The COVID-19 social distancing advisories and directives are forcing organizations to put into effect complex leave policies. For organizations that are inherently face-to-face like store-front retail, restaurants, gyms, many home services, and manufacturers, teleworking isn’t an option. Even companies that can largely virtualize have some employees, like bank tellers, who won’t be able to work from home.
Employees who are bound to their place of work to perform their duties are increasingly facing lay-offs, furloughs, and other forms of “down-time.” They may be paid for a while at their standard rate, paid at a fractional rate, or required to take accumulated leave before receiving any COVID-19 paid benefits. Some companies are advancing their employees leave or letting them take LWOP (Leave Without Pay) if the employees elect to conserve their vacation time. There are many variations, most of which overwhelm the capabilities of widely used automated leave management solutions. These systems simply weren’t built for times like these. As a result, administrators are rigging spreadsheets and hoping for the best.
With passage of The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), the federal government expanded FMLA (the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act) and mandated emergency sick leave (the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act). These mandates provide payroll tax relief and credits to qualifying employers so that they can better afford to stand by their workers. However, there no provisions for helping staff who must administer these complicated programs. Many companies have familiarity with FMLA, but its application is generally limited enough that the cases can be managed “by hand.” The new FMLA and sick leave act will see massive applicability.
All public employers and private organizations with under 500 employees are the focus of the legislation (private organizations with fewer than 50 employees are exempted from the FMLA expansion but not from emergency sick leave). The mandates will supersede the individual leave policies of employers wherever they overlap, so existing rules may have to be cancelled or modified. To comply, organizations will have to make sure that their record-keeping is sufficiently detailed to support accurate calculations and reporting. For example, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act distinguishes, for purpose of establishing daily pay limits, between caring for others and isolation, quarantine, or being symptomatic. As for the FMLA, you can only use the leave code you set up for it after the employee has taken 10 days of leave not provided for under the legislation.
Certainly the plight of HR and payroll pales in comparison to that of those who are now unemployed or whose jobs are in serious jeopardy. Still, management should be aware that their internal processes for tracking leave will be stretched to their limits (or beyond), and should look to provide either additional personnel or an automated system that is up to the task. Until regulations are issued by the Department of Labor, employers should be ready to comply with the law as written.
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