By Angie Brown, Absence Practice Leader
April 1st, 2020
Less than a month ago, I wrote a blog about how COVID-19 highlighted the need for a federal paid leave program in our country. Lawmakers have taken action as the pandemic has infected over 188,000 individuals in the United States and brought many businesses to a halt.
Today, April 1, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFRCA) goes into effect , providing much-needed emergency FMLA and paid sick leave to American workers. While this legislation, drafted in just days given the urgency of the situation, is the type of action we need from lawmakers, it still leaves a significant portion of the workforce without paid leave options.
The FFCRA only applies to employers with less than 500 employees. The New York Times reports that 59 million Americans work for employers with more than 500 employees, meaning they aren’t guaranteed paid sick leave by this law.
It’s unclear why lawmakers drew the line in the sand at 500 employees, but it’s clear that this law has still left millions of Americans without access to paid sick leave amid a pandemic. Perhaps lawmakers expected larger employers to provide paid sick leave on their own. While many are, it’s naive to think all employers above the 500 employee threshold are going to step up and provide paid sick leave.
While this legislation does have gaps, it is still progress. Providing up to 10 weeks of two-thirds pay for those unable to work due to the need to care for a child if the child’s school or childcare facility has been closed is crucial right now. With many schools around the country closed until at least the end of April, the extended duration of this leave is huge.
In my previous blog, I’d noted that one-quarter of US employees have no access to paid sick leave. This was a troublesome statistic even before the COVID-19 infections started increasing exponentially. And though legislation left out a significant portion of the workforce by limiting it to companies with under 500 employees, it could well mean the difference between thousands of workers feeling compelled to continue working even when they should be isolating.
What About Workers Laid Off or Shut Down?
A major problem the FFCRA doesn’t address is the many workers who’ve been laid off or those who are out of work because their business has temporarily closed due to shelter in place orders. According to the Department of Labor, if your employer sent you home and stopped paying you prior to April 1, you’re not eligible for the emergency paid sick leave or emergency FMLA.
While the FFCRA doesn’t offer help for employees out of work, lawmakers have also passed a COVID relief bill. The agreement is a $2 trillion package aimed to assist Americans during this unprecedented time.
“We have a bipartisan agreement on the largest rescue package in American history. This is not a moment of celebration but one of necessity,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor on March 25.
The legislation is designed to try to flood the economy with capital by sending $1,200 checks to Americans making less than $75,000 a year, with funds decreasing up to Americans with a salary of $99,000. Parents who are eligible will also receive $500 per child.
There are also additional stimulus packages including creating a $367 billion loan program for small businesses and setting up a $500 billion fund for industries, cities, and states.
It’s important we all remember that this is a one-time payment and not everyone will be eligible for the FFCRA. We need our employers who can offer paid time to their employees to step up. We need to ensure people don’t lose their homes, don’t lose their electricity, or go hungry. We need to hold each other up and we all need to do as much, or more than we think we can.
Thank you to the health care workers on the front lines fighting this pandemic. Thank you to our grocery store workers, who are keeping the shelves stocked and working overtime. Thank you to the landlords who will forgive rent this month. Thank you to the employers who are still paying us. I’m sorry for the stores and restaurants that have had to close, and the employee’s who have lost their jobs.
We promise, when this is over, we will support you. We will buy from your stores, eat in your restaurants, catch up on our bills. We will if we work together and take care of our people now.