American Rescue Plan Act Extends and Expands Voluntary Employer-Provided FFCRA Leaves

Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), employers who opt to continue paid leaves originally required under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) can provide a greater amount of paid leave for a broader range of reasons and still receive tax credits to cover 100% of costs related to those leaves.

FFCRA originally required employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide employees with 2 weeks of Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and up to 12 weeks Emergency Family and Medical Leave (EFML) (if employees satisfied one of the reasons set forth under FFCRA. For a complete review of FFCRA leaves and requirements, see Lake Effect's prior blogs on this topic. These mandatory leaves expired December 31, 2020. The stimulus bill passed on December 22, 2020, permitted employers to voluntarily allow employees to use any remaining EPSL or EFML by March 31, 2021 and still receive the related tax credits.

The ARPA further extends and expands original FFCRA leave allowances and related employer tax credit provisions as follows:

  • Time period extended: Covered employers can continue to provide employees with EPSL and EFML through September 30, 2021 and receive tax credits to cover 100% of costs associated with such leaves. Covered employers can decide to offer both EPSL and EFML, only one of them, or neither.
  • Additional 10 days of EPSL: Covered employers may provide employees with an additional 10 days of EPSL between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021 and receive tax credits to cover 100% of related costs.
  • New reasons for EPSL: In addition to the previous qualifying reasons set forth in FFCRA, employers may provide employees EPSL for time spent awaiting COVID-19 test results, obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine, or recovering from “any injury, disability, illness or condition related to such” vaccine. Pay for these new leave reasons will be at 100% (up to a max of $511/day or $5,110 for 10 days).
  • Additional 12 weeks of EFML: Covered employers may provide employees with an additional 12 weeks of EFML (all at 2/3 pay, up to a maximum of $12,000) between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. Note this is an increase from 10 to 12 weeks of paid leave, and from $10,000 to $12,000 in maximum pay per employee.
  • New reasons for EFML: Employers may provide employees EFML for all the qualifying reasons permitted for use of EPSL, including time spent awaiting COVID-19 test results, obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine, or recovering from the effects of such vaccine.
  • New non-discrimination requirement: Employers will not receive tax credits for costs associated with voluntary EPSL or EFML if it discriminates in favor of highly compensated employees, full-time employees, or longer-tenured employees in providing leaves.

We continue to monitor developments and guidance relating to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021  and other Biden Administration efforts to address the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will provide you with employment-related updates on these topics as they arise.

President Trump Signs COVID-19 Emergency Relief Bill

After an unexpected delay during which he strongly criticized the stimulus legislation passed by Congress on December 21, President Trump signed the $900 billion COVID-19 emergency relief bill into law on December 27, 2020. The new legislation aims to help individuals, businesses, and organizations across the country to offset the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key provisions of the Emergency Relief bill include:

