The new federal law, which applies to cities and other employers, expands the Family and Medical Leave Act and provides emergency paid sick leave.
President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 18. Two divisions of the Act — one temporarily expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and another providing emergency paid sick leave — are of critical importance to Minnesota cities.
Both of these provisions apply to local governments and their employees. Each provision of the law goes into effect sometime on or before April 2 and will sunset on Dec. 31, as the law is meant to specifically address concerns around COVID-19.
Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (Division C)
Division C of the act amends the FMLA by granting up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to employees to care for children because school has been closed or they are without child care, due to a public health emergency. A “public health emergency” is defined to mean “an emergency with respect to COVID-19 declared by a federal, state, or local authority.”
Employees who have been employed for at least 30 calendar days are eligible. The act provides leave for employees unable to work (or telework) because they need to care for a son or daughter under 18 years of age whose:
- School or place of care has been closed; or
- Child care provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency.
The first 10 days of the leave may be unpaid, but the following 10 weeks must be paid at no less than two-thirds the regular rate of pay for the number of hours the employee would otherwise be normally scheduled to work.
An employee may elect to substitute any accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave for the first 10 days of unpaid leave. The 10 weeks of pay is capped at $200 per day ($10,000 in the aggregate).
There is an exception to the job protection provisions for employers with fewer than 25 employees. If the employee’s position does not exist after FMLA leave due to an economic downturn or other operating conditions that affect employment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the employer does not have to guarantee a job. But specific conditions must be met.
Employers of health care providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from this leave.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (Division E)
Division E requires employers with fewer than 500 employees and government employers to provide employees two weeks of paid sick leave (at their full regular rate) if they are unable to work or telework because they need to:
- Quarantine; or
- Seek a diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus.
However, two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate must be paid to:
- Care for a family member who has been quarantined or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
- Care for a child whose school has closed or whose child care provider is unavailable, due to the coronavirus.
Full-time employees are entitled to two weeks (80 hours) and part-time employees are entitled to the typical number of hours they work in a two-week period. The amount paid is capped at $511 per day ($5,110 in the aggregate) for personal sick leave and $200 per day ($2,000 in the aggregate) for leave to care for others. Any unused paid leave granted by the act does not carry over into 2021.
The act allows employers to exclude employees who are health care providers or emergency responders from this coverage.
As it stands, this bill implements significant mandates on local governments as employers, but unfortunately, the bill expressly prohibits government employers from receiving the tax credits to offset the costs of providing such leave. The National League of Cities is actively advocating for credits to be given to local governments.
Because this situation is rapidly evolving, the League encourages cities to work with their city attorney in implementing the new law and adapting any policies.