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Labor Department Working on Rules for Virus-Related Paid Leave

March 19, 2020, 9:52 PM

The Labor Department is planning to issue regulations to implement emergency paid sick and family leave requirements under the newly enacted coronavirus relief package, according to an internal email obtained by Bloomberg Law.

Cheryl Stanton, who heads the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division, emailed staffers Thursday with a synopsis of the agency’s plans to carry out the law. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides some workers impacted by the virus with two weeks of paid sick leave and 10 weeks of partially paid family leave to care for a child.

Stanton said the department “intends to issue regulations” that will be ready “by the implementation date” of the new law, but stopped short of providing a precise deadline for when the rules would be completed or when they would take effect. The legislation’s new paid leave requirements will apply “from the effective date through December 31, 2020,” she wrote.

The relief package, which President Donald Trump signed into law Wednesday, is slated to take effect April 2. Congress is working on an additional round of measures that could revise paid leave and other requirements for employers.

The Labor Department is likely to rely on an emergency exception to scuttle the traditional notice-and-comment period often required before regulations are finalized. It can, under certain circumstances, issue a direct final rule, with subsequent public notice-and-comment.

DOL media representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asking for Input

Stanton has also invited outside groups to a virtual town hall on paid leave, which will be held Friday morning. In a separate email sent Thursday to agency stakeholders, such as worker advocacy groups and industry trade associations, Stanton wrote that “we need your input” as we “urgently develop” regulations and guidance.

The messages reflect the inner workings of an agency under immense pressure from the White House and the public to interpret exactly which workers should qualify for new relief offerings, as the virus outbreak has put many workers in immediate economic turmoil. The legislative package leaves open questions that are up to the WHD to flesh out, such as what symptoms qualify a worker for sick leave when they haven’t been confirmed as a Covid-19 patient, and how the new requirements jibe with other parts of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Although not addressed in Stanton’s emails, one area that’s sure to draw questions at the town hall is which small businesses will be exempted. The new law authorizes 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.” It would fall on the WHD to issue rules interpreting what constitutes jeopardizing business viability.

Those questions and more have already caused Americans to flood the telephone lines of WHD offices, according to Stanton.

“We realize that your offices are experiencing a significant influx of calls from employers and employees looking for information about this new law,” Stanton wrote to staff. “We will provide additional information and guidance to you absolutely as soon as possible.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com

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