How to Qualify for Paid Leave If Schools Close Again

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As students prepare for a return to in-person classes—or a hybrid of in-person and remote learning options—one question lingers on nearly every parent’s mind: What happens if schools and daycares shut down? Many parents worry about how to balance their jobs and childcare if schools shift to online only.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been new legislation to support families since the spring—but there are a couple of federal laws that may offer some relief. Here’s what working parents should know about paid leave.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in March, which offers two paid leave options to support families amid the pandemic. These rules are effective from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

Shortly after, the Department of Labor (DOL) published its Final Rule, which offers the most comprehensive guidelines on who qualifies for paid leave, according to the American Bar Association. Here’s a closer look at who may qualify for paid leave under federal law.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA)

This rule may allow you to take two weeks (up to 80 hours) of emergency paid sick leave at two-thirds of your income (up to $200 per day). CNBC reports you may qualify if you can’t work because you need to care for a child whose school or daycare closed for COVID-19 reasons.

According to the DOL, you may also qualify if you can’t work because of a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order. The same applies if your healthcare provider recommends a self-quarantine or if you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms and waiting for test results.

The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA)

The second option, The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, amends part of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law allows some employees to take up to twelve weeks—ten of which are paid—of family and medical leave related to the coronavirus. To qualify, you must be employed at an eligible company 30 days before the paid leave starts.

Ogletree Deakins—a national law firm specializing in labor and employment—covers some of the frequently asked questions about both rules. Their website includes some details on who may qualify for EFMLEA.

According to Ogletree Deakins, there can’t be another “suitable person” to care for your son or daughter during the paid leave period—and the IRS may need documentation to explain “special circumstances” if your child is over the age of 14.

Other things to know: With your company’s permission, it may be possible to take these ten weeks of paid leave intermittently—and if you have already taken time off over the past year under FMLA, this will reduce how much time you have left.

Which companies are exempt from EPSLA or EFMLEA

Unfortunately, not everyone will qualify for federal paid leave. Companies with more than 500 employees and some public employees may be exempt from these new rules. Small employers (including religious and non-profit organizations) with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption if following the rules would “jeopardize the viability of the business.” Some health care providers and emergency workers may also be excluded. This leaves out up to 106 million workers, according to the Center for American Progress, but if you think you qualify, speak directly with your employer about your options.

Explore your state and local paid leave laws

Even if your company is exempt from federal EPSLA or EFMLEA rules, you should check out your state and local protections. Some places have already adopted—or may adopt—state or local paid sick leave programs.

Ogletree Deakins has created an in-depth guide to state and local paid leave laws. This guide offers a breakdown of local eligibility, verification, benefits, and exemptions, along with a link to your laws. (You can also scroll down to the bottom for a handy chart.)