The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was enacted on March 18, 2020, creating additional leave rights for employees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic through two provisions: the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLA) and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA). Since then, however, the exact contours of employee rights and employer obligations under the FFCRA have been the subject of some debate and disagreement.
The Department of Labor (DOL) first issued guidance on the FFCRA in late March in the form of Questions and Answers (Q&As) that it has since supplemented to include a total of 103 Q&As. On April 1, the DOL issued temporary regulations, answering many of the questions employers had raised after reviewing the statutory language of the FFCRA and the DOL’s previous guidance in the Q&As. Our summary of the Temporary Regulations is available here.
On August 3, 2020, in a lawsuit filed by the State of New York, a federal district court judge for the Southern District of New York struck down several portions of the DOL’s temporary regulations it determined had exceeded the scope of the agency’s authority. This ruling left many employers, especially those located in the Second Circuit, without a clear understanding of what portion of the temporary regulations, if any, remained in effect through the end of 2020 when the FFCRA terminates by its terms (unless otherwise renewed).
On September 11, 2020, the DOL issued an updated version of the temporary regulations in response to the legal decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The revised regulations, which take effect on September 16, 2020, largely rejected the Court’s opinion and reinforced the DOL’s original regulations. But, the DOL made some important changes, particularly for employers who provide healthcare services. The key takeaways from these updated regulations are summarized below.
1. Available Work Still Required For Leave
The revised regulations keep intact the rule that an employee must have work from which to take leave in order to be eligible for either paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under the FFCRA. This means that those employees whose worksite is closed or who have been furloughed remain ineligible for FFCRA leave. The regulations specify that this requirement applies to all FFCRA-qualifying reasons.
2. Intermittent Leave Still Requires Employer Consent
Under the revised regulations, intermittent EFMLA and EPSLA leave remains available only with employer approval. For those parents and caregivers whose children are returning to school on a hybrid schedule (a mix of distance and in-person learning), the DOL clarified that employer approval is not required for employees to use time off in full-day increments on distance learning days. The DOL opined that using leave in this manner is not considered “intermittent,” but rather, “each day of school closure constitutes a separate reason for FFCRA leave that ends when the school opens the next day.” The same logic applies for employees whose children attend half-days in-person on a set schedule.
3. New Notice Requirements
Next, the revised regulations clarify when employees are required to give notice of their intent to take EFMLA or EPSLA leave and provide certain documentation supporting their need for such leave. Previously, DOL regulations required employees to provide notice and documentation supporting the employee’s need and eligibility for FFCRA leave “prior to” taking the leave. However, the New York federal court ruled this was inconsistent with the language of the FFCRA statute itself, which specifically provides that notice of paid sick leave may be givenafterthe first day work is missed and notice of expanded family and medical leave is to be given “as is practicable.”
The revised regulation clarifies that notice and documentation for both types of FFCRA leave should generally be given “as soon as practicable.” If an employee is requesting EPSLA leave, notice may only be required after the first day work is missed; after that, it is required “as soon as practicable.” Notice for EPSLA leave cannotbe required before leave is actually taken.
For EFMLA leave, on the other hand, notice is required “as soon as practicable,” whichmaybe prior to when the leave is taken, if the reason for the leave is foreseeable. In fact, the DOL noted, advanced notice for EFMLA leave is “typically required if the need for leave is foreseeable.” If the reason for leave is not foreseeable, notice can be given “as soon as practicable” after the employee begins to take leave.
The DOL also revised the regulations governing required documentation to add the same “as soon as practicable” notice period. Required documentation typically includes the employee’s name, dates of leave, qualifying reasons for leave, and a statement that the employee is unable to work due to the qualifying reason for leave. The revised regulation notes that, in most cases, employees should give notice and turn in the required documentation at the same time.
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