New COVID-19 Relief Package

As we blogged here last week, Congress came to an agreement on a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, and on Sunday, December 27, the President signed the bill. Among other items, the bill provides eligible individuals with $300 per week in supplemental, federal unemployment until mid-March, $600 direct economic impact payments to eligible adults who make $75,000 or less per year (or $1,200 for couples who make up to $150,000 per year), $284 billion for another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) small business loans, and tax credits for employers who continue to provide Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) leave in the first quarter of 2021.

The FFCRA provides up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and up to 10 weeks of partially paid emergency family and medical leave (EFMLA) to eligible employees who are unable to work or telework because of certain COVID-19-related reasons. Private employers have been able to take dollar-for-dollar tax credits for wages paid to employees taking FFCRA leave. The leave provisions of the FFCRA are scheduled to expire on December 31, 2020. While the new bill does not extend these leave provisions, it does allow private employers to continue to claim the tax credits for wages they pay to employees taking leave consistent with the existing FFCRA framework between January 1 and March 31, 2021.

Unfortunately, the delay in passing and signing this new legislation means employers don’t have a lot of time to consider whether to continue a paid leave policy consistent with the FFCRA in 2021. As we previously pointed out here, employers should consider their general duty to provide a safe and healthy workplace, as well as applicable state and local paid sick leave laws that may not expire at the end of the year. However, employers may face staffing and/or financial challenges that make continuing a now optional federal leave program unattractive. Employers should select an approach that best suits their needs, update or eliminate their existing FFCRA leave policies for the new year, and notify employees of any changes to paid leave policies.

Please note this current global emergency and applicable laws, regulations, proposals, guidance, advice, and responses change rapidly. We strive to keep you up to date as much as possible, but this blog article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Contact myHRcounsel with questions concerning specific facts and circumstances.