COVID-19 Declared National Emergency

On March 13, the President declared the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak a national emergency. This move invokes powers under the Stafford Act, which allows substantially more federal aid to states and local governments in combating COVID-19 outbreaks across the U.S.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. As of March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) is characterizing the virus as a pandemic.

House Passes Bipartisan Coronavirus Relief Bill

On the morning of March 14, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Summary), on a mostly bipartisan vote and with the support of the President. The legislation is slated to be considered by the Senate this week. The emergency relief package bill includes leave-related provisions that will impact employers.

Paid Family Medical Leave

  • The bill provides 12 weeks of job-protected paid Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave—of which the first 14 days may be unpaid—for employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees.
  • Employees may use accrued personal or sick leave during the first 14 days, but employers may not require employees to do so.
  • This leave benefit covers employees who have been working for at least 30 calendar days.
  • Among other uses, employees may use the leave to respond to quarantine requirements or recommendations, to care for family members who are responding to quarantine requirements or recommendations, and to care for a child whose school has been closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • After the first 14 days, employers must compensate employees in an amount that is not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. These pay requirements apply to only the COVID-19-related leave reasons listed above.
  • The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.

Paid Sick Leave

  • Employers with fewer than 500 employees will be required to provide full-time employees 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for specific circumstances related to COVID-19 (e.g., self-isolating, doctors’ visits, etc.).
  • Part-time employees are entitled to the number of hours of paid sick time equal to the number of hours they work, on average, over a 2-week period.
  • Employers must compensate employees for any paid sick time they take at their regular rates of pay.
  • Employers will be required to post a notice informing employees of their rights to leave.
  • As currently drafted, the bill expressly provides that it does not preempt existing state or local paid sick leave entitlements.
  • The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.

Employer Tax Credits

The measure would provide refundable payroll tax credits to employers to cover wages paid to employees while they are taking time off under the bill’s sick leave and family leave programs. The Treasury Secretary is provided with regulatory authority intended to help with cash flow issues, for example by waiving penalties on failing to deposit payroll taxes in anticipation of the credit.

OSHA Publishes COVID-19 Guidance for Workplaces

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 to help employers as they work to lessen the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on their businesses, workers, customers, and the public.

While the guidance is not a standard or regulation, OSHA is strongly encouraging employers to increase their preparedness, as there is a high level of uncertainty as to how the COVID-19 situation will develop or worsen.

Emergency FMCSA Action to Ease Hours of Service Requirements

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

FMCSA’s declaration provides for regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts intended to meet immediate needs for:

  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19.
  • Supplies and equipment, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants, necessary for healthcare worker, patient and community safety, sanitation, and prevention of COVID-19 spread in communities.
  • Food for emergency restocking of stores.
  • Equipment, supplies and persons necessary for establishment and management of temporary housing and quarantine facilities related to COVID-19.
  • Persons designated by Federal, State or local authorities for transport for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes.
  • Personnel to provide medical or other emergency services.

Once a driver has completed his or her delivery, the driver must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers.

 

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