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Three Ways the Labor Department Would Aid Coronavirus Relief

March 16, 2020, 12:01 PM

The Labor Department would enforce new paid sick leave requirements and health insurers’ obligation to pick up the tab for testing under the bipartisan emergency coronavirus relief package pending in Congress.

DOL already is advising employers on coronavirus prevention, how to track job-related Covid-19 cases, and safety protections for health-care workers. The department also has told states that they can expand unemployment insurance programs to provide jobless benefits to workers who lose hours or are unable to work because of business closures, quarantine, or caring for a family member.

The legislation (H.R. 6201), passed by the House on Saturday, would provide paid leave to some workers impacted by the public health emergency and pour money into programs for jobless benefits, food stamps, and health-care services. It also would expand the Labor Department’s role in the relief effort.

1. Enforce Paid Sick Leave

The department, which already enforces federal wage-and-hour requirements under the Fair Labor Standards Act, would police new paid leave requirements if the relief legislation becomes law. Violations would be considered a failure to pay minimum wages under the FLSA.

The relief package would require employers with fewer than 500 workers to offer emergency paid sick leave for coronavirus-related time off. That includes workers who miss time on the job because of quarantine, testing, and treatment, or to care for family members under certain circumstances.

Full-time employees would get 80 hours of sick leave under the legislation, while part-time workers’ allotted leave would vary based on how many hours they typically log over a two-week period. Employees using leave would be paid at their normal rate, or two-thirds of that rate for leave used to care for a family member.

Employers would be barred from requiring a worker to use any other available paid leave before using the sick time.

The Labor Department would be required within seven days of the legislation’s enactment to come up with a model notice of employees’ emergency paid sick leave rights, which employers would be required to post at their workplaces. The DOL would be directed within 15 days to publish guidelines to help employers calculate paid sick time.

2. Policing Insurers

Insurers would be required under the legislation to cover the cost of testing for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. They also would have to pick up the tab for provider visits for testing without requiring that patients share the costs of the visit or get prior authorization.

The requirements apply to group health plans and insurers that offer individual or group health-care coverage. That includes Medicaid, Medicare, TRICARE, veterans’ health programs, the Indian Health Service, and coverage provided to federal civilian employees.

The Labor Department would be directed to enforce insurance obligations, along with the Health and Human Services Department and the Treasury Department.

3. Allotting Unemployment Insurance Funds

The legislation would provide for as much as $1 billion in emergency transfers for states to use on processing and paying jobless benefits.

The Labor Department would allocate half of states’ allotments within 60 days of the legislation’s enactment, after certifying that states meet certain requirements. That includes allowing benefits seekers to apply online or by phone and forcing employers to make workers aware of their eligibility for benefits. The DOL would distribute the rest of the funds to states that see benefits claims jump by at least 10%, compared to the same quarter in the previous year.

The department tracks new unemployment insurance benefits on a weekly basis. Its next report on new jobless claims is slated to be published March 19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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