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Changes to FFCRA Paid Leave: Congress’ Revisions to Employment COVID-19 Leave Benefits Signals the Light is at the End of the Tunnel

Late on December 27th, President Trump signed into law the government’s $900 billion COVID-19 relief package (the “Stimulus Bill”). Among other economic benefits, the Stimulus Bill implements changes to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”).

It is still set to expire on 12/31/2020; however, employers can voluntarily extend and take advantage of payroll tax credits until March 31, 2021.

In April of 2020, the FFCRA began providing paid leave to employees who missed work as a result of an actual or suspected COVID-19 illness or to care for a child when their school or childcare service was closed because of COVID-19. For a full review of the FFCRA, please see our posts from March and April, including https://www.bmdllc.com/resources/blog/ffcra-update-implementation-date-accelerated-from-april-2-to-april-1/

In short, employees could receive up to 80 hours of paid sick leave and another 12 weeks of family leave (with 10 weeks paid). Employers received payroll tax credits/refunds for the paid leave. That law is set to expire on December 31, 2020.

The Stimulus Bill extends eligibility for employer payroll tax credits/refunds for leave payments made to employees on or before March 31, 2021 under the FFCRA, signaling to the American people that Congress believes many of the employed public will be vaccinated by this time, the light at the end of the tunnel. The Stimulus Bill does contain a caveat that employers are no longer required to provide FFCRA leave benefits after December 31, 2020, but if they do, they will receive the payroll tax credits, up to the maximums provided in the FFCRA, for payments made prior to April 1, 2021.

Below we provide a list of questions and answers we received to date following the passage of the Stimulus Bill. We expect the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) to issue additional questions and answers as the Stimulus Bill is implemented, and we will update this Client Alert as these are received.

  1. Where can I find additional information on eligible employees, eligible employers, and the maximum benefits that are eligible for reimbursement as payroll tax credits?

Answer: Please use this link to access our original publication on the specific details, requirements, and eligibility criteria for the FFCRA. https://www.bmdllc.com/resources/blog/ffcra-update-implementation-date-accelerated-from-april-2-to-april-1/

  1. Are employers required to continue to offer FFCRA COVID-19 leave benefits to employees after December 31, 2020?

Answer: No. The Stimulus Bill only extends the payroll tax credit eligibility date to March 31, 2021. Meaning, employers are not required to give FFCRA leave benefits to employees after December 31, 2020. However, if they do, employers will continue to be eligible for payroll tax refunds, up to the maximums provided, for any payments made to employees under the FFCRA between January 1, 2021 and March 31, 2021. This also means that employers may choose which parts of the FFCRA they will utilize for leave benefits. For example, employers can choose to allow employees to take sick leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”), but do away with the leave benefits provided under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLEA”). Employers will need to carefully consider which benefits they will continue to offer, if any.

  1. Should employers revise their COVID-19 employment leave policies to reflect the changes in the Stimulus Bill?

Answer: Yes. Once employers determine which leave benefits they will continue to offer, they will need to revise all COVID-19 employment leave policies to reflect these changes and their effective dates. Even if an employer will continue to offer all benefits, we recommend revising the leave policies to reflect that such benefits will automatically terminate on March 31, 2021 as this is the final date employers will be eligible to receive payroll tax credits for the leave payments made to employees.

  1. Does the Stimulus Bill provide additional leave time to employees who exhausted all previous COVID-19 leave time?

Answer: No. If employees previously exhausted all leave time under EPSLA (up to 80 hours) and EFMLEA (up to 10 weeks), they are no longer eligible for benefits under the FFCRA. Therefore, these employees will need to utilize PTO/sick time or an unpaid leave of absence if they need to miss work because of COVID-19. The only caveat to this is for employers that have Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) policies. If one of these employers uses a calendar year benefit renewal, rather than a rolling year benefit renewal, employees are going to receive additional time under the FMLA beginning on January 1, 2021. Meaning, if these employers continue to allow leave under EFMLEA through March 31, 2021, employees would receive an additional 10 weeks beginning on January 1, 2021. If you have additional questions regarding this caveat, please contact us directly.

