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Senate Passes Coronavirus Package That Includes Paid Leave Mandate

The United States Senate passed a multibillion-dollar emergency aid package on Wednesday to confront the economic effects of the coronavirus.


The Senate’s 90-8 approval of the House of Representatives-passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is known as “phase two,” now paves the way for negotiations on a third, even larger stimulus package to address the pandemic, reports Politico.

The bill will provide free screening, paid leave and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for people affected by COVID-19. President Donald Trump signed the bill Wednesday night and it will take effect April 2 and sunset on Dec. 31, 2020. 

“I am relieved to see both the federal and state elected officials responding quickly due to the good it will do for the workforce and the economy,” said Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork. “I also hope leaders in all organizations have the courage to step up and do all they can to protect their people’s jobs despite the short-term revenue impact that may create.”      

The House originally passed the bill on March 13, but it was then tweaked to include agreed-upon technical changes that didn’t make it into the version that eventually hit the floor. The do-over allows small businesses, unhappy with provisions requiring them to offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave to their workers, time to lobby for additional changes.

“While the paid family and sick leave provisions of this act are narrowly tailored to provide assistance for the current public health emergency,” said Deirdre Macbeth, content director, regulatory at WorldaWork, “this legislation is an advancing step forward in the evolution of U.S. federal employment laws and may open the door for future federal paid leave legislation.”  

Jon Hyman, an employment law attorney with Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis, provided a breakdown of how the act impacts the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protections. Regarding FMLA leave and job protections, new public health emergency leave requirements have been added for employers with less than 500 employees:

  • A public health emergency leave is now available for employees who are unable to work or telework and need to care for a minor child because of a school closure or childcare-provider loss.
  • An initial 10-day period of unpaid leave is available to employees who have been employed for at least 30 days.  Employers of health care employees or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from coverage.
  • Employees may use available PTO during the initial unpaid leave period.
  • After the initial unpaid leave period, employers must pay 2/3 of the employee’s regular wages (for their normal scheduled hours) for a period of 10 weeks, up to a maximum of $200 per day or $10,000 in the aggregate.

Regarding the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the proposed paid sick days for coronavirus-related absences for employers with less than 500 employees:

  • Employees are eligible for paid sick leave with no minimum tenure.  Employers of health care employees or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from coverage.
  • It limits the availability of 80 hours of paid sick days to employees who are unable to work or telework because of one of the qualifying coronavirus-related absences.
  • The Secretary of Labor has authority to issue regulations exempting employers with fewer than 50 employees to apply to paid sick days.
  • It caps the amount of paid sick leave at $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate for an employee's own illness or quarantine, and $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate for any other qualifying reason (i.e., care for a family member who is ill or under quarantine).

The Act provides payroll tax credits to reimburse employers for the costs of the paid FMLA leave and emergency sick leave. 

Republican senators are expected to begin negotiations with Democrats on a trillion-dollar “phase three” stimulus package as early as Wednesday night, according to Politico.

Visit WorldatWork’s resource page for more info and planning on COVID-19.

About the Author

Brett Christie Bio Image

Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

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