Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2021
The Illinois Department of Public Health, local health departments, public health partners throughout Illinois, and federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), are responding to an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus called COVID-19 that was first identified in December 2019 during an outbreak in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 has spread throughout the world, including the United States, since it was detected and was declared a public health emergency for the U.S. on January 31, 2020 to aid the nation’s healthcare community in responding to the threat. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced March 11, 2020 that the spread of coronavirus qualified as a global pandemic.
Illinois Governor JB Pritzker issued a disaster proclamation March 9, 2020 regarding COVID-19 that gives the state access to federal and state resources to combat the spread of this newly emerged virus. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported January 21, 2020 and the first confirmed case in Illinois was announced January 24, 2020. The first cases outside Chicago and Cook County were reported on March 11, 2020 in Kane and McHenry counties.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201)
On March 14, 2020, the United States House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act by a 363-40 vote. As of March 15, 2020, the Senate is expected to vote on the bill within the next few days. It is unclear whether the Senate will approve the House bill as passed, reject it, or make modifications to it, which the House would then have to re-approve. The bill contains several provisions that will impact employers. As of March 15, 2020, the leave provisions apply only to employers with fewer than 500 employees likely because the intent of the bill is to focus these immediate measures in the context of relief and aid for small businesses.
Emergency Family Medical Leave (FMLA) Expansion Act
This section of the bill provides employees of private employers with fewer than 500 employees with 12 weeks of job-protected paid Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) leave of which the first 14 days may be unpaid. Employees may use accrued personal or sick leave during the first 14 days. This benefit covers employees who have been working for at least 30 calendar days. Employees may use the leave to respond to quarantine requirements or recommendations, to care for family members who are responding to quarantine requirements or recommendations, and to care for a child whose school has been closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the first 14 days, employers must compensate employees in an amount that is not less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. The provisions will go into effect 15 days after the date of enactment and expire on December 31, 2020.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
This section of the bill provides that private employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide employees with two weeks of paid sick leave, paid at the employee’s regular rate, to quarantine or seek a diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus. The paid sick leave must be paid at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate if taken to care for a family member for the same reasons or to care for a child whose school has closed, or childcare provider is unavailable, due to the coronavirus. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of leave, and part-time employees are entitled to the normal number of hours that they work in a typical two-week period. The bill includes anti-retaliation protections, and generally provides for remedies in line with Fair Labor Standards Act penalties for failure to pay minimum wages. Paid sick time under this section does not carry over from year to year, and these requirements of the bill expire on December 31, 2020.
Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act
The section of the bill provides $1 billion in emergency unemployment insurance (“UI”) relief to the states: $500 million for costs associated with increased administration of each state’s UI program and $500 million held in reserve to assist states with a 10 percent increase in unemployment. Besides the necessary increase in unemployment, in order to receive a portion of this grant money, states should temporarily relax certain UI eligibility requirements, such as waiting periods and work search requirements.
As of March 15, 2020, the Senate has not voted on this bill. The future of the bill and whether the Senate implements any changes, remains unknown. In the meantime, employers should continue to take precautionary measures to protect their employees from COVID-19 and stay informed as to what happens with the bill.
Update: As of March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law.