In late December, Congress came together to pass a much-needed bill providing $900 billion in COVID-19 relief. President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 on Dec. 27, 2020. Over 5500 pages in length, this comprehensive act provides many people across the nation with some renewed employment relief.
Federally enhanced unemployment benefits from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act expired on Dec. 26, 2020. Usually state unemployment benefits are offered for no more than 26 weeks and in the spring of 2020, the CARES Act extended them to 39 weeks. This most recent act further extends the unemployment benefits to 50 weeks and also adds a $300-per-week federal jobless benefit. A similar, but more robust, stimulus of $600 per week expired on July 31, 2020. Under the new act, workers unemployed between Dec. 27, 2020, and March 14, 2021, will be eligible for an additional $300-per-week subsidy to their unemployment benefits. The act also provides a 50% reimbursement to states that waive their one-week waiting period for employees to receive benefits.
The new act also addresses both federal paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that expired on Dec. 31, 2020. FFCRA mandated employers with less than 500 employees provide their employees with up to 80 hours of paid sick leave to address certain COVID-19 issues, including caring for themselves, family members or complying with government quarantine orders, and 10 weeks of paid family leave for employees whose children are unable to attend school or daycare due to the pandemic. Many had wondered whether Congress would extend or enlarge these popular FFCRA benefits. Ultimately, Congress removed the employer mandate requiring employers to provide the paid leave but allowed employers to continue to utilize the payroll tax credit if they chose to continue providing the paid leave through March 31, 2021. Significantly, the new law did not give employees who already used their allotted paid leave under the FFCRA more paid time off in 2021, but it incentivizes employers to continue to offer this benefit during the first quarter of 2021.
Over the New Year’s holiday weekend, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) added two new questions and answers to its extensive FAQ for FFCRA. Question 104 explains that continued FFCRA relief is discretionary for the first quarter of 2021 and Question 105 reinforces the two-year statute of limitations for the enforcement of actions against employers who violate FFCRA. The DOL did not address the calculation of the 12-month period for employees taking FFCRA leave. Under the FMLA, employers may track the 12-month period either by calendar year, from a fixed date (e.g., the anniversary of the employee’s date of hire) or using the more complicated rolling 12-month period, which calculates the 12-month period from the first date FMLA leave is taken.
The Biden Administration is set to take office on Jan. 20, 2021, and will likely seek additional relief to aid our country struggling with the disastrous effects of the virus as it continues to surge throughout the country. The ability for the new administration, however, to push through its agenda depends upon Congress. Since no candidate in either of Georgia’s two Senate races won a majority of the vote in the Nov. 2020 general election, Georgia held a runoff election for both seats on Jan. 5, 2021. Although it appears the Democratic candidates earned more votes, these races may still face challenges. If the Democratic candidates withstand the challenges, the Senate will be divided 50-50. When there is a tie, Vice President Harris will be called upon to break the tie. A Congress aligned with the administration may ease the push towards further relief. In the meantime, the COVID-19 vaccine is offering some light but it will take many months to provide vaccinations to all who seek them.
Chuhak & Tecson will continue to share employment law developments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, and should you have questions about how this new law impacts employment, contact one of Chuhak and Tecson’s Employment attorneys.
Client Alert authored by Jeralyn H. Baran (312 855 4613), Principal and leader of Chuhak & Tecson’s Employment practice.
This Chuhak & Tecson, P.C. communication is intended only to provide information regarding developments in the law and information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute advice regarding legal problems and should not be relied upon as such.