  • Direct payments to individuals: provides a one-time payment of $600 to individuals earning up to $75,000 per year. Couples earning up to $150,000 per year will receive $1,200. Caregivers will receive an additional $600 for each dependent child.
  • Additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and other small business support: provides additional funds for first and second PPP loans to eligible recipients, with dedicated funds for small and minority-owned  businesses, as well as additional small business and EIDL grants.
    • Most new provisions apply to PPP loans made before, on, or after date of enactment of current stimulus bill.
    • PPP loan eligibility is expanded to include housing cooperatives, news organizations and 501(c)(6) nonprofit organizations, but publicly traded companies are specifically excluded from new PPP loan eligibility.
    • Forgivable PPP loans may be used to cover operations expenses (e.g., software, cloud computing, accounting needs), property damage due to public disturbances, supplier costs, and PPE expenditures; employer-provided group insurance benefits are included in payroll costs (e.g., group life, disability, health, vision, dental insurance).
    • Certain organizations with fewer than 300 employees may receive a second PPP loan of up to $2 million. The 60/40 cost allocation between payroll and non-payroll costs for full forgiveness will continue to apply.
    • Eligible organizations must have experienced a 25% drop in gross receipts in 2020 compared to a comparable quarter in 2019.
    • The covered period (whether an employer elects an 8-week or 24-week period) for all PPP loans is extended through 3/31/21.
    • Deductions are allowed for otherwise deductible business expenses paid for with proceeds of a PPP loan that is forgiven.
    • Recipients of PPP loans under $150,000 may utilize a simplified forgiveness request process.
    • Organizations that receive both an EIDL grant and a PPP loan need not deduct forgiven amount of EIDL grant from the forgivable amount of their PPP loan.
    • SBA is authorized to award grants to eligible live venue operators, theaters, performing arts organizations, museums, motion picture theaters, etc. to be used for payroll costs, rent, utilities, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
    • Additional targeted EIDL grant funding is provided for low-income communities, and the covered period for Emergency EIDL grants is extended through 12/31/21.
  • Unemployment Assistance: provides for supplemental federal unemployment benefits and extends time periods for receiving unemployment benefits under state and federal pandemic programs.
    • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program will provide a supplement of $300 a week to all state and federal unemployment benefits recipients from 12/26/20 until 3/14/21.Because the legislation was not signed until 12/27/20, recipients may experience a one-week gap in benefits.
    • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is extended until 3/14/21, and recipients getting benefits as of that date may continue to do so through 4/5/21; maximum number of weeks of PUA benefits is increased from 39 to 50.
    • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program is extended until 3/14/21, and recipients getting benefits as of that date may continue to do so through 4/5/21; maximum number of weeks of PEUC benefits is increased from 13 to 24.
    • States must develop methods to address situations in which unemployment compensation recipients refuse to accept offers of suitable work without good cause, including a method for employers to notify the state when an individual refuses employment.
  • Employee Retention Credit extended, and eligibility expanded: extends Employee Retention Tax Credit under the CARES Act through 6/30/21.
    • Tax credit rate is increased from 50% to 70% of qualified wages, and the limit on per-employee creditable wages is increased from $10,000 per year to $10,000 per quarter.
    • Eligible criteria are expanded to include employers experiencing a 20% (vs. 50%) reduction in year-over-year gross receipts and employers receiving PPP loans.
  • Payroll tax credits for FFCRA leaves extended: guarantees that employers who continue to provide paid sick and family leaves in accordance with prior FFCRA requirements will continue to receive payroll tax credits through 3/31/21. Tax credits apply as if the corresponding employer mandates were extended through 3/31/21.Note that employers are no longer required to provide FFCRA paid leaves, but the continuing tax credits provide an incentive for them to do so.
    • Employers who want to take advantage of these tax credits must follow the FFCRA leave requirements set forth in the original Act.  See our prior blogs on this issue and consult with experienced HR and legal advisors to ensure FFCRA compliance and receipt of the tax credits.
  • Extension of deferred payroll taxes: extends the repayment deadline until 12/31/21 for employers who deferred withholding of employees’ share of social security taxes. Penalties and interest on deferred unpaid tax liability will not begin to accrue until 1/1/22.
  • Extension of time for distribution of CARES Act funds: extends for one year, or until 12/31/21, the time for states and local governments to distribute Coronavirus Relief Funds previously allocated under the CARES Act.
  • Relief for transportation industry: provides funds to support transit industry including airlines, airline contractors, airports, state departments of transportation, Amtrak, and the motorcoach, school bus and ferry industries. In order to receive funds, airlines must recall involuntarily furloughed employees, provide backpay to returning employees, and guarantee minimum air transportation service.
  • COVID-19 vaccines, testing, tracing, and mitigation efforts: provides dedicated funds to procure and distribute vaccines and direct financial aid to states for testing, tracing, and COVID-19 mitigation programs, including grants designated for underserved communities; provides additional funds to support mental health, health care providers, COVID-19 research, and the Indian Health Service.
  • Emergency rental assistance: provides $25 billion for a federal emergency rental assistance program to be administered by state and local governments. Funds will be used to help eligible families struggling to pay rent, utilities, and other housing-related expenses. The CDC’s previous eviction moratorium is extended through 1/31/2021.
  • Broadband and telehealth: provides funds to increase broadband access for low-income families, tribal communities, and rural communities, and appropriates additional funding for telehealth programs.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all provisions included in the Emergency Relief Bill. We encourage you to consult with your business and tax advisors about the Emergency Relief Bill and its impact on your organization and employees.

