Federal COVID Relief Bill Provides Expanded Paid Sick Leave and Family Leave to New Jersey Workers

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on New Jersey’s employment landscape for more than a year. Congress passed several bills in 2020 intended to help people impacted by the pandemic, both medically and economically. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which became law in March 2020, provided paid sick leave and paid and unpaid family leave for people who were either directly affected by the virus, or who were caring for one or more affected family members. These provisions expired at the end of 2020. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) became law in March 2021, and includes extensions and expansions of both family leave and paid sick leave.

The FFCRA created a new federal system for paid sick leave, and expanded the provisions for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The law required most employers with fewer than five hundred employees to provide emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) to workers who could not come to work, in person or virtually, for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including
– Quarantine on the orders of a government official, or the recommendation of a doctor;
– Symptoms of COVID-19;
– Caring for a family or household members who is subject to a quarantine order or recommendation; or
– Caring for a child whose school was closed due to the pandemic.

EPSL covered an employee’s regular rate of pay, up to a maximum of either $511 per day or $5,110 total. Employees could take up to eighty hours of paid leave. Employers received a credit against the Social Security portion of their payroll taxes for paid leave provided to their employees.

The ARPA provides an additional eighty hours of EPSL to workers meeting the same eligibility criteria, starting April 1, 2021. The list of reasons an employee may take EPSL remains mostly the same, except that they may now also take paid time off to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine. Employers may once again claim a credit against their payroll taxes for the paid leave they provided. These provisions expire on September 30, 2021.

In normal years, the FMLA allows workers at large employers who have worked a minimum number of hours to take unpaid leave for reasons related to their own medical care or that of a family member. This has not been a normal year. The FFCRA offered expanded FMLA (EFMLA) leave to workers who would not qualify under the regular FMLA. It included up to twelve weeks of leave to care for a child whose school is closed, or otherwise unavailable, because of the pandemic. The leave was mostly unpaid. The exact amount of leave depended on several circumstances. Employers were required to allow employees eligible for EPLA to use that before taking EFMLA leave.

Employees may continue to claim family leave under the ARPA, which applies the same rules of eligibility. Unlike the ARPA’s EPSL provisions, which allow up to ten days of paid leave no matter how much leave an employee used in 2020, it only extends the twelve weeks of EFMLA leave authorized by the FFCRA. An employee who used six weeks of EFMLA leave in 2020, for example, can take the remaining six weeks of leave between April 1 and September 30, 2021.

The Resnick Law Group’s employment attorneys are available to assist you in a dispute with your employer in New Jersey or New York. Please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our team.

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