- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [38.0° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
- Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
- Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
- Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
- Separate sick employees:
- CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
- Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees:
- Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning:
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
- Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps:
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found at on the CDC website.
- Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
- If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.
- Additional Measures in Response to Currently Occurring Sporadic Importations of the COVID-19:
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
Please Note: The information contained on this website is not legal or tax advice and should not be relied upon or construed as legal or tax advice. This post is for general informational purposes only and does not purport to be complete or cover every situation. Please consult your own legal and tax advisors to determine how these laws affect you.
About the Act
Last weekend, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus
Response Act (the “Act”), which allows free COVID-19 testing, establishes paid and unpaid
leave programs, provides grants to states to process and pay unemployment insurance benefits,
expands food service initiatives, and increases federal Medicaid funding. After some negotiation
and changes to the legislation, the Senate passed a revised version of the Act on March 18, 2020.
President Trump signed the Act into law the same day.
The leave provisions of the Act, which apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees,
require covered employers to provide job-protected paid leave to employees for up to 12 weeks
for a COVID-19-related absence. The Act does so by expanding the FMLA and adding a new
paid sick leave program. Compared to the original version of the bill, the Act expanded the
qualifying events for sick leave, narrowed the FMLA qualifying events, and capped the benefit
payments to employees. These new leave laws become effective 15 days after enactment, which
falls on April 2, 2020.
What Does This Mean
The leave and tax credit provisions of the Act apply to all employers with fewer than 500
employees. To the extent you and your workforce are subject to the Act, here are some options
that we suggest you consider as best practices:
- Expand PTO/Sick Leave and FMLA programs to allow up to 12 weeks of COVID-19-
related time off following the requirements of the Act.
- During any COVID-19-related absence, if the intent is to continue payment to employees
for the duration of the absence, employers should continue paying employees through
their payroll and consider updating benefit calculations to be consistent with the Act.
This would create a seamless benefit experience for employees and limit payroll
- Continue monitoring federal, state, and local legislation for additional changes that could
impact your obligations as an employer to provide leave and benefits to your employees.
MetLife is monitoring federal and state legislation as well and will provide you with
updates after they become available.
- Consult with your legal counsel to help create a legally compliant plan that works best for
you and your employees.
New Sick Leave Requirements
Initially, the Act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to offer sick leave to their
employees who are unable to work or telework for the following COVID-19-related absences:
- An employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order regarding
- An employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to
concerns related to COVID-19;
- An employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;
An employee is caring for an individual subject to the first two qualifying events listed
- An employee is caring for a minor child if the child’s school or place of care has closed
or if the childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions; or
- An employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the
Secretary of Health and Human Services (“HHS”).
Full-time employees can use up to 80 hours of sick time, while part-time employees can use
proportionally less time, based on the average number of hours the employee works over a two-week period.
During sick leave taken for the employee’s own condition, employers must pay
employees their regular rate of pay or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher.
However, if the sick leave is taken to care for a family member or because the employee is
experiencing a condition specified by HHS, the rate of pay is reduced to two-thirds of the
employee’s regular rate of pay. Leave benefits are limited to $511 per day and $5,110 in total
per employee for the first three qualifying events listed above. As for the last three qualifying
events, leave benefits are limited to $200 per day and $2,000 in total per employee.
An employee cannot carry over sick time into the next year, nor is an employee entitled to
payment of unused sick time upon separation from employment. Employees will be able to use
this sick leave beginning on April 2, 2020, regardless of their length of service with the
Employer. Healthcare or emergency responder employers may elect to exclude healthcare
workers from the Act. By March 25, 2020, the Department of Labor will publish a model notice
that employers must conspicuously post in their workplaces. Similar to the FMLA amendments,
the new sick leave law will become effective 15 days after the enactment of the Act – or April 2,
2020 – and will sunset on December 31, 2020.
To help employers shoulder the financial burden of paying for these additional benefits, the Act
allows employers with fewer than 500 employees to claim a tax credit equal to 100% of qualified
sick leave wages paid to employees. These credits, however, are limited to $200 to $511 per
day, depending on the qualifying leave event, subject to other conditions and limitations. The
aggregate number of days taken into account per employee may not exceed the excess of 10 over
the aggregate number of days taken into account for all preceding calendar quarters. The tax
credit also includes an allowance for certain health plan expenses allocated to wages paid
pursuant to the Act. These credits will effectively help employers recover up to 10 days of
wages paid to employees earning up to $132,860 in income.
For employees earning above $132,860, and who are absent for more than 10 days, the Act will help employers recover some
of these wages.
The Act also expands the FMLA to allow employees to use FMLA in situations where an
employee is unable to work or telework to care for a minor child if the child’s school or place of
care has closed or if the childcare provider is unavailable due to a public health emergency
regarding COVID-19. The prior version of the Act included several more FMLA qualifying
events, which Congress has since scaled back.
Although the first 10 days of COVID-19-related FMLA leave is unpaid, employers must pay
employees up to approximately 10 additional weeks of leave at the rate of two-thirds of the
employee’s regular pay rate, capped at $200 per day and $10,000 in total per employee.
The 50-employee minimum applicable to current FMLA leave reasons does not apply to COVID-19-
related leaves, although the Act gives the Department of Labor authority to limit the applicability
of the Act to employers with fewer than 50 employees. Absent any regulations from the DOL,
all employers with fewer than 500 employees must offer COVID-19-related FMLA leave to their
The job protection requirements of the FMLA also apply to COVID-19-related
leaves, but only to employers with 25 to 499 employees, if certain conditions are met. Any
employee who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days will be eligible for this new type
of FMLA leave. These amendments will be effective 15 days after enactment, which falls on
April 2, 2020, and will sunset on December 31, 2020.
Similar to the sick leave requirement, the Act allows employers with fewer than 500 employees
to claim a tax credit of 100% of qualified FMLA wages paid to employees, which is capped at
$200 per day and $10,000 per quarter per employee. The FMLA tax credit is designed to help
employers recover up to $10,000 in wages for employees earning up to $52,000 per year. For
employees earning above $52,000 per year, the tax credit will help employers recover a smaller
portion of wages.