For additional and information and discussion of FFCRA and PPP loans, please see Lake Effect’s prior blogs on those topics. We will continue to closely monitor all developments in this area and provide you with important updates.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about federal and state pandemic relief packages affecting employers. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Lake Effect HR & Law is in business to maximize each client’s workplace potential with a commitment to kindness, true partnership, and exceptional service.

DOL Issues Revised FFCRA Regulations

On September 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division posted revised regulations to clarify certain rights and responsibilities under the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). DOL’s actions are in direct response to an August 2020 New York Federal District Court ruling that invalidated parts of prior FFCRA regulations. The revised regulations will become effective September 16, 2020, when they are published in the Federal Register.

Key portions of the revised regulations provide the following:

  • An employee is only entitled to Paid Sick Leave (“PSL”) and Expanded Family and Medical Leave (“EFML”) under FFCRA if the employer would otherwise have work available for that employee to perform. If there is no work available due to circumstances other than a qualifying reason for the leave, i.e. the employer has laid off or furloughed employees, or has temporarily or permanently closed the worksite, then an employee is not entitled to FFCRA leave. This “available work” requirement applies to all qualifying reasons for FFCRA leaves.
  • An employee must obtain employer approval to take intermittent FFCRA leave for any qualifying reason, regardless of whether the employee is teleworking or working on-site. Intermittent leave occurs when the employee takes leave in separate blocks of time due to a single qualifying reason. For an employee working on-site, many of the qualifying reasons for EPSL leave will not lend themselves to intermittent leave because they create a high risk of spreading the virus. Of note, the revised regulations clarify that the employer-approval requirement does not apply to employees who take FFCRA leave in full-day increments to care for children whose schools are operating on an alternate day (or other hybrid attendance) basis because such leave is not intermittent. In that scenario, where a school is physically closed to the employee’s child on particular days, each day of the school closure constitutes a separate reason for FFCRA leave. Thus, the employee may take leave due to the school closure until that qualifying reason ends (i.e. the school re-opens) and then take leave again when the new qualifying reason begins (i.e. the school closes again) – without the approval of the employer.
  • The definition of a “health care provider,” who may be exempted from FFCRA’s leave provisions, includes only those who meet the definition of that term under the FMLA regulations and those who are employed to provide diagnostic services, preventive services, treatment services, or other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provision of patient care.
  • Employees must provide required documentation to support FFCRA leaves to their employers as soon as practicable, but they need not provide it prior to taking PSL or EFML. Similarly, an employee must provide advance notice of EFML as soon as practicable. If the need for that leave is foreseeable, the employee should provide notice before taking the leave.

Your partners at Lake Effect HR & Law are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails for important legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Engaging & Retaining Employees, While Navigating FFCRA & FLSA

Five months after quickly transitioning to a “temporary” virtual workplace, many employees are still working at home. They are also managing caregiving and work responsibilities, as well as their own physical and emotional wellbeing. Employers are now struggling with how to adapt short-term fixes into sustainable, longer- term solutions that will engage and retain a virtual workforce.

In the face of this challenge, consider incorporating the following practices into your workplace culture to support your employees’ wellbeing and fulfill your organization’s mission and strategic initiatives.

