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Family First Act: Paid leave for employees during COVID-19 pandemic

Congress passed the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Family First Act”) to provide emergency relief and support during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Act, which is effective from April 2, 2020, through December 31, 2020, requires covered employers to provide paid leave in certain circumstances related to COVID-19.  Here’s what you need to know:

Does the Family First Act cover my employer?

The Act doesn’t cover federal employers.  It only applies to certain other public and to private employers with fewer than 500 employees.  However, employers with fewer than 50 employees may be exempted if they can’t afford to comply. Additionally, certain medical providers and emergency responders may not be able to take advantage of the Act’s protections.

What kind of leave does the Act provide?

If you work for a covered employer, you may be eligible to take leave if you can’t work for one of the following reasons:

  • You are quarantined by order of the federal, state, or local government.
  • You are self-quarantined based on a medical provider’s advice.
  • You are caring for someone who was ordered by the government or advised by a medical provider to quarantine.
  • You are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • You are caring for a child (under age 18) whose school is closed or childcare is unavailable.
  • You are experiencing a similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The Act provides two types of leave, emergency sick leave and expanded FMLA leave.  The types of leave have different durations and requirements.

Emergency sick leave

You may be eligible for emergency sick leave no matter how long or short you’ve worked for your employer.  Full-time employees may take two weeks of leave (80 hours maximum); part-time employees may take the average number of hours they typically work during a two-week period.

The amount of pay you receive depends on the reason for your leave:

Chart showing paid leave rates under the Family First Act

You don’t have to use accrued paid leave or find a replacement or someone to cover for you while you’re on emergency paid leave.

Expanded FMLA leave

The Family First Act expands rights to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave during the pandemic.  In addition to the two weeks of emergency sick leave described above, you may be eligible to take up to 10 weeks of FMLA leave to care for a child whose school is closed or childcare is unavailable due to COVID-19.

Normally, you only qualify for FMLA leave if you’ve worked for a covered employer for (a) at least 12 months and (b) at least 1,250 hours during the previous 12-month period.  During the pandemic, you may be eligible for COVID-19-related FMLA leave if you’ve worked for a covered employer for at least 30 calendar days.

Your employer must pay you based on a rate of two-thirds regular pay rate or two-thirds minimum wage, whichever is higher.  However, the maximum your employer must pay you is $200 per day and $10,000 for the entire 10-week period.

After your FMLA leave ends, your employer must give you back your job, unless:

  • Your employer has fewer than 25 employees, or
  • Your position doesn’t exist anymore because of certain COVID-19-related reasons.

But if your employer eliminates your job, they must make “reasonable efforts” to put you in a similar vacant position.

Do you need help requesting leave?

If you’re unsure about whether you qualify for leave under the Family First Act, or if you need advice about requesting leave, Alan Lescht and Associates can help.  We represent public and private sector employees in Washington, DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.

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