As employers and employees navigate the new COVID-19 virtual workplace, perhaps the hardest hit are those working parents now forced to manage the demands of a workday, as well as the demands of children who are home and adjusting to their new virtual classroom. As a working mother on the front-lines of this struggle, I can attest to the challenges associated with managing both the virtual office and virtual classroom. For many of us, multi-tasking has taken on a new meaning as we juggle conference calls with math lessons and snack times. With no end in sight (at least for now), the federal government is providing paid leave to those parents who cannot work due to school and childcare closures.
Effective April 1, 2020, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act take effect. These are two provisions of a new Federal law called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“PSLA”), working parents will be entitled to paid sick leave if they are unable to work or telework because a child’s school or care facility is closed, or their childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19. This paid sick leave is available for immediate use and does not require a waiting period. Full-time employees are entitled to paid sick time of 80 hours, and part-time employees are entitled to 2 weeks’ paid sick time based on the average number of hours worked in a two-week period. Employees will be paid two-thirds of their regular pay, up to $200 per day, and $2,000 over the benefit period. Employers may not require an employee to use other paid leave before the employee is eligible for this benefit. This paid sick leave is available to any employee that works for a company that employs under 500 employees or a government employer of any size. An employer of an employee who is a health care provider or emergency responder may elect to exclude such an employee. In addition, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may apply for exemption if compliance would jeopardize the viability of the company.
Under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“FMLA Exp. Act”), working parents will be entitled to receive up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave if they are unable to work or telework due to a need for leave to care for their child because their school or day care has been closed or their child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19. The first 10 days of the FMLA Exp. Act are unpaid (but they are paid under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act). After that, the remainder of the 12 weeks of leave must be paid at 2/3 the regular rate (or 2/3 minimum wage if it is higher) up to a maximum of $200 per day. This benefit is available to any employee with at least 30 days of employment with the employer, provided it is a government or a company employing under 500 employees. Similar to the PSLA, an employer of an employee who is a health care provider or emergency responder may elect to exclude such an employee under the FMLA Exp. Act, and small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may apply for exemption if survival is threatened by compliance.
For now, most employers are sympathetic to the challenges faced by working parents as they manage both work and family responsibilities from home. With some states hinting that children may not return to school until the Fall, however, this challenge is far from over. As working parents grapple with their new COVID-19 norms, it is reassuring to know that the Federal government recognizes the struggle and has provided paid leave benefits, if needed. For those of us on the front lines forced to take crash courses in improper fractions and linear equations, the struggle continues, at least until class tomorrow.