  • Maintain flexible scheduling. As home and work priorities shift, employees may be more productive and focused during non-traditional business hours or blocks of time during the day, including evenings and weekends. When team members work different hours, encourage them to communicate and be transparent about their schedules. This will promote a productive workflow and strengthen working relationships.
  • Continue virtual work. If your team has proven they can be successful working virtually, continue to provide this flexibility. This may give those employees who need or want to work from another location an opportunity to spend the summer at their cabin, rent a VRBO, or stay with out-of-town family or friends for an extended time.
  • Welcome the interruptions. Intentionally or inadvertently, we have met (or heard in the background) our coworkers’ furry friends, kids, family, and roommates. We’ve had an opportunity to visit our coworkers’ homes through the lens of our computer cameras during video conferences. Rather than begrudging the interruption, welcome this opportunity to get to know one other as individuals, not just coworkers.
  • Encourage employees to collaborate on pod learning and/or caregiving responsibilities. As many school districts have decided on some version of virtual learning, employees may want the opportunity to work together to create pod learning or shared childcare. Connecting employees in this manner may provide them an opportunity to work alternate days or times. In addition, consider converting unused conference rooms to temporary classrooms or playrooms, just be sure to check with your worker’s compensation carrier.
  • Promote wellness benefits and other wellbeing resources. Work closely with your benefits broker, understand your current organization’s wellness benefits, and educate your employees on these offerings. During your annual renewal, consider additional, lower cost, but high health reward benefits to better support the wellness needs of your staff. These benefits may include an employee assistance plan (EAP) or subscription services to wellness apps, online yoga classes, coffee clubs, or other services that support wellness activities for your entire employee population, even those who do not participate in your health, dental, and vision plans. Focus as well on virtual activities your employees can engage in together, such as company-wide or departmental fitness or step per day goals.
  • Encourage use of paid time off. We might not be planning our once-in-a-lifetime vacation this year, but there are many adventures awaiting us locally. Remind employees of their PTO balance and encourage them to take time to recharge, this may include helping them efficiently tackle their work tasks so they can enjoy the time away. Add some fun and promote their time away by sharing pictures of their adventures on an internal shared site.
  • Support your wellness/social committee. A wellness committee is usually made up of a group of employees that are passionate about wellness and engaging their coworkers in some office fun. This group may be able to plan virtual celebrations, arrange for group wellness activities, or delivery company branded gifts to employees’ homes, like customized face masks and small hand sanitizers! Include gift certificates to encourage employees to support local restaurants and shops.
  • Review processes and procedures. Update processes and procedures to be more efficient and relevant in your current work environment. Review expense reimbursement procedures to determine if you should start reimbursing for employees’ virtual expenses, such as cell phone, internet, hotspot, or office supplies/equipment.
  • Evaluate leaders’ job duties and responsibilities. In addition to leading people, leaders have their own job responsibilities and deadlines to meet. Provide leaders more time to lead during these uncertain times by transferring job duties that may provide others a growth opportunity. You may find that after updating processes and procedures to be more efficient, employees may have more capacity and would welcome to learn a new skill.
  • Continue coaching and development efforts. Employees want and need frequent feedback and recognition, especially during times of change and uncertainty. Consider adapting your process to better suit your current workplace situation to ensure supervisors are frequently communicating with direct reports. Encourage managers to check in with their teams to find out how they are doing, if they need additional resources, and to remove any roadblocks.
  • Keep calm and communicate. The COVID-storm has not passed yet, keep communicating frequently with your employees. Now, more than ever, employees want to know how COVID-related changes are impacting the organization and themselves. Discuss with employees the direction of the organization, how they can support the organization’s initiatives, and when they achieve their goals.
  • Be true to your organization’s mission. When considering how to adapt your workplace, remember your guiding star – your organization’s mission, vision, values, and strategic plan.

If you have questions about managing and engaging a virtual workforce, leave requests, or other FFCRA or FLSA related questions, the HR and legal team at Lake Effect can help.

We are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails from your Lake Effect team for important legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

FFCRA & FLSA Updated Guidance From The Department Of Labor

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently updated its COVID-19 guidance related to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This guidance from DOL addresses questions employers may confront as their communities face new public health orders and in-person school closures and delays.

FFCRA Guidance

As a reminder, employees may be eligible for up to 80 hours of leave under FFCRA’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and up to 12 weeks of leave under FFCRA’s Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA). See our FFCRA Overview for the particular requirements of each leave program.

Employers should also note that a district court in New York recently struck down several significant FFCRA regulations, including those EPSLA regulations related to employees on temporary layoff or furlough and the expansive scope of the healthcare provider exemption for both EPSLA and EFLMLEA leaves. The impact of the ruling is not clear at this point, and we expect more information in the near future. We will keep you posted in our blogs about any changes to FFCRA as a result of that legal process and other lawsuits that are currently pending. In the interim, employers should contact legal counsel before denying a FFCRA leave request.

