COVID-19 and Paid Sick Leave in 2021
What will happen now that COVID-19 has outlasted the FFCRA?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has accompanied us into 2021. Though the recent vaccination progress offers a light at the end of the tunnel, COVID-19 infections have been rising rapidly across the country, and the pandemic will almost certainly continue well into this new year. With many federal programs and temporary orders expiring, how will Americans cope with the effects of COVID-19 in 2021? One major question is what paid sick leave will look like in 2021, post-FFCRA. Here, I've distilled the findings from my online research into a Q&A.
Is there a federal standard for paid sick leave in the US?
No. While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) temporarily mandated the provision of paid sick leave across the country, this matter is normally left to the states. According to a write-up by the Zoldan Law Group, only 12 states and Washington D.C. had paid sick leave laws in place prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rules regarding covered employers/employees and accrual rates vary by states. Some states only have local paid sick leave laws, rather than statewide.
What was the Families First Coronavirus Response Act?
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was a temporary federal law that required certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave (PSL) or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The law included 3 types of leave for eligible employees: 2 weeks of 100% paid sick leave for employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or needing to quarantine; 2 weeks of paid sick leave (at two-thirds the employee’s regular pay rate) for employees needing to care for loved ones with COVID-19 or children whose school is closed due to COVID-19; and up to 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds’ pay, for employees needing to care for children during a COVID-related school closure.
The FFCRA was in effect from March 18 to December 31, 2020.
Now that December 31, 2020 has passed, did the FFCRA get extended?
As it became clear that the pandemic would not subside by the end of 2020, there was some speculation as to whether the law would be extended. Employees working while sick is a concern during a normal flu season, but during a pandemic with a highly contagious novel virus, it could be catastrophic. But the law expired on December 31 as planned.
There was a revision in September, however, that extended the FFCRA’s tax credit for employers. This means that if eligible employers voluntarily continue to offer paid sick leave for specified COVID-related conditions, they will continue receiving the tax credits through March 31, 2021. While this adjustment won’t guarantee compliance to the same extent a mandate would, it at least offers some incentive for employers to continue providing paid sick leave during this time. The tax credits can also help cover the costs of providing required FFCRA leave in 2020.
What options exist for employees sick with COVID-19?
Unless new federal legislation is passed mandating paid sick leave, employees who are sick with or who have been exposed to COVID-19 have limited options. Some employers will voluntarily continue to offer COVID-19 sick leave as specified by the FFCRA. Workers in states with existing paid sick leave laws in place will receive the same benefits they received prior to the FFCRA. And some states, like California, have started requiring employers to provide COVID-related supplemental paid sick leave for certain types of eligible workers.
Unfortunately, however, some employees will likely have to choose between receiving a paycheck and staying home to avoid spreading their illness to others.
Ten months into the pandemic, there are still many questions about how society will recover from COVID-19 and what the long-term ramifications will be. Time will tell whether workers’ rights improve as a result, or if there will be a post-COVID return to the status quo of patchwork sick leave laws.