Q: My husband and I have three kids. We are completely confused about something called FFCRA and how that may apply to our family in mid-September when our public school starts. A few questions – 1. Do these benefits only apply to employees of larger companies? Both of our employers are under 200 employees but are located in Massachusetts. 2. We are participating in a hybrid option for our three kids. They will be attending school just 2 days per week. How do we know what benefits apply to us?
A: Your question is timely. The Department of Labor just issued new guidance which addresses hybrid learning, remote learning and when a child is kept home voluntarily.
First, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) likely applies to your situation. I think you are referencing what I call the “school closure” part of the FFCRA. It is more commonly referred to as the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA). I think name EFMLEA is confusing since the regular Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is quite different. The EFMLEA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and an employee is eligible after 30 calendar days of service. As of this moment, the FFCRA expires on December 31, 2020. Since this is a federal law, it would apply to employers within Massachusetts, but also to employers outside of Massachusetts.
The guidance issued this week will likely apply to your situation. If your child (or children) are attending school twice per week, then you would be eligible to take paid leave under the EFMLEA on the days that your child is participating in remote learning and if no other suitable person is able to care for that child on the remote learning days. However, if you choose to have your child participate in remote learning, the paid leave under EFMLEA is not available to you because your child’s school is not “closed” due to COVID-19 related reasons. There may be some circumstances where a health care provider has advised that your child should self-isolate or quarantine, and then you may be eligible for EFMLEA.
In short, if your child’s school is “closed” because of COVID-19, you will likely be eligible for these benefits. Remote learning, without a choice, is also a permissible reason to pursue EFMLEA benefits.
It should be noted that there are two types of leave available under FFCRA. The first one is Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL), which is used for the first 80 hours of leave. For full-time employees this roughly equates to two full-time weeks of leave. The EPSL also covers any related illness, quarantine or self-isolation for the employee.
Finally, the pay associated with EFMLEA is at two-thirds of an employee’s pay, capped at $200 per day or $10,000 in total. The maximum duration of the EFMLEA is 10 weeks.
For more information about the FFCRA, visit https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave.
Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.