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Covid-19 Relief Package Trimmed to Limit Some Paid Leave (1)

March 17, 2020, 1:36 PMUpdated: March 17, 2020, 6:17 PM

Lawmakers late Monday approved a “corrected” version of the coronavirus emergency relief bill, significantly limiting workers’ eligibility for expanded family and medical leave by restricting it to child care purposes.

The previous version of the bill (H.R. 6201), passed by the House March 14, would have required employers to provide workers with 12 weeks of partially paid Family and Medical Leave Act leave for quarantine, to care for a family member, or to care for a child. The new version of the legislation would limit a “qualifying need” for FMLA leave to instances where an employee can’t work or telework because his or her child’s school, day care, or child care is unavailable.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday said a separate, forthcoming legislative package to respond to the coronavirus health crisis will expand access to emergency paid sick and FMLA leave.

The “watered down” version of the legislation isn’t sufficient to address “the crisis that we as a country are facing,” said Jessica Mason, a policy analyst for the National Partnership for Women & Families. “We strongly hope there will be opportunities to work on a real solution.”

The legislation, which is expected to be passed in the Senate this week, also would require employers to provide workers with up to 10 days of emergency paid sick leave for reasons related to Covid-19, as the disease caused by the virus is known. That includes employees who miss work because of quarantine, illness, or family care needs. Employers who provide that leave would be eligible for a tax credit.

The measure would exempt employers with 500 or more workers from both the emergency sick leave and FMLA partial paid leave requirements. It also would authorize the Labor Department to exclude health-care providers and emergency responders and exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the requirements if offering the leave would “jeopardize the viability of the business.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the Senate to pass the legislation.

“The chamber is very focused on moving the bill that has passed the House,” Marc Freedman, the organization’s vice president of employment policy, told Bloomberg Law. “The priority is getting this done as soon as possible.”

Other business groups want Congress to revise the legislation further to require the federal government to pick up the tab for new paid leave up front. The National Federation of Independent Businesses, the International Franchise Association and more than 100 organizations asked Senate leaders Monday to create a system in which federal agencies directly pay leave benefits to eligible workers.

“We fear that these mandates will accelerate small and medium business closures, causing many Americans to lose employer-provided health benefits while straining the administrative and financial resources of state unemployment agencies,” the groups said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.).

Meanwhile, New York and other states are weighing their own emergency paid leave legislation.

“There is a lot to be encouraged by in the actions state legislatures are taking right now,” Mason said.

(Updated with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com

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