave Rule Under the FFCRA

On April 1, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) released a temporary rule on the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA), both of which are part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The rule provides additional guidance that builds on a growing list of frequently asked questions the WHD has posted on its website.

Below, we have taken some text from the rule’s preamble, where the DOL explains why it has made certain determinations. We have created our own headings to organize the quoted text, which is in italics. Page numbers refer to this PDF version. To see a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions from HR professionals, along with guidance from the WHD in its temporary rule and FAQ page, visit CUPA-HR’s Emergency Leave Q&A for Higher Education HR page.

Employees May Only Take Leave If They Would Have Been Working – Page 14

Quarantine or isolation orders include a broad range of governmental orders, including orders that advise some or all citizens to shelter in place, stay at home, quarantine or otherwise restrict their own mobility. Section 826.20(a)(2) explains that an employee may take paid sick leave only if being subject to one of these orders prevents him or her from working or teleworking as described therein. The question is whether the employee would be able to work or telework “but for” being required to comply with a quarantine or isolation order. An employee subject to one of these orders may not take paid sick leave where the employer does not have work for the employee. This is because the employee would be unable to work even if he or she were not required to comply with the quarantine or isolation order.

For example, if a coffee shop closes temporarily or indefinitely due to a downturn in business related to COVID-19, it would no longer have any work for its employees. A cashier previously employed at the coffee shop who is subject to a stay-at-home order would not be able to work even if he were not required to stay at home. As such, he may not take paid sick leave because his inability to work is not due to his need to comply with the stay-at-home order, but rather due to the closure of his place of employment.1
Footnote 1: This analysis holds even if the closure of the coffee shop was substantially caused by a stay-at-home order. If the coffee shop closed due to its customers being required to stay at home, the reason for the cashier being unable to work would be because those customers were subject to the stay-at-home order, not because the cashier himself was subject to the order. Similarly, if the order forced the coffee shop to close, the reason for the cashier being unable to work would be because the coffee shop was subject to the order, not because the cashier himself was subject to the order.

Employees Can Only Take Leave to Care for Immediate Family Members, Roommates or Similar People Page 17

[Section] 826.20(a)(5) explains that paid sick leave may not be taken to care for someone with whom the employee has no personal relationship. Rather, the individual being cared for must be an immediate family member, roommate or a similar person with whom the employee has a relationship that creates an expectation that the employee would care for the person if he or she self-quarantined or was quarantined.

Limits on an Employee’s Right to Take Leave Related to School Closures Pages 17 and 18

The fifth reason for paid sick leave applies when the employee is unable to work because the employee needs to care for his or her son or daughter if: (a) the child’s school or place of care has closed; or (b) the childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19-related reasons. Again, the employee must be able to perform work for his or her employer but for the need to care for his or her son or daughter, which means an employee may not take paid sick leave if the employer does not have work for him or her.

Moreover, an employee may take paid sick leave to care for his or her child only when the employee needs to, and actually is, caring for his or her child. Generally, an employee does not need to take such leave if another suitable individual — such as a co-parent, co-guardian, or the usual childcare provider — is available to provide the care the employee’s child needs.

Taking Intermittent Leave Will Not Undermine Exemptions From FLSA’s Overtime Pay Requirements Page 20

More specifically, nothing in this Act should be construed as impacting an employee’s exempt status under the FLSA. For example, an employee’s use of intermittent leave combined with either paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave should not be construed as undermining the employee’s salary basis for purposes of 29 U.S.C. 213 and 29 CFR Part 541.

Requiring Employees to Use Available Paid Leave Concurrently for Expanded FMLA Pages 25 and 26

Because the FFCRA amends the FMLA, and in particular references Section 102(d)(2)(B) of the FMLA, § 826.23 explains that an employee may elect to use, or an employer may require an employee to use, accrued leave that under the employer’s policies would be available to the employee to care for a child, such as vacation or personal leave or paid time off concurrently with the expanded family and medical leave under the EFMLEA.

