After nearly a year of darkness, there is finally a light. We are all on the verge of receiving the Covid-19 vaccine and finally (and responsibly) breaking out of our year-long quarantine. But, what if the worst happens? What if, as you wait for your approaching vaccine appointment, you feel a tingle in your throat; you lose your sense of smell and/or taste; you start to develop a fever; and you realize that, chances are, you have come down with Covid. At this point, along with informing your family and friends, you must inform your employer as well. That is at least two weeks of your life that you will have to spend in isolation, without work. Although the pandemic may be coming to an end, that does not necessarily mean that you are out of luck. The Families First Coronavirus Care Act (“FFRCA”) still has some life in it and may prevent you from missing out on your bills.
The FFRCA was first enacted by Congress in April of 2020 to combat the economic impacts of Covid-19. If your employer has fewer than 500 employees, then they must allow you to take emergency paid sick leave as well as paid family medical leave. Generally, if you are a full-time employee, you may take up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave, while a part-time employee may take up to the amount of hours they typically work within a two-week period. You may use the paid sick leave if you are quarantined, if your doctor advises it, or if you have Covid-19 symptoms and are waiting for a diagnosis. Your pay must be at your regular rate, up to a maximum of $511 per day or $5,110 total. Additionally, you may also use emergency paid sick leave if you are caring for an individual under quarantine or if you must care for your child because their school or place of care has been closed due to Covid. In this instance, your employer must pay you at least 2/3 of your regular rate of pay or up to a maximum of $200 per day. In either instance, your employer cannot require you to find a replacement worker to cover your shift. Furthermore, your employer cannot require you to deduct other paid vacation, paid personal leave, or paid sick leave prior to taking your emergency paid sick leave.
The FFCRA expired after December 31, 2020, but that does not mean that it is completely dead. On December 27, 2020, the Trump administration passed the Covid-19 stimulus package. Under this stimulus package, employers are no longer required to provide paid leave after December 31, 2020. However, employers that were subject to FFCRA may voluntarily choose to extend the leave period until March 31, 2021. Furthermore, the time period during which an employer’s employees may take FFCRA period is extended. However, it is important to make clear that this voluntary extension does not increase the amount of leave that is available to employees. Moreover, employees that were eligible for leave in 2020, but did not use such leave in 2020, may only take the leave in 2021 if their employer has elected to apply the FFRCA extension.
Lastly, under the stimulus, your employer is required to pay you for any unpaid FFCRA sick leave you took from April 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020. If your employer has not yet paid you for leave you have already taken, then they will still be required to do so regardless of the expiration of the Act and regardless of whether they choose to extend the Act. They are required by law to compensate you for your sick leave.
It is unclear whether the Biden administration will renew the FFCRA given that vaccines have yet to become available to the general public and given the fact that the disease rates are still soaringly high in the United States, and particularly in Texas. What is important to keep in mind is that the FFRCA has become permissive on employers rather than mandatory. In other words, your employer is no longer required to provide you with this paid sick leave, it is up to their discretion, so it is vital that you look into their policies and see whether you are still covered. The distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine marks the end of the beginning for the pandemic that has raged over the U.S. for nearly a year, but this does not mean that you are out of the woods just yet. If you believe that you are experiencing an FFCRA violation, then you should seek representation from an experienced employment attorney.