America Rescue Plan Addresses COVID-Related Employee Leave

The America Rescue Plan of 2021 (ARPA) was signed into law in March 2021 and has many facets to address the economic challenges that our country is still facing as a result of the pandemic.

The ARPA addresses employee leave for COVID related reasons. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that was in effect last year mandated leave for COVID related reasons, but its provisions expired December 31, 2020. The ARPA re-enacted the FFCRA but expanded the scope in some way. However, the biggest changes is that the leave is voluntary for employers. The incentive for employers to provide such leave is that employers received a dollar-for-dollar payroll tax credit for providing paid leave.

The leave must be taken between April 1 and September 30, 2021. It still applies to employers with less than 500 employees.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) provides a bank of 80 hours for the original six reasons plus the following three reason for leave: (1) to get a COVID19 vaccine; (2) recover from adverse reactions from the vaccine; (3) while waiting for results of a COVID diagnosis or test after having close contact. The pay under EPSL is full pay subject to a cap of $511 per day for the tax credit.

The EFMLA was expanded to cover not just childcare related to daycare or school closures but also to include any of the qualifying reasons under the EPSL. Under the FFCRA, the first two weeks of EMFLA were unpaid but they are paid under the ARPA. The maximum amount for the tax credit is $12,000.

Even if employees exhausted 12 weeks of leave pursuant to FMLA and/or FFCRA in the previous year, the leave bank resets on April 1, 2021 for another 12 weeks if employers decide to provide such leave.

There is a non-discrimination component so employers may not provide such benefits for some employees but not others. Employers can, however, offer leave under EPSL and not EFMLA or vice versa.

The Department of Labor is set to issue more guidance on the leave under the ARPA.

Employers should also be advised that the CDC updated its guidance on quarantine as it pertains those fully vaccinated. A vaccinated person no longer has to quarantine if it has been at least two weeks since the last dose and is asymptomatic. However, employees should monitor symptoms for at least 14 days.