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New DOL FAQs on FFCRA

Is that enough abbreviations for you? The Department of Labor just issued a few new answers to frequently asked questions about Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family Medical Leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Now you know why I used the abbreviations.

The FFCRA, which became effective April 2, 2020, and remains in place at least until December 31, 2020, provides paid time off for certain COVID-19 related reasons. The Act and the regulations implementing the Act were a bit rushed, leaving a number of unanswered questions.

The following are a few new answers just released:

Employee Previously Able to Telework Now Cannot Work Due to Childcare or School Closure

91. My employees have been teleworking productively since mid-March without any issues. Now, several employees claim they need to take paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave to care for their children, whose school is closed because of COVID-19, even though these employees have been teleworking with their children at home for four weeks. Can I ask my employees why they are now unable to work or if they have pursued alternative child care arrangements?

You may require that the employee provide the qualifying reason he or she is taking leave, and submit an oral or written statement that the employee is unable to work because of this reason, and provide other documentation outlined in section 826.100 of the Department’s rule applying the FFCRA. While you may ask the employee to note any changed circumstances in his or her statement as part of explaining why the employee is unable to work, you should exercise caution in doing so, lest it increase the likelihood that any decision denying leave based on that information is a prohibited act. The fact that your employee has been teleworking despite having his or her children at home does not mean that the employee cannot now take leave to care for his or her children whose schools are closed for a COVID-19 related reason. For example, your employee may not have been able to care effectively for the children while teleworking or, perhaps, your employee may have made the decision to take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave to care for the children so that the employee’s spouse, who is not eligible for any type of paid leave, could work or telework. These (and other) reasons are legitimate and do not afford a basis for denying paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave to care for a child whose school is closed for a COVID-19 related reason.This does not prohibit you from disciplining an employee who unlawfully takes paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave based on misrepresentations, including, for example, to care for the employee’s children when the employee, in fact, has no children and is not taking care of a child.

Documentation for Employee with COVID-19 Symptoms

92. My employee claims to have tiredness or other symptoms of COVID-19 and is taking leave to seek a medical diagnosis. What documentation may I require from the employee to document efforts to obtain a diagnosis? When can it be required?

In order for your employee to take leave under the FFCRA, you may require the employee to identify his or her symptoms and a date for a test or doctor’s appointment. You may not, however, require the employee to provide further documentation or similar certification that he or she sought a diagnosis or treatment from a health care provider in order for the employee to use paid sick leave for COVID-19 related symptoms. The minimal documentation required to take this leave is intentional so that employees with COVID-19 symptoms may take leave and slow the spread of COVID-19.Please note, however, that if an employee were to take unpaid leave under the FMLA, the FMLA’s documentation requirements are different and apply. Further, if the employee is concurrently taking another type of paid leave, any documentation requirements relevant to that leave still apply.

Summer Vacation Does Not Entitle Employee to Paid Sick Leave

93. I took paid sick leave and am now taking expanded family and medical leave to care for my children whose school is closed for a COVID-19 related reason. After completing distance learning, the children’s school closed for summer vacation. May I take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave to care for my children because their school is closed for summer vacation?

No. Paid sick leave and emergency family and medical leave are not available for this qualifying reason if the school or child care provider is closed for summer vacation, or any other reason that is not related to COVID-19. However, the employee may be able to take leave if his or her child’s care provider during the summer—a camp or other programs in which the employee’s child is enrolled—is closed or unavailable for a COVID-19 related reason.

You can review all the FAQs at: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-questions

We are open and assisting clients throughout this process. Due to the volume of calls and emails, I may be a bit slower than normal, but please feel free to reach out if you have employment-related questions.

Information provided by Robert Nuddleman of the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

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The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. represents employers and employees in a wide range of employment law matters. Much of his practice focuses on wage and hour issues, such as unpaid overtime, meal and rest break violations, designing or enforcing commission plans, and other wage-related claims. He also advises employers on how to avoid harassment and wrongful termination claims and represents employees who have been victims of unlawful discrimination, retaliation or harassment. The Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C. helps employers develop good employment policies, and helps employers and employees with disability accommodation issues.