An Overview of the USA’s FFCRA Leave
When things go south, we look to our country’s leaders to guide us through the storm. And when said storm is a pandemic, we know that our elected officials will pull through with a plan to keep us safe. That’s why, when news of the coronavirus first surfaced, the United States eagerly awaited the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Let’s take a closer look at the federal relief package and what it offered to Americans.
What is the FFCRA?
On March 18, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Families Fast Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) into law as a response to the coronavirus. The act was designed to help impacted families and individuals by providing them with emergency paid leave, unemployment insurance benefits, and food assistance.
Is the FFCRA Still in Effect?
The FFCRA expired on December 31, 2020. However, lawmakers incentivized voluntary compliance through 2021. This means employers could provide paid leave past the expiration date and claim tax credits.
The tax credit was available for leaves between January 1, 2021 and March 31, 2021. After that point, the FFCRA leave remained voluntary under the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) through September 30, 2021. Read more about this plan in the ARPA section below.
FFCRA Leave Qualifications
The FFCRA’s employer obligations only applied to organizations with fewer than 500 employees.
An employee qualified for FFCRA if they:
- had to quarantine or isolate themselves pursuant to a government order (Federal, State, or local).
- had to quarantine or isolate themselves pursuant to a recommendation of a health care provider.
- had COVID-19 symptoms and were awaiting a medical diagnosis.
- were caring for an individual who was subject to quarantine or isolation pursuant to a government order or health care provider recommendation.
- were caring for their child if the child’s school or child care provider was closed due to COVID-19 precautions.
- were experiencing any other similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.
FFCRA Leave Provisions
Emergency Paid Sick Leave
Some of the key provisions pursuant to the FFCRA for the Emergency Paid Sick Leave included:
Maximum Hours: Full-time employees were eligible for up to eighty hours of paid leave, and part-time employees were eligible for a pro-rated amount of leave based on their hours worked.
Maximum Compensation: The employee received their full pay for the leave if leave was taken for any of the first three qualifications (i.e., where the employee has their own coronavirus-related conditions). The maximum amount an employee can take per day is $511, and $5,110 in total.
If an employee takes a leave due to any of the final three qualifications (i.e., caring for a family member or relating to a substantially similar condition specified by HHS), the employer pays no less than two-thirds of their full pay. The maximum amount an employee can take in this case is $200 per day ,and $2,000 in total.
Standard PTO Remains: Employers could not require employees to use their accrued vacation, personal, or sick leave prior to using the FFCRA leave.
Inform Employees: Employers are required to provide notice to employees of their rights and benefits under the FFCRA provided by the Department of Labor (DOL).
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
Pursuant to the FFCRA, the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) allowed employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave due to one of the six qualifying events without penalty. Employees are eligible if they have been employed by their current employer for a minimum of 30 days.
Unpaid leave for 10 days: The FFCRA also allowed employees to take 10 days of unpaid leave for a qualifying event. Employees can choose to substitute accrued vacation, personal, or sick leave for unpaid leave days. That said, employers may not require employees to use their accrued leave.
Paid leave beyond 10 days: If an employee takes unpaid leave for more than 10 days, the employer must provide paid leave at the same rate as not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The maximum amount is $200 per day, and $10,000 in total.
Job security: Employers must restore the employee to the same or equivalent position upon their return from leave. That said, this requirement does not apply to organizations of fewer than 25 employees if:
- the position no longer exists due to economic conditions that affect employment and are caused by a public health emergency
- the employer makes reasonable efforts to restore the employee to an equivalent position but is unable to do so
- if the employer is unable to restore the employee, the employer makes reasonable efforts to contact the employee to offer them a position within a year
The American Rescue Plan & Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). The ARPA is a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that includes provisions for the coronavirus crisis. One of the key provisions of the ARPA is the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA).
ARPA added on to the qualifying event #3 included in FFCRA:
3. The employee has COVID-19 symptoms and is awaiting a medical diagnosis.
ARPA expands this scenario by including employees who are:
- seeking or awaiting results for a COVID-19 test following exposure
- obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination
- recovering from an illness related to the COVID-19 vaccination
The above additions also qualified employees to take paid EFMLEA leave.
Other Key Provisions of the Emergency Paid Leave Sick Act
Removal of the initial 10 days of unpaid leave: The EPSLA repealed the initial 10 days of unpaid leave for all employees.
Paid Leave at 2/3rds Rate: The EPSLA requires employers to provide paid leave at a rate of not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The maximum amount an employee can take is $200 per day, and $12,000 in total. The employee receives their full pay (max $511/day) for the leave if leave is taken due to any of the first three qualifications (i.e., where the employee has their own coronavirus-related conditions). If an employee takes a leave due to any of the final three qualifications (i.e., caring for a family member or relating to a substantially similar condition specified by HHS), the employer pays no less than two-thirds of their full pay (max $200/day).
80 More Hours of Emergency Sick Leave: The ARPA also provided for 80 hours of emergency sick leave for employees. Even if the employee used their emergency sick leave before March 31, 2021, they are still eligible for the 80 hours.
The FFCRA was a key piece of legislation that provided broad protections to employees who were impacted by the coronavirus. The law ensured that employees could take the time they need to care for themselves or a loved one, without the fear of losing their job. With the passage of the ARPA, employees now have even more protections in place should they fall ill or need to care for a loved one.
It’s important to note that emergency paid sick leave is not required by an employer under ARPA. Employers with more than 500 employees will likely not offer these benefits since they will not receive tax credits for doing so. Employers with fewer than 500 employees are more likely to offer the benefits. Beyond tax relief, employers should consider the public relations and morale benefits of providing emergency paid sick leave. That said, there is also the possibility of abuse of the system. Either way, it is important for employers to be familiar with these laws and their obligations by consulting with both their legal and human resources teams.
Paid sick leave tracking can be a complex process. If you’re looking for a tool to help manage your organization’s paid sick leave, consider using leave management software. Software like Vacation Tracker can help you keep track of employee leave, ensure that employees are taking the correct amount of time off, and more. To learn more, sign up for a demo.
Elizabeth is currently a writer based in Montreal. When she’s not glued to her laptop, you can find her sipping craft beer, practicing yoga, or planning her next adventure.