In March, most U.S. schools (and many childcare facilities) made the swift and necessary decision to close their doors and send kids home to shelter in place with their families. Now, with the new school year quickly approaching, families have to make some pretty tough decisions regarding school and daycare. What if their child's school closes because of an outbreak? What if their child's daycare still hasn't reopened? What if they or their child begins showing COVID-19 symptoms and can't go to work or school?
In an attempt to address these and many similar questions, the Department of Labor enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This act ensures that parents dealing with COVID-related issues can still be paid even if they aren't able to report to work. Here's what you need to know about the act, what is covered, and who is eligible to receive benefits.
What Is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides qualified employees with paid leave benefits if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, caring for a household member who is experiencing symptoms, or because their child's school or daycare is closed for reasons related to coronavirus. The act was put into effect on April 2, 2020, not long after schools and childcare providers throughout the U.S. closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. With many schools and daycares in the process of reopening, however, it's important that families are familiar with the FFCRA should they need it.
What Does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Cover?
There are two main categories of leave covered by the FFCRA – sick leave and family and medical leave. Qualified employees are eligible for two weeks (up to 80 hours total) of paid sick leave at their full rate of pay if they are unable to work because they've been instructed to quarantine, or they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and actively seeking medical care. Employees may also be eligible for two weeks (up to 80 hours total) of paid sick leave at two-thirds their regular pay rate if they are caring for an individual who is under quarantine or if their child's school or daycare is closed for COVID-related reasons.
The second category is an amendment to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that provides employees with up to 10 weeks of paid leave at two-thirds the employee's regular pay rate if they are unable to work in order to care for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19. This is in contrast to traditional FMLA, which is typically unpaid and requires 12 months of employment for eligibility.
Who Is Eligible For the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?
All full-time and part-time employees of covered employers are eligible for the two weeks of paid sick leave, but only those who have been with a company for 30 days or more are eligible for the additional paid family leave. Per the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a "covered employer" includes most businesses with fewer than 500 employees, though businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be eligible for an exemption.
How Do I Take Advantage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?
If you are experiencing a situation that you believe falls under the FFCRA eligibility guidelines, it is recommended that you speak with your employer (the HR department would be a good place to start) as soon as possible to alert them to the reason for your leave and how long you may be absent from work. Under the act, employees must provide their employer with information on the dates of their leave, how long they plan to be absent, the name of their child's school or child care provider (if applicable), and other pertinent information as necessary. Currently, the FFCRA is in effect through December 31, 2020.