The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) helps mitigate the workplace effects of COVID-19 by giving tax credits to businesses with fewer than 500 employees to provide employees with paid leave, for either the employee’s own health needs or to care for family members, generally speaking. The law enables employers to keep their workers on their payrolls, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus.
When the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) became effective for qualifying employers on April 1, 2020, the Department of Labor (DOL) did not bring enforcement actions against employers for violations of the Act through April 17, 2020, provided that the employer made reasonable, good-faith efforts to comply with the Act. In the past two months, the DOL has worked quickly to exercise its enforcement authority. Employers who are obligated to comply should be careful not to run afoul of the law.
Here are a few examples of cases and settlements related to FFCRA violations:
- Wolfforth, Texas-based West Texas Paving will pay an employee $1,200 in back wages after failing to provide the employee paid sick leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA), which is part of FFCRA, after healthcare providers ordered the employee, who had coronavirus symptoms, to self-quarantine. DOL investigators found that the construction company had failed to pay the employee for FFCRA-qualifying paid sick leave after the employee informed the company about their symptoms and medical diagnosis, and was hospitalized.
- Avon, Indiana-based Mahant Trucking has paid a truck driver $3,017 in back wages after initially denying emergency paid sick leave while the employee was experiencing coronavirus symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis.
- The Georgia Department of Human Services paid $848 in back wages required under the EPSLA provisions of the FFCRA after it was determined that the state agency wrongly denied emergency paid sick leave to an employee who needed to miss work to care for a child whose school closed due to the coronavirus. Georgia DHS initially approved the employee’s leave request, but it later denied it and instead offered multiple telework options.
- The USPS in San Jose, California, violated the EPSLA portion of the FFCRA when it repeatedly failed to provide paid sick leave benefits for the time an employee spent at home caring for her child whose school closed due to coronavirus. The USPS has agreed to pay $3,680 in back wages to the employee.
- The Somerton, Arizona, School District paid $1,000 in back wages to an employee who needed to spend five weeks at home caring for her children whose school closed due to the coronavirus.
- The New Mexico Human Services Department agreed to pay $1,411 in back wages after initially refusing to provide paid sick leave permitted under the EPSLA to an employee who took leave to care for her three young children whose school had closed due to coronavirus. While allowed to telework, the employee was unable to work and balance the children’s needs. Instead of granting the paid leave, the New Mexico HSD took disciplinary action for her inability to telework.
In most of these cases, the employers were not aware of their obligations or failed to fully understand their responsibilities under the law. Once notified, they agreed to back pay, training of managers and HR staff, posting notices, and communicating policy changes.
To avoid missteps in compliance with FFCRA, employers are encouraged to review the DOL’s online tools to improve their understanding, along with "Quick Benefits Tips" providing information about how much leave workers may qualify to use, and the wages employers must pay.
MRA members can access resources and information on our dedicated COVID-19 webpage, along with reaching out to HR Hotline Advisors with questions at 866-HR-HOTLINE (866.474.6854), or email InfoNow@mranet.org.
Source: CCH/Wolter Kluwer; Lynell Meeth, Director, HR and Content Strategy, MRA – The Management Association