As we expected, the Department of Labor has released a large amount of information to further clarify and outline items in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The guidance documentation is extremely long and can be overwhelming to read. As our team has been reading through the guidance, we have found some key highlights that will likely apply to many animal hospitals currently determining who is eligible for FFCRA time.
Here are some that you should be considering as you make these determinations:
- “Seeking a diagnosis” or “told to stay home:” All this means is that the employee needs to tell the hospital the name of the doctor or the governing body issuing a quarantine order. They don’t necessarily need a note from the doctor like they would with typical FMLA. This means that your documentation for paid time towards tax credits should be much easier.
- If you have asked an employee to stay home pending the test results of a family member, this employee is likely eligible for FFCRA Emergency Paid Sick Leave. If you pay them for this time, then it will count against the two weeks or 80 hours allowed by the law. This means that if, in the future, the same employee contracts COVID-19, you can pay them only for hours up to 80 when combined with what was paid when you asked them to take leave.
- “Current Employees” includes all employees, including those who were on leave when the FFCRA was passed.
- If your hospital laid off or otherwise terminated someone on or after March 1st, that person is still considered an eligible employee for FFCRA time. Specifically: the employee was laid off or otherwise terminated by the employer on or after March 1, 2020, and rehired or reemployed by the employer on or before December 31, 2020, provided that the employee had been on the employer’s payroll for 30 or more of the 60 calendar days prior to the date the employee was laid off or terminated. It appears that this relates more to the EFMLA than the EPSL. Based on current assessments of this terminology, this means you may owe back-pay to anyone you laid off or furloughedsince March 1, 2020 if you hire them back before the end of 2020. Keep in mind that this is a small price to pay for rehiring your valued team members.
- Employers and employees can choose to “top off” their EFMLA pay, meaning they can choose to use saved PTO time to make up for the 1/3 of pay that they will be missing while on EFMLA. Employers may NOT force team members to take accrued PTO, any use of PTO time must be chosen by the employee.
- Employers should consider whether they are exempt on a case by case basis, NOT as a blanket “we, as a hospital, are exempt.” This also echoes our stance that an employer must be ready to defend themselves if they decide they are exempt, or if they don’t let some employees take paid leave because they think they are exempt. We are recommending all hospitals, with the possible exception of those with less than five employees, assume that all of their employees are eligible for FFCRA time. The costs of defending against claims can be overwhelming, and pay will be reimbursable through tax credits.
Yes, this expansion does open up some potential for employees to abuse the system. Please understand that it is ultimately up to the employee when it comes to utilizing the FFCRA; if they choose to waste it now, there is no indication that there will be further sick leave provided before the end of the year. Our advice would be to allow those who qualify for the FFCRA to use it at their own discretion.
As this is a very fluid situation, information may change quickly, even within a few hours. Unfortunately, there are many sites that are providing inaccurate and even false information. We recommend you monitor reliable sources of information to ensure that you are up to date on facts that will affect your practice. These sites include:
- Center for Disease Control
- US Department of Labor
- The Federal Register
- The World Health Organization
- US Department of Labor FFCRA Questions and Answers
We understand that this is a challenging time for you as leaders within your practice, please do not hesitate to reach out if you need any help navigating these rough seas; we are only a phone call or email away.