How To Navigate Leave Issues During COVID-19


As small and midsize businesses work to navigate the impact of COVID-19 on the products and services they provide their customers, another looming challenge quickly made itself clear: employees need to call out sick when they have coronavirus symptoms so as to stop the spread. 


But when 24% of Americans do not have access to paid leave, it’s financially penalizing them when they do so – workers must essentially choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus. And this explains why the announcement of government support for stimulus packages for both individuals and companies in the United States was a welcomed one, with a 74% public approval rate


Effective April 1, 2020 the American government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FCCRA), a collection of acts that include the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, which provides certain protections and relief for employees. 


Here’s what every employer with 500 or fewer employees needs to know about managing employee leave in 2020:


Required paid leave

The FFCRA provides refundable tax credits for small and midsize businesses under 500 employees. It allows these businesses a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement for the cost of providing paid sick and family leave to employees for leave related to COVID-19. Certain self-employed individuals in similar circumstances may be entitled to similar credits. 


Medical diagnosis

As part of the qualifications for this leave, the employee must have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to the coronavirus, or be caring for an individual who has a quarantine or isolation order. 


Up to two weeks or 80 hours

When unable to work for reasons due to coronavirus, some employees are entitled to up to two weeks, or 80 hours, of their regular pay rate. Others are eligible for up to ⅔ their regular pay rate. Find out more about the distinction between those employees here.


Impact on FLSA and FMLA

Many employers are wondering how the FFCRA affects existing leave laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). There are indeed overlaps among these laws, so it’s important to understand how they interact with each other. 


For example, the FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a designated 12-month leave year for specified family and medical reasons. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), “This may include the flu where complications arise that create a ‘serious health condition’ as defined by the FMLA.”


Additionally, the FLSA provides some guidelines around paying employees when an office is closed due to the pandemic. Here’s an excerpt from the DOL: 


A private employer may direct exempt staff to take vacation or debit their leave bank account in the case of an office closure, whether for a full or partial day, provided the employees receive in payment an amount equal to their guaranteed salary. In the same scenario, an exempt employee who has no accrued benefits in the leave bank account, or has limited accrued leave and the reduction would result in a negative balance in the leave bank account, still must receive the employee’s guaranteed salary for any absence(s) occasioned by the office closure in order to remain exempt.” 


For more information on situations like this, see WHD Opinion Letter FLSA2005-41.


Weathering the Now to Bloom in the Long-Term

Of course, the impact of this pandemic will be felt across the country long after the current Stay-At-Home and Shelter-In-Place orders expire. Organizations that stay organized with modern HCM software will be much better prepared to track their employees’ leave status and submit accurate reports, thereby maximizing the support they’re eligible to receive. 


SyncHR is honored to continue to partner with these companies as they weather COVID-19 and prepare for the future by introducing new system-level pay codes (known as global EDT codes) to help organizations track and manage the required Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and the Public Health Emergency Leave (PHEL) expansion pay.



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Sarah Greesonbach

Sarah Greesonbach

Sarah Greesonbach turns cutting-edge research and data into captivating HR technology marketing content. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR, and her writing helps HR executives and professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance.

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