Although Section 102(d)(2)(B) is read broader in the traditional FMLA context to include sick and medical leave, the Department notes that the FMLA is in part a medical leave, whereas the leave provided under FFCRA is solely for care for a family (i.e., a child whose school or place of care is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable). The Department believes that this flexibility carries out the purposes of FFCRA by allowing employees to receive full pay during the period for which they have preexisting accrued vacation or personal leave or paid time off, and allowing employers to require employees to take such leave and minimize employee absences. 

DOL Reads Emergency Responder Broadly Pages 36 and 37

The FFRCA should be read to complement — and not detract from — the work being done on the front lines to treat COVID-19 patients, prevent the spread of COVID-19, and simultaneously keep Americans safe and with access to essential services. Therefore, the Department interprets “emergency responder” broadly. The specific parameters of the Department’s definition of “emergency responder” derive from consultation of various statutory and regulatory definitions and from the consideration of input provided to the Department by various stakeholders and public officials.

The Department endeavored to include those categories of employees who (1) interact with and aid individuals with physical or mental health issues, including those who are or may be suffering from COVID-19; (2) ensure the welfare and safety of our communities and of our Nation; (3) have specialized training relevant to emergency response; and (4) provide essential services relevant to the American people’s health and wellbeing. While the Department endeavored to identify these categories of workers, it was cognizant that no list could be fully inclusive or account for the differing needs of specific communities. Therefore, the definition allows for the highest official of a state or territory to identify other categories of emergency responders, as necessary. 

Documentation of the Need for Leave Pages 50 and 51

An employee must provide his or her employer documentation in support of paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave. As provided in § 826.100, such documentation must include a signed statement containing the following information: (1) the employee’s name; (2) the date(s) for which leave is requested; (3) the COVID-19 qualifying reason for leave; and (4) a statement representing that the employee is unable to work or telework because of the COVID-19 qualifying reason. An employee must provide additional documentation depending on the COVID-19 qualifying reason for leave.

An employee requesting paid sick leave under § 826.20(a)(1)(i) must provide the name of the government entity that issued the quarantine or isolation order to which the employee is subject. An employee requesting paid sick leave under § 826.20(a)(1)(ii) must provide the name of the health care provider who advised him or her to self-quarantine for COVID-19 related reasons. An employee requesting paid sick leave under § 826.20(a)(1)(iv) to care for an individual must provide either (1) the government entity that issued the quarantine or isolation order to which the individual is subject or (2) the name of the health care provider who advised the individual to self-quarantine, depending on the precise reason for the request.

An employee requesting to take paid sick leave under § 826.20(a)(1)(v) or expanded family and medical leave to care for his or her child must provide the following information: (1) the name of the child being care for; (2) the name of the school, place of care, or child care provider that closed or became unavailable due to COVID-19 reasons; and (3) a statement representing that no other suitable person is available to care for the child during the period of requested leave. For leave taken under the FMLA for an employee’s own serious health condition related to COVID-19, or to care for the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition related to COVID-19, the normal FMLA certification requirements still apply. See 29 CFR 825.306. 

What If the Employer Offered Special Leave for COVID-19 Before April 1? Page 59

The Department interprets “existing employer policy” in section 5107(1)(C) of the FFCRA to include a COVID-19 related offering of paid leave that the employer voluntarily issued prior to April 1, 2020, and under which employees were offered more paid leave than under the employer’s standard or current policy. The Department acknowledges that some employers voluntarily offered and provided such leave to help their employees in this time of emergency. Nonetheless, the FFCRA still requires those employers to provide the entirety of the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave to which its employees are eligible, regardless of whether an employee took the additional paid leave the employer voluntarily offered.

Doing so is necessary to ensure all eligible employees receive the full extent of paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave to which they are entitled under the EPSLA and the EFMLEA. However, an employer may prospectively terminate such a voluntary additional paid leave offering as of April 1, 2020, or thereafter, provided that the employer had not already amended its leave policy to reflect the voluntary offering. This means the employer must pay employees for leave already taken under such an offering before it is terminated, but the employer need not continue the offering in light of the FFCRA taking effect. 

 

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