A federal court in New York recently invalidated four key provisions of the Department of Labor’s (“DOL”) final rule related to leaves provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). As a result, certain aspects of the FFCRA may become more favorable to employees.
Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the ruling applies nationwide or only in the Southern District of New York, where that court is located. Until there is further activity in the case—which may clarify whether the rules remain intact throughout the rest of the country—we recommend that employers err on the side of caution when administering FFCRA leaves.
What is clear is that the four provisions that were struck down, do not apply to the Southern District of New York, which includes the counties of Bronx, Dutchess, New York, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, and Westchester.
Here are the rules that the court invalidated:
The requirement that work be available for an employee to use leave:
DOL Rule: The DOL said that for an employee to use Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) or Emergency Family and Medical Leave (EFMLA, aka EFMLEA), the employer had to have work available for them during the time they needed leave. For instance, if an employee was furloughed while sick with COVID-19, they would not be eligible for EPSL.
The Court’s Ruling: Availability of work is irrelevant. If an employee is still employed, whether on the schedule or not, they should be allowed to use FFCRA leave for qualifying reasons.
The requirement that employers agree to intermittent leave:
DOL Rule: Employees must get approval from their employer to use intermittent leave to care for their children when their school or place of care is unavailable because of COVID-19.
The Court’s Ruling: If an employee needs intermittent leave (partial weeks or partial days off) to care for their child whose school or place of care is unavailable because of COVID-19, the employer must allow it.
The requirement that employees provide documentation before taking leave:
DOL Rule: Employers could require that employees provide certain documentation before being allowed to take FFCRA leave or before designating the leave as EPSL or EFMLA.
The Court’s Ruling: Employers can still require documentation (which is necessary to get their tax credit), but they can’t prevent an employee from starting leave until the documentation is received. The law clearly states that an employee must provide notice “as is practicable” when taking EFMLA leave and after the first workday of leave when taking EPSL.
The definition of health care provider, for the purpose of exemption from leave:
DOL Rule: The DOL had defined health care providers broadly, to include anyone who works for a healthcare entity and many who contract with one. (The rule was so broad that a custodian working at a drugstore or an English professor at a university with a medical school could be exempt.)
The Court’s Ruling: The definition is too broad. However, the court did not provide a new definition. We recommend that employers apply the exemption only to those employees capable of directly providing healthcare services.
EmPower HR will continue to monitor developments related to this litigation and keep you informed of potential impact on employer’s leave obligations. If you have any questions regarding how the ruling may impact your internal policies or procedures, please reach out to your HRBP.