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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.

Provider Relief Funds – Continued Confusion Regarding Reporting Requirements and Lost Revenues

In Fall 2020, HHS issued multiple rounds of guidance and FAQs regarding the reporting requirements for the Provider Relief Funds, the most recently published notice being November 2, 2020 and December 11, 2020. Specifically, the reporting portal for the use of the funds in 2020 was scheduled to open on January 15, 2021. Although there was much speculation as to whether this would occur. And, as of the date of this article, the portal was not opened.

Ohio S.B. 310 Loosens Practice Barrier for Advanced Practice Providers

S.B. 310, signed by Ohio Governor DeWine and effective from December 29, 2020 until May 1, 2021, provides flexibility regarding the regulatorily mandated supervision and collaboration agreements for physician assistants, certified nurse-midwives, clinical nurse specialists and certified nurse practitioners working in a hospital or other health care facility. Originally drafted as a bill to distribute federal COVID funding to local subdivisions, the healthcare related provisions were added to help relieve some of the stresses hospitals and other healthcare facilities are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HHS Issues Opinion Regarding Illegal Attempts by Drug Manufacturers to Deny 340B Discounts under Contract Pharmacy Arrangements

The federal 340B discount drug program is a safety net for many federally qualified health centers, disproportionate share hospitals, and other covered entities. This program allows these providers to obtain discount pricing on drugs which in turn allows the providers to better serve their patient populations and provide their patients with access to vital health care services. Over the years, the 340B program has undergone intense scrutiny, particularly by drug manufacturers who are required by federal law to provide the discounted pricing.

S.B. 263 Protects 340B Covered Entities from Predatory Practices in Ohio

Just before the end of calendar year 2020 and at the end of its two-year legislative session, the Ohio General Assembly passed Senate Bill 263, which prohibits insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers (“PBMs”) from imposing on 340B Covered Entities discriminatory pricing and other contract terms. This is a win for safety net providers and the people they serve, as 340B savings are crucial to their ability to provide high quality, affordable programs and services to patients.

DOL Finalizes New Rule Regarding Independent Contractor Status, But Its Future Is In Jeopardy

On January 6, 2021, the Department of Labor announced its final rule regarding independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act. As described in a prior BMD client alert, this new rule was fast-tracked by the Trump administration after its proposal in September 2020. The new rule is set to take effect on March 8, 2021, and contains several key developments related to the "economic reality" test used to determine whether an individual is an independent contractor or an employee under the FLSA.