  1. Are any states implementing their own versions of COVID-19 employee leave policies that must still be followed after December 31, 2020?

Answer: The following states have implemented with specific COVID-19 employee leave laws and/or guidance. If you employ employees in these states, please consult with your employment counsel to discuss requirements under these state laws. Please also be advised that a number of large cities within these states have also implemented their own COVD-19 employee leave laws and/or guidance.

Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico (Bernalillo County only), New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas (Austin, Dallas, San Antonio only), Vermont, Washington, Washington D.C.

For questions, please contact Jeffrey Miller at jcmiller@bmdllc.com or 216.658.2323 or Bryan Meek at bmeek@bmdllc.com or 330.253.5586, or contact any member of the BMD Employment & Labor Law Practice Group.

New York, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Delaware Become the latest States to Adopt Full Practice Authority for Nurse Practitioners

While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly created many obstacles and hardships, it also created many opportunities to try doing things differently. This can be seen in the instant rise of remote work opportunities, telehealth visits, and virtual meetings. Many States took the challenges of the pandemic and turned them into an opportunity to adjust the regulations governing licensed professionals, including for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

Explosive Growth in Pot of Gold Opportunity for Bank (and Other) Cannabis Lenders Driving Erosion of the Barriers

Our original article on bank lending to the cannabis industry anticipated that the convergence of interest between banks and the cannabis industry would draw more and larger banks to the industry. Banks were awash in liquidity with limited deployment options, while bankable cannabis businesses had rapidly growing needs for more and lower cost credit. Since then, the pot of gold opportunity for banks to lend into the cannabis industry has grown exponentially due to a combination of market constraints on equity causing a dramatic shift to debt and the ever-increasing capital needs of one of the country’s fastest growing industries. At the same time, hurdles to entry of new banks are being systematically cleared as the yellow brick road to the cannabis industry’s access to the financial markets is being paved, brick by brick, by the progressively increasing number and size of banks that are now entering the market.

2021 EEOC Charge Statistics: Retaliation & Impact of Remote Work

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its detailed information on workplace discrimination charges it received in 2021. Unsurprisingly, for the second year in a row, the total number of charges decreased as COVID-19 either shut down workplaces or disconnected employees from each other. In 2021, the agency received a total of approximately 61,000 workplace discrimination charges - the fewest in 25 years by a wide margin. For reference, the agency received over 67,000 charges in 2020, and averaged almost 90,000 charges per year over the previous 10 years.

Ohio’s Managed Care Overhaul Delayed – New Implementation Timeline

At the direction of Governor Mike DeWine, the Ohio Department of Medicaid (ODM) launched the Medicaid Managed Care Procurement process in 2019. ODM’s stated vision for the procurement was to focus on people and not just the business of managed care. This is the first structural change to Ohio’s managed care system since the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' (CMS) approval of Ohio’s Medicaid program in 2005. Initially, all of the new managed care programs were supposed to be implemented starting on July 1, 2022. However, ODM Director Maureen Corcoran recently confirmed that this date will be pushed back for several managed care-related programs.

Laboratory Specimen Collection Arrangements with Contract Hospitals - OIG Advisory Opinion 22-09

On April 28, 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) published an Advisory Opinion[1] in which it evaluated a proposed arrangement where a network of clinical laboratories (the “Requestor”) would compensate hospitals (each a “Contract Hospital”) for specimen collection, processing, and handling services (“Collection Services”) for laboratory tests furnished by the Requestor (the “Proposed Arrangement”). The OIG concluded that the Proposed Arrangement would generate prohibited remuneration under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) if the requisite intent were present. This is due to both the possibility that the proposed per-patient-encounter fee would be used to induce or reward referrals to Requestor and the associated risk of improperly steering patients to Requestor.