More Guidance from DOL on Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA
Late Thursday the Department of Labor (DOL) issued more guidance for employers on the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and expanded Family and Medical Leave Act (E-FMLA) requirements. The additional guidance is in the form of 22 new Q&As (#15-37 in the Guidance, which you can find here).
The guidance finally answered several important questions that had left employers confused by their obligations, including how to handle furloughed employees and whether intermittent leave is available to care for a child who is home from school or childcare because of a COVID-19-related closure.
Here are the key questions and answers from this new guidance:
What are the records the employee must provide and the employer must keep?
To be eligible for the tax credit, employers must require, and employees must provide, appropriate documentation in support of the reason for the leave. The documentation should include the employee’s name, the qualifying reason for the leave, a statement that the employee is unable to work (or telework) for that reason, and the dates for which they require the leave. While it appears that the employee’s own declaration will satisfy part of the requirement, the employee must provide documentation supporting the reason for the leave. Examples of such documentation are a copy of the Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19, written documentation by a health care provider advising self-quarantine, or the notice demonstrating the closure of a school or place of care.
The DOL Guidance makes clear that this documentation must be retained by the employer to support the tax credit.
May EPSL and E-FMLA be taken intermittently?
Employees who are working at their usual worksite may use EPSL and E-FMLA intermittently only if the reason they are taking the leave is to care for a child whose school or childcare is closed or unavailable (Category #5) and the employer agrees. The DOL encourages employers and employees to collaborate to achieve flexibility in this area.
Employees who are teleworking may take EPSL and E-FMLA intermittently with the employer’s agreement, in whatever increments the employee and employer agree to. The DOL encourages employers and employees to collaborate to find ways to allow for a combination of telework and intermittent leave.
What happens if I close a worksite? Are employees eligible for EPSL/E-FMLA?
In general, employees are not eligible for EPSL or E-FMLA during the period when a worksite is closed. This is true even if the worksite closes on or after April 1, 2020 and even if an employee already has begun EPSL or E-FMLA leave. In this situation, the employee would receive EPSL or E-FMLA only for the period from April 1 to the date of the closure.
Are furloughed employees eligible for EPSL/E-FMLA?
No. If the employer implements a furlough because it does not have enough work or business, then the impacted employees are not eligible for EPSL/E-FMLA. Note that this remains the case even if the employer indicates that they plan to reopen.
Employees who are furloughed should apply for unemployment benefits.
If an employer reduces an employee’s hours, can employees use EPSL or E-FMLA to make up the difference?
May I require employees to use other available paid leave (vacation time, PTO, etc.) to supplement the EPSL/E-FMLA pay? May I allow them to?
Employers may not require employees to use paid leave to “top off” their EPSL/E-FMLA pay, but may allow it if the employee wishes to do so.
What if I want to pay an employee their full pay during EPSL or E-FMLA even though they only receive 2/3 pay under the FFCRA?
Employers can choose to pay more, but they will not receive a tax credit for the excess payments.
When is an employee able to telework for purposes of the FFCRA?
An employee is able to telework (and thus ineligible for EPSL and E-FMLA) if the employer permits or allows them to perform work at home or a location other than their regular workplace and pays them their normal wages for such work.
When is an employee unable to work or telework?
An employee is unable to work or telework, and thus potentially eligible for EPSL, if the employer has work for them and one of the EPSL qualifying reasons keeps them from being able to perform that work (either at their worksite or via telework).
Do state and local “stay at home” and “shelter in place” orders constitute “quarantine or isolation” orders so as to satisfy Category #1 for EPSL?
The guidance doesn’t specifically address whether the current broad government orders to “stay at home” or “shelter in place” constitute a “quarantine or isolation order” as is required to fall under Category #1 for purposes of EPSL. However, language in one of the questions regarding workplace closures further supports what we already thought – namely that these orders do not meet the requirements for Category #1.