Emergency Coronavirus Law Provides Paid Sick Leave and Expands FMLA Rights

Learn whether you're eligible for paid sick leave or increased FMLA leave under the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic, President Trump has signed into law an emergency relief bill that provides paid sick leave and expands family leave for employees of businesses with fewer than 500 workers, among other provisions.

The law, known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, takes effect April 2, 2020, and its provisions expire at the end of 2020. Here's a look at some of its key provisions.

Paid Leave Provisions

The new law requires covered businesses to give up to 80 hours of paid sick time to any full-time employee who:

  • has contracted the virus or is quarantined
  • has symptoms of the disease and is seeking medical treatment
  • must care for a family member who has the virus or is quarantined, or
  • must care for a child under 18 whose school has closed because of coronavirus.

Payments are capped at $511 per day ($5,110 total per employee) for workers who have the virus or are under quarantine, and $200 per day ($2,000 total per employee) for workers caring for family members who are quarantined or children. Employers are eligible for reimbursement of all their costs via tax credits. Note that the paid leave provided by this bill does not carry over to the following year.

The law also prohibits employers from requiring their workers to find a replacement or cover in order to use paid leave.

Part-Time and Self-Employed Workers

Part-time workers who meet the above conditions are also eligible for paid leave. The amount to which they're entitled is the average number of hours they work every two weeks. So if you work 15 hours a week, you're entitled to 30 hours of paid sick time for the year.

In addition, the law provides a form of paid leave for independent contractors and gig-economy workers. Assuming they meet the requirements above, self-employed individuals can claim a tax credit for each day they can't work equal to $200 or their average daily income, whichever is lower. To claim the tax credit, self-employed individuals can reduce their self-employment income on their next quarterly estimated tax filing.

Expanded Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Leave

Also under the new law, government employers and private employers with fewer than 500 workers must give paid FMLA leave to employees who are caring for a child whose school or daycare has closed. Payments are limited to $200 per day ($10,000 total per employee). Again, employers are entitled to full reimbursement of their payments through tax credits.

In addition, the new law lowers the amount of time that an employee must have worked for an employer to become eligible for emergency FMLA leave: from one year to 30 days.

The new law does contain a hardship exemption for businesses with fewer than 50 employees if providing leave would jeopardize their business.

Ten-Day Unpaid Period

The law provides that the first ten days of emergency FMLA leave will be unpaid, although an employee can choose to use accrued sick leave, vacation days, or other paid leave to cover any portion of the waiting period.

Once the ten-day period expires, the employer typically must pay full-time workers two-thirds of their regular wage for the number of hours they would ordinarily be scheduled.

Other Provisions of the Law

In addition to its employment-related measures, the new law also contains many other provisions, including:

  • requiring health insurance companies to fully cover coronavirus testing and treatment
  • increased funding for nutrition programs for children, the poor, and the elderly
  • emergency funding for unemployment benefit programs
  • subsidies for employer health insurance premiums

Additional Rights Available

If the new law doesn't cover you, perhaps because you work for an employer with 500 or more employees, you might have other benefits available under state law, local law, or your employer's own policies.

Check with an employment lawyer in your area or your company's human resources department to learn the full range of options available.

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