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We recognize that at least in Georgia, most employees have been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 coronavirus, whether it is by being asked to work from home, being asked to come into work, being laid off or furloughed or having your hours of work reduced. Congress and the State of Georgia have been working hard to provide workers with unprecedented rights and increasing benefits during this pandemic. Because of the speed with which new laws and regulations are being written, and the inability for legislatures and agency heads to consider every contingency of how the new laws and regulations will work, everything is in flux and the directives and explanations of the laws and regulations are being constantly updated. We have been monitoring all of this information and here is what we can tell you right now.

The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act

On March 18, 2020, Congress enacted The Families First Coronavirus Relief Act which has two primary portions that relate to employees: the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA). Both laws give many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off work because of the virus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. Unfortunately the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, those who employ more than 500. Additionally, the law does not go into effect until April 1, 2020.

What type of paid leave does the law offer?

Generally, the Act provides that employees of covered employers are eligible for:

Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or

Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), or to care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor; and

Up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee, who has been employed for at least 30 calendar days, is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

To summarize, the law gives qualified workers two (2) weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members and as a result cannot work although their employer has work for them to perform. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of coronavirus and as a result the employee can neither work or telework and the employer has work available.

Which workers qualify?

Most workers at small and midsize companies and non-profits can get the paid leave, as can government employees, as long as they’ve been employed at least 30 days and as long as the leave is for one of the coronavirus related reasons specified in the statute.

Which workers are excluded?

The problem we see with this new law is that the vast majority of employees are not covered, even though the law only states it excludes those employees working at companies with more than 500 people. Although workers at places with fewer than 50 employees are at first blush included, there is a provision that allows the U.S. Department of Labor to exempt small businesses if providing paid leave would put that small employer out of business. Employers can also decline to give leave to health care providers and emergency responders and others on the front lines of the crisis.

Most importantly, since the law does not go into effect until April 1, anyone who is laid off or terminated prior to then does not fall under the new law. Also, the way we interpret the Act, the new law does not apply to anyone whose employer has closed down or furloughed its employees. Pay can only be for hours the employee is allowed to work, but cannot do the work being offered for one of the specific delineated reasons related to the pandemic.

Finally, the categories of employees entitled to the leave are very specific and may require extensive documentation to qualify, and an employee’s decision to self-quarantine or not work out of fear or concern will not qualify.

Q. Are part-time and self-employed workers eligible?

A. Yes. Part-time workers will be paid the amount they typically earn in a two-week period. People who are self-employed — including gig economy workers like Uber drivers and Instacart shoppers — can also receive paid leave, assuming they pay taxes. They should calculate their average daily self-employment income for the year, then claim the amount they take as a tax credit (they can reduce their estimated quarterly tax payments in the meantime).

Q. How much money do I get while on leave?

A. If you are sick or seeking care for yourself, you earn the full amount you are usually paid, up to a maximum of $511 a day. If you are caring for a sick family member or a child whose school or day care is closed, you earn two-thirds of your usual pay, up to a daily limit of $200.

Q. How do I go about taking leave?

A. The Labor Department must issue guidelines by April 1. In the meantime, the DOL website has a notice to all employees explaining the law. Most likely you will have to complete a request for leave notice to your employer, take the leave and get paid the amount specified by the law.

Q. What if I work at a big company?

A. You can take any sick leave your company already offers. Eighty-nine percent of employees at these companies have paid sick leave, but rarely as long as two weeks, and low-wage workers are least likely to have it. (Some big companies, like Walmart and Target, have added paid sick leave for coronavirus.) Under the original FMLA, you’re eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave, as long as your company has at least 50 employees; you’ve worked there for a year; and you meet other qualifications.

Q. Is the paid leave permanent?

A. No. It’s meant as a response to the COVID-19 coronavirus, and expires Dec. 31.

Q. Is the government going to give workers other aid?

A. Yes. This package included other types of aid, including unemployment benefits, free coronavirus testing and food and medical aid. In addition, currently the House of Representatives is set to vote today on a bill passed by the Senate that provides $2 trillion in direct payments to American taxpayers and to small businesses, as well as money to the states for unemployment benefits.

Emergency Changes To Georgia Unemployment In Response To COVID-19

The Georgia Department of Labor announced last week that it passed emergency rules regarding partial unemployment claims and shifted Career Center registration from in-person to online. The rule will remain in effect for 120 days or until the agency proposes or adopts a subsequent rule.

On March 16, the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) announced new requirements for employers filing partial unemployment claims. Under Emergency Rule 300-2-4-0.5, containing Rule 300-2-4-.09(1), impacting all partial claims filed on or after March 15, 2020:

  • All partial claims must be filed by employers online in the Employer Portal;
  • All employers must file partial claims with respect to any week during which an employee (full-time/part-time) works less than full-time due to a partial or total company shutdown caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency; and
  • Any employer found to be in violation must pay to the Commissioner the full amount of benefits paid to the employee.

Yesterday Governor Brian Kemp and the state’s labor commissioner announced an expansion to the state’s unemployment insurance program. A new emergency rule extends the time Georgians can receive unemployment from 14 weeks to 26 weeks, which is the longest allowed under federal law.

Another new rule allows Georgians who are laid off and earning $300 or less weekly in a new, part-time job to continue receiving full unemployment benefits.

The changes come amid an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims. The state expects even more claims in the coming weeks, surpassing the number of claims filed during the recession in 