What the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Means for Workers in New York City

The global coronavirus pandemic has led to major economic disruptions across the country. As more and more people are urged — or required — to remain at home, and businesses deemed “non-essential” are ordered to reduce or cease operations, many people find themselves out of work or unable to get to their jobs. People who must quarantine themselves also cannot get to work. Both New York State and New York City have taken steps to help people affected by the crisis. The federal government has also acted, passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in mid-March 2020.

Three of the bill’s major sections could offer assistance to workers in New York City:
– Division C, the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, does as its name suggests and temporarily expands the unpaid leave provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
– Division D, the Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act of 2020, provides additional grants for state unemployment insurance programs.
– Division E, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, creates a temporary federal mandate for paid sick leave for certain employers.

Unemployment Insurance

Each state maintains an insurance fund for unemployment compensation. Employers pay into the fund as part of their payroll taxes. The federal government supplements the funds through grants. The unemployment provisions of the FFCRA authorize greater expenditures on state programs. Some of these extend to the end of fiscal year 2020, or September 30, while others continue to the end of the calendar year.

Several days before the FFCRA became law, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance for state unemployment programs regarding “flexibilities” under federal law. States can, for example, decide to provide benefits to individuals who intend to return to work, but currently cannot because their employer temporarily ceased operations or because they are currently subjected to quarantine.

Paid and Unpaid Sick Leave

Federal law does not ordinarily require employers to provide paid sick leave. The FMLA requires employers with fifty or more employees to provide up to twelve weeks of unpaid medical leave per year to employees who meet minimum work requirements. The FFCRA temporarily expands the FMLA’s unpaid leave requirements and creates a temporary system of paid sick leave. All these provisions expire on December 31, 2020.

These new requirements only apply to employers with fewer than five hundred employees. Employers with no more than fifty employees can claim a hardship exemption.

The amount of time and amount of pay under these provisions depend on the purpose of the leave:
1. If the leave is because of quarantine, isolation, or COVID-19 symptoms, the new law provides two weeks of paid sick leave at full pay, up to a maximum of $511 per day, followed by twelve weeks of unpaid FMLA leave.
2. If the purpose of leave is to care for a quarantine or sick family member, the law provides two weeks of paid leave at two-thirds the usual rate or minimum wage, whichever is greater, followed by twelve weeks of FMLA leave.
3. If leave is necessary to care for a child after a school closure, the bill provides two weeks of paid leave at the greater of two-thirds the usual rate or minimum wage, two weeks of paid leave at two-thirds pay capped at $200 per day, and two weeks of unpaid leave.

The employment lawyers at Phillips & Associates represent employees, former employees, and job seekers in New York City. Please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our skilled and experienced team.

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