COVID Catch-Up: News from the DOL, CDC, and EEOC

by Marti Cardi, Esq. - Senior Compliance Consultant and Legal Counsel

April 13, 2020


The best thing about the just-concluded long weekend is that it gave me a chance to catch up on the latest Coronavirus guidance issued by various entities. Top of the world, Ma! Here are 3 for today’s reading pleasure:

The U.S. Department of Labor has issued the fourth set of questions and answers relating to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSL) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFML). This edition has 20 new questions, starting with #60. There are no surprises but some of the answers do provide helpful interpretive information. As you read, remember this guiding principle:

In order to receive EPSL and/or EFML benefits, (1) the employer must have work available for the employee; and (2) the employee must be unable to perform the work (or telework) due to the COVID-19 reason. So, for example, if an employee must stay home to care for a small child due to a school closure but the employer has closed its place of business and has no work the employee could otherwise perform, the employee is not entitled to pay benefits.

Quarantine orders (Question 60). For purposes of EPSL, a quarantine or isolation order includes a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order issued by any federal, state, or local government authority as well as a specific order directed at an individual employee or family member.

Self-quarantine (Questions 61-62, 65). An employee may receive benefits during a self-quarantine only when acting pursuant to the advice of a health care provider. The employee’s own opinion that he should stay away from others will not support a claim for FFCRA pay benefits. The same applies for leave to care for an individual in self-quarantine.

Care for others who are quarantined (Questions 63-65). An employee may be able take EPSL to care for another individual who is under a governmental order of quarantine or isolation or who is quarantined pursuant to the advice of a health care provider, but must meet the following criteria: (1) the individual is unable to care for herself (2) the individual depends on the employee for care; and (3) providing the care prevents the employee from working or teleworking.

An “individual” for whom an employee may provide care is limited to a member of the employee’s immediate family (not defined), someone who regularly resides in the employee’s home, or someone with whom the employee has a relationship that creates an expectation of care. There must be a personal relationship between the employee and the individual.

Age of child; care of child (Questions 66, 71-72, 40). Both EPSL and EFML are available to care for a child in quarantine or whose school or place of care has closed if the child is under age 18 or is 18 or older and in capable of self-care because of a disability.

An employee may take EFML only to care for his own son or daughter due to a school or day care closer or other unavailability of daycare. “Son or daughter” is defined for this purpose the same as under the regular FMLA: Biological, adopted, or foster child, stepchild, legal ward, or a child for whom the employee stands in loco parentis.

On the other hand, an employee may take EPSL to care for an “individual,” which is defined much more broadly than “son or daughter” (see above, Question 64) and therefore might include a child who is not the employee’s own son or daughter.

School or “place of care” closure, unavailability of “child care provider” (Questions 67-70). A “place of care” is a physical location in which care is provided for a child. It does not have to be dedicated solely to this purpose. Traditional day care facilities and preschools are included, as well as before and after school care programs, homes, and summer camps. This leads us to wonder, what will happen when summer hits if school closures are still in effect? Will parents be able to take leave when a different place of care that they would then have relied on is still closed? Remember, 12 weeks of leave staring April 1, for example, will extend to June 23.

A “child care provider” is defined to include both (1) paid individuals such as au pairs, nannies, and babysitters, and (2) individuals who regularly provide care at no cost, such as family members, friends, or neighbors.

An employee can take leave to care for a child due to a school closure, etc., only when the employee is actually needed to care for the child and is unable to work as a result. Leave is not available if another provider such as a co-parent is available.

A school is considered closed even if it is offering online instruction or other at-home schooling resources. Closure of the physical location is what counts.

Workers’ compensation and temporary disability benefits (Question 76). An employee currently receiving workers’ comp and disability benefits through a state- or employer-provided plan is not eligible to receive paid leave under EPSL or EFML. Such benefits are paid because the employee is unable to work due to an injury or illness. The DOL has not addressed how the EPSL and EFML benefits interact with paid family leave, if the employee’s reason for leave is covered by each.

FFCRA benefits and current leaves of absence (Question 77). An employee on a current leave of absence is not entitled to EPSL or EFML benefits because they are not working and in need of leave. However, an employee on a voluntary leave of absence (for example, bonding with a new child or on sabbatical or vacation) can chose to end the leave and take FFCRA benefits for a qualifying reason that then prevents the employee from working. On the other hand, if an employee is on a mandatory leave of absence (e.g., a disciplinary suspension), it is that mandatory leave that is preventing the employee from working, not a FFCRA-qualifying reason, so no benefits are available.

