The Families First Coronavirus Response Act has been drafted in response to the concerns presented by the coronavirus (COVID 19) and the impact to employers and employees. Federal and State governments are reacting quickly to try to address these unique issues and provide aid. The United States House of Representatives just passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), and it is currently waiting expected Senate debate and subsequent approval. Employers should be aware of several of the FFCRA’s sweeping changes that, if passed, will directly impact their employment practices and policies. The FFCRA seeks to establish: (1) paid leave, (2) free testing, (3) protection of public health workers, & (4) providing vital benefits to children and families.
Paid Family Medical Leave
The FFCRA requires paid leave for employees. The FFCRA establishes new qualified allowances, specifically for emergency orders, including the coronavirus modifying existing legislation. The FFCRA allows those who are personally infected with the coronavirus, self-quarantining for the coronavirus, are providing aid for someone who has contracted the coronavirus or are providing aid for someone quarantining themselves for the coronavirus, to take up to twelve weeks off work similar to other FMLA allowances. Unlike FMLA leave (which was unpaid), the FFCRA requires employers to pay two-thirds of the employee’s salary for up to twelve weeks. Additionally, the FFCRA establishes a federally instituted sick leave of a minimum of seven days, with an additional fourteen days immediately provided in an event of an emergency order such as the coronavirus. Knowing that small businesses (those with fewer than fifty employees) will be particularly affected by the coronavirus, the FFCRA provides relief for those employers by allowing reimbursement for the additional sick days when closure is required by governmental mandate – such as the recent closure of restaurants, bars, gyms, fitness centers and the like.
COVID 19 Testing
The FFCRA also mandates free testing for the coronavirus. The FFCRA requires insurers to provide no cost testing, regardless if the test occurs at a doctor’s office, the emergency room, or an urgent care facility. Additionally, the FFCRA requires that Medicare, Medicaid, and other governmental programs for veterans and indigenous people cover the full cost of the testing with no out of pocket expense. Beyond the testing, the FFCRA also seeks to eliminate the costs of laboratory fees as well as personal respiratory devices related to the diagnosis or treatment of the coronavirus. For those employers that self-fund their health insurance, the FFCRA will require payment for coronavirus testing without any co-pay or co-insurance.
Protections for Public Health Workers
The FFCRA establishes protections for public health workers battling the coronavirus on the frontlines. The FFCRA accomplishes this by the creation of, and implementation of new OSHA designations and procedures. The FFCRA mandates that the CDC and OSHA develop and implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect health care workers from exposure to the coronavirus. Unlike other aspects of the FFCRA, this control plan would be perpetual and not limited to just the period of the crisis; thus, the CDC and OSHA must provide guidance and relief now, but also establish a plan for the future to help protect against the next global pandemic.
Finally, the FFCRA seeks to expand several benefits for children and families. The FFCRA temporarily expands the SNAP program. This expansion provides, for those who are laid off due to the coronavirus emergency, temporary food aid. This measure is aimed to specifically assist those in the hospitality industry, including the food services, lodging, and event planning. Additionally, the FFCRA provides additional funding for local food banks to continue to provide assistance to the ever growing number of people that are expected to rely upon their aid. Finally, in addition to nutritional aid to U.S. territories, the FFCRA provides streamlined and relaxed processes for schools to provide nutritional aid to students that are part of the reduced or no cost lunch program thus reducing the nutritional affect of extended school closures. The FFCRA temporarily reduces the necessary paperwork for states to complete for these benefits and broadens definitions to allow schools to provide lunch to students outside of school, which is particularly relevant when schools are closed. Finally, the FFCRA temporarily suspends the current work or work-training requirements found within the SNAP program for those that have been laid off until the threat of the coronavirus has dissipated.
While the FFCRA has been passed by the House of Representatives, it has not yet been passed by the Senate. It is, however, expected to be passed today. Key provisions in the FFCRA are expected to be debated in the Senate, and aspects of the current FFCRA may yet be modified or removed.
Faruki PPL will continue to monitor and provide updates about the FFCRA. Faruki attorneys routinely counsel clients on employment matters and are prepared to assist. Please do not hesitate to contact any one of our Faruki attorneys for assistance.