Paid leave has always been a complex headache for employers and payroll administrators in the U.S., primarily because federal, state, and local requirements differ across jurisdictions and industries. In 2020, we’ve seen paid leave requirements accelerate at an unprecedented pace due to the COVID-19 emergency. We suspect that we aren’t the only ones pulling our hair out trying to keep track of the changes. To that end, below is a high-level overview to help you stay organized in the COVID-19 paid leave realm in 2020.
New leave requirements related to the COVID-19 emergency form a long list. Not surprisingly, the federal, state, and local approaches are all slightly different. Some locations have decided to create new legislation tied specifically to paid sick leave for COVID-19. Some places have also decided to “fill the gap” for sick leave coverage where employers are not covered by the federal requirements (which primarily apply to employers with fewer than 500 workers). Others have decided to allow existing paid sick leave laws to be used for COVID-19. Keep in mind that many of the requirements below are temporary in nature, meaning that at some point they will expire. One exception to this is Colorado’s Healthy Families and Workplace Act, which has some permanent paid leave requirements (see below).
At the federal level, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides covered employees of organizations with fewer than 500 workers with paid leave for several COVID-19 related reasons, including:
This leave entitlement currently expires Dec. 31, 2020. Additionally, the FFCRA temporarily expanded the unpaid benefits of the Family and Medical Leave Act to provide leave to eligible employees with a qualifying public health emergency.
At the state level, some states with existing paid sick leave and paid family leave laws already in place responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by clarifying that those leave entitlements should also be made available to employees needing time away from work for personal or family needs that arise due to the public health emergency. (Examples include California and New Jersey. New Jersey also provides a helpful side-by-side chart analyzing which leave entitlements various COVID-19 related needs fall under). California also now has Executive Order N-51-20, which covers California Food Sector workers and provides supplemental sick leave for COVID-19. Additional changes at the state level include:
There are too many local changes related to the COVID-19 emergency to cover them all in detail here. California has many local paid sick leave ordinances that primarily require supplemental sick leave for large employers with 500+ employees (effectively expanding coverage of the FFCRA leave provision). Localities that have made changes are listed below, but keep in mind that each law has its own unique details, so employers should review the ones that apply to them closely:
Finally, Seattle, Washington passed a local ordinance requiring paid sick leave for certain gig workers in “Food Delivery Network” and “Transportation Network” companies who are employing 250+ gig workers worldwide and operating in the City of Seattle.
With all these changes happening in the paid leave realm related to COVID-19, employers in the U.S., especially those operating in more than one location, will need to keep up to date on new paid leave requirements for your impacted employees.
Employers can consider how their long-term strategies related to paid sick leave and paid family leave may be able to help manage this constantly evolving area. For example, employers could consider adding a COVID-19 specific category to a comprehensive tracking sheet for your workforce and periodically checking for updates. Another strategy that often helps is to adopt a paid leave program that is at least as generous as the strictest local requirements. Employers should make sure to consult with their human resources and employment advisors to come up with an approach that works best for them.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. You should review with your legal advisors how the laws identified in this post may apply to your specific situation.