March 16, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates

California Employment Development Department (EDD)

Governor Newsom has issued Executive Order N-25-20 which will provide much needed relief for those affected by COVID-19. As mentioned previously, those who are sick or quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19 can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim for benefits; those who are caring for a sick or quarantined family member can file a claim for Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits.

The Governor’s Executive Order waives the one-week unpaid waiting period for DI benefits for those sick or quarantined due to COVID-19. PFL benefits are payable as of day 1.

Many of our clients have Voluntary Plans which we administer on their behalf. We will provide an addendum to Plan texts to align with Governor Newsom’s Executive Order and the EDD.

Additionally, if an employee’s schedule is reduced or if an employer shuts down operations due to COVID-19, employees can file for unemployment insurance (UI) through the EDD. Those who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and are expected to return to work within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week.

San Francisco Paid Sick Leave

The San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) has issued updated guidance regarding sick leave usage. Employers may not require a doctor’s note or other documentation for the use of paid sick leave pursuant to the Paid Sick Leave Ordinance during the duration of the Local Health Emergency regarding COVID-19.

Employers covered by the Ordinance must allow covered employees to use accrued sick leave when the employee has been required or recommended to isolate or quarantine; the employee falls within the definition of a “vulnerable population” (60 years old or older, or a person with a health condition such as heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or weakened immune system); the employee’s work location temporarily ceases operations in response to a public health or other public official’s recommendation; the employee needs to provide care for a family member who may not be sick but is required or recommended to isolate or quarantine; or, the employee needs to provide care for a family member whose school, childcare provider, senior care provider, or work temporarily ceases operations due to a public health or other public official’s recommendation.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201)

The House of Representatives has also acted to provide relief for workers by passing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act on March 14. With President Trump voicing his support for the bill, hopes are high that the Senate will pass the bill, though there may be changes*. Some of the highlights of the bill as it currently stands:

*As of 2:35pm EST, H.R. 6201 may remain in the House this week to address technical changes.

Emergency paid sick days 
Applied to employers with fewer than 500 employees and provides workers 14 days of paid sick leave to be available immediately during the Coronavirus. It ensures sick leave for those impacted by quarantine orders or those who must stay home to care for their children.

Emergency paid leave 
Creates a new federal emergency paid leave program for those unable to work because they have COVID-19, are quarantined, are caring for someone with the disease, or are caring for a child due to COVID-19 related school closures. Eligible workers would receive benefits for a month (the program goes up to three months). Workers would receive a benefit of two-thirds of their average monthly earnings. Those receiving pay or unemployment compensation directly through their employers would not be eligible.

Expanded Unemployment Insurance
Provides $2 billion to state unemployment insurance programs and waives measures like work search requirements or waiting weeks to those diagnosed with COVID-19, or those who have lost their jobs due to the spread of the virus.

Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act
Applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees and provides leave for employees who have been employed for at least 30 days. Leave is provided for quarantine due to exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19, to care for a family member, or to care for a child if the child’s school or place of care has been closed (or the childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19). The Act expands the definition of parent and family member and provides job protection with an exception for employers with fewer than 25 employees if the employee’s position no longer exists as a result of COVID-19. The first 14 days of leave may be unpaid; however, an employee can choose to substitute accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or other medical or sick leave during the leave (employers cannot force an employee to use their accrued paid leave). After the first 14 days, employers must pay FMLA leave (only for COVID-19 related reasons) – employees must receive no less than two-thirds of their regular wages. Please note, any paid leave provided before the law is enacted cannot be credited against the employee’s paid leave entitlement.

Tax Credits
Provides a refundable tax credit (equal to 100% of qualified paid sick and family leave wages paid each calendar quarter) for employers providing paid emergency sick leave or paid FMLA.

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