DOL’s guidance on FFCRA includes almost 100 frequently asked questions about the leave programs. Three that are of particular significance relate to virtual school and returning employees:

  • Online Schools Are “Closed”
    • Under the guidance, a school that has moved to an online platform for instruction is “closed” for purposes of FFCRA. (Question #70) This means that employees may be eligible to take up to a total of 14 weeks of continuous or intermittent EPSLA and EFMLEA leave to care for a child whose school is operating virtually. Although not specifically addressed by DOL, this guidance would also apply to schools operating a hybrid model. Under the hybrid model, the school is “closed” on those days in which a student cannot attend the physical school but open on those days when in-person instruction is offered.
    • If the school offers an option for virtual or in-person instruction, the school is not “closed” and FFCRA leave is not available for caregivers who choose the virtual option.
    • Employees who used some of their leave in the spring or summer when schools were closed due to COVID-19 are entitled to use their remaining amount in the fall if they are otherwise eligible.
  • Requiring a Negative COVID-19 Test Before Returning to Work
    • According to DOL, employers may require that an employee test negative for COVID-19 before returning to work from FFCRA leave as long as this requirement applies to all employees. (Question #94)
    • However, requiring a negative test is not mandatory. Dane County employers should note that PHMDC now strongly recommends against requiring employees to test negative before returning to work. Instead, employers may rely on the CDC (or your local public health department) guidelines for monitoring symptoms over a period of time.
  • Employers May Not Discriminate Based on Use of or Eligibility for FFCRA Leave
    • Employers may not use an employee’s request for FFCRA leave, or an assumption that the employee will request leave, to make any employment decision, including whether to recall an employee from furlough. (Question #97)

FLSA Guidance

DOL added important clarifications for non-exempt and exempt employees in its updated FLSA guidance. The updates include:

  • Flexible Scheduling for Non-Exempt Employees
    • To allow “needed flexibility” during the pandemic, employers that allow their non-exempt employees to work remotely with flexible schedules do not need to count all of the time between the first and last work activity during the day as hours worked. Instead, employers only need to pay for those hours actually worked. (Question #15)
    • This flexibility allows “windowed work” for non-exempt employees. Windowed work is breaking up a workday into blocks – or windows – of business and personal time while working from home.
  • Changes to Exempt Employees’ Job Duties and/or Salaries
    • As long as employers continue to pay the required minimum weekly salary of $684, employers may temporarily require exempt employees to perform non-exempt job duties and may prospectively reduce exempt employees’ salaries due to economic reasons related to COVID-19. (Questions #16 and #19)
    • Note that exempt employees must be paid their full salary for any week during which they perform any work, with the exception of their first and last workweeks.

We are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails from your Lake Effect team for important legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

DOL Ends Temporary Non-Enforcement of New Paid Leave Protections

As of April 21, 2020, covered employers (with fewer than 500 employees) across the country must be in full compliance with the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which became effective April 1, 2020. On April 20, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the end of the temporary period of non-enforcement, which was intended to allow employers time to understand and come into compliance with the new Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family Medical Leave laws.

Moving forward, full compliance with FFCRA will be expected. Moreover, proper documentation and administration of the new Emergency Paid Sick Leaves and Emergency Family Medical Leaves will be critical to receiving payroll tax credits for the sick leave wages provided to employees under the new law.

If you have any questions or need assistance administering the new FFCRA paid leave laws, the attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

DOL Issues Temporary Rule Regarding Paid Leaves Available Under FFCRA

On April 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division posted a Rule (to be final when published on 4/6/20) issuing regulations under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). The regulations provide further clarity as to how the leave provisions of the Expanded Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLEA”) and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”) will be implemented. Key provisions include:

Department of Labor Issues Additional Guidance on FFCRA

On Saturday, March 28, 2020, the Department of Labor released additional guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), related specifically to the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA). We summarized key provisions offering new guidance.

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