Passed by Congress and signed by President Trump on March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave (PSL) or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The provisions put in place currently apply through December 31, 2020.

A recent article in The Atlantic reported that according to early surveys, many Americans haven’t heard of the FFCRA, meaning they don’t know when and how to take advantage of the provisions. This post will explain the basics of the law, including what it covers, what it doesn’t, and what might happen after its provisions expire.

Which Types of Leave Does the FFCRA Include?

Generally, the FFCRA includes three types of leave for eligible employees:

  • 2 weeks of 100% paid sick leave, during which the employee is unable to work (or telework) due to experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and/or being subject to a quarantine. Whether part-time or full-time, the employee is entitled to wages for hours equivalent to what they would normally receive in a 2-week period.
  • 2 weeks of paid sick leave (at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate) if the employee is unable to work due to needing to care for an individual experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or a child whose school is closed due to COVID-19.
  • Up to 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds’ pay, if the employee is unable to work because they need to care for a child whose school or child care center is closed due to COVID-19.

Employees should provide as much notice of leave to their employer as is possible and reasonable. After the first paid sick day, if more are needed, an employee may be required to follow the employer’s standard protocol for reporting absences.

Which Employees are Eligible?

For employees to be eligible, their employers have to be covered. FFCRA, while relatively comprehensive, still has quite a few exemptions. The law does not apply to companies with more than 500 employees, and small businesses (defined as having fewer than 50 employees) can also qualify for exemption from having to provide paid childcare leave. Analysis by the Center for American Progress suggests that only 47% of American private sector workers have guaranteed access to coronavirus-related sick leave. 

In order to qualify for the expanded paid family and medical leave, the employee must have been employed for at least 30 days at their company, which must be covered by the law. And leave provided by the FMLA is not paid leave if it is not directly related to coronavirus.

What are Qualifying Coronavirus-Related Reasons for Leave?

The FFCRA only allows for time off for reasons directly related to COVID-19. The reasons outlined by the law include when an employee:

  • Is subject to a COVID-19 quarantine or isolation order
  • Is following a healthcare provider’s advice to self-quarantine related to COVID-19
  • Is symptomatic and awaiting a COVID-19 diagnosis
  • Is caring for another individual in quarantine or self-quarantine
  • Is caring for a child whose school or care center is closed due to COVID-19
  • is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services

What Will Happen After the FFCRA Ends?

The FFCRA is a temporary law, and without it, paid sick leave is left up to the states. Before COVID-19, only 12 states had paid sick laws in place, and some of those laws only applied to specific cities within the state. California’s paid sick leave laws, often considered the most generous in the country, only require 1 hour of PSL for every 30 hours worked.

So without an extension of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act or the adoption of a permanent national paid sick leave law, a return to the patchwork of PSL laws is likely.

While the FFCRA is helpful during this time of crisis, the reality is that federal employment law still has significant gray areas. Much is left up to interpretation by the states, or individual employers. And with a coronavirus hospitalization costing tens of thousands of dollars, that’s a scary reality for many American workers.