DOL enforcement (Questions 78-79). The DOL has stated it will not bring an enforcement action against an employer for violations of EPSL or EFML occurring within 30 days of enactment (from March 18 through April 17). This does not mean employers don’t need to comply until April 18. Rather, the DOL will expect employers to use good faith efforts to comply, correct any violations that occur during that period, and commit to ongoing compliance. Otherwise, the DOL will retroactively enforce violations back to April 1, 2020.

Other topics covered in Round 4 include counting employees of a staffing company (Question 74) and calculating pay for seasonal employees (Question 75).

Recognizing the need to keep employees in certain key industries working, the Centers for Disease Control has issued an Interim Guidance for Implementing Safety Practices for Critical Infrastructure Workers Who May Have Had Exposure to a Person with Suspected or Confirmed COVID-19. (#mouthful!) The Guidance applies to these employees:

  • Federal, state, & local law enforcement
  • 911 call center employees
  • Fusion Center employees
  • Hazardous material responders from government and the private sector
  • Janitorial staff and other custodial staff
  • Workers – including contracted vendors – in food and agriculture, critical manufacturing,
    informational technology, transportation, energy and government facilities

Workers who have had a potential exposure are permitted to keep working provided they are asymptomatic and take additional workplace precautions:

  • Pre-Screen for temperature and symptoms before entering a facility or starting work
  • Regular Monitoring under the supervision of the employer’s occupational health program.
  • Wear a Mask
  • Practice social distancing
  • Disinfect and clean work spaces routinely, such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, and
    shared electronic equipment

More information is available in the Interim Guidance.

Ages ago (well, it was early March – how time flies!) we blogged about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s guidance on COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The information in that post is still accurate and provides the answers to many workplace questions relating to the ADA and COVID-19.

On April 9 the EEOC came out with an updated guidance, What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws. The update covers several topics such as medical inquiries, confidentiality, hiring and onboarding, and furloughs. Of greatest to us in the absence and accommodations business are the new questions and answers about COVID-19 and accommodations.

The update starts with a recommendation to consult with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for assistance with accommodations, a suggestion with which we at Matrix heartily agree. JAN’s materials specific to COVID-19 are here In the meantime, here is the new guidance. (I borrowed liberally from the EEOC document itself rather than reinvent the wheel.)

D.1. If a job may only be performed at the workplace, are there reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities absent undue hardship that could offer protection to an employee who, due to a preexisting disability, is at higher risk from COVID-19? (4/9/20)

Yes. Some of these “accommodations” may have already been implemented for all employees but consider:

  • Changes to the work environment such as designating one-way aisles; using
    Plexiglas, tables, or other barriers to ensure minimum distances between customers
    and coworkers
  • Temporary job restructuring of marginal job duties
  • Temporary transfers to a different position
  • Modifying a work schedule or shift assignment.

D.2. If an employee has a preexisting mental illness or disorder that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, may he now be entitled to a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship)? (4/9/20)

Yes. Employees with certain preexisting mental health conditions, for example, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, may have more difficulty than other employees handling the disruption to daily life that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers may ask questions to determine whether the condition is a disability; discuss with the employee how the requested accommodation would assist him and enable him to keep working; explore alternative accommodations that may effectively meet his needs; and request medical documentation if needed.

D.3. In a workplace where all employees are required to telework during this time, should an employer postpone discussing a request from an employee with a disability for an accommodation that will not be needed until he returns to the workplace when mandatory telework ends? (4/9/20)

Not necessarily. An employer may give higher priority to discussing requests for reasonable accommodations that are needed while teleworking, but the employer may begin discussing this request now. The employer may be able to acquire all the information it needs to make a decision. If a reasonable accommodation is granted, the employer also may be able to make some arrangements for the accommodation in advance.

D.4. What if an employee was already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and now requests an additional or altered accommodation? (4/9/20)

An employee who was already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic may be entitled to an additional or altered accommodation, absent undue hardship. The employer may discuss with the employee whether the same or a different disability is the basis for this new request and why an additional or altered accommodation is needed.

As an additional resource, check out the transcript of the webinar held on March 27 regarding the laws EEOC enforces and COVID-19.

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