If you are an employer wondering what’s going to happen as a result of the coronavirus, be prepared for some potentially big changes.

On Monday afternoon, March 16, the Senate will consider the House’s emergency bill to temporarily expand the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If passed — and the general consensus is that it will pass with minor modifications on March 16, and be signed into law the same day – it will significantly expand FMLA coverage for the short term.

Please remember this is only a bill, not a law yet. We will update you when the President actually signs the bill into law (likely tonight), and let you know the final provisions of the law.

While the House’s bill (known now as the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act”) is subject to Senate modification, and thus likely will be somewhat different when enacted into law, below are the highlights of the bill as it now stands:

  • Essentially, if passed, the law would create a temporary expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act until December 31, 2020. The changes would take place 15 days after the passage of the Emergency Act.
  • Workers who miss work due to the coronavirus, or to care for an at-risk family member who has coronavirus or is adhering to a requirement or recommendation to quarantine, or to care for a child whose school is closed due to coronavirus, would be covered under the FMLA. These definitions of covered employees are likely to change in the final law.
  • Employees would only have to be employed for 30 days before becoming eligible for this emergency FMLA leave.
  • All employers with less than 500 employees would be covered, so even if you are a small employer not currently covered by the FMLA, you would be covered by this emergency leave. The bill gives some potential exceptions for small businesses, but it remains to be seen whether they will make it into the final law.
  • Employees would be eligible for paid leave (under the current bill, it’s 2/3 of their pay after a two week waiting period). But a separate Emergency Act would also allow any employee, even those who have not been employed for 30 days, to be paid their full pay for up to 80 hours if they are absent for certain reasons related to the coronavirus. These definitions of eligibility for full pay are likely to change in the final law.
  • Employers who pay employees out on this emergency leave would be eligible for tax credits.

In an additional piece of legislation, the Senate is also expected to take up the House’s proposed significant expansion of the federal Unemployment Insurance Act. If passed, the law would likely permit employees who lose their jobs permanently or temporarily due to the coronavirus to be eligible for unemployment even if they would not otherwise be eligible.

It’s going to be an interesting day. Stay tuned. I will be back with you soon…and stay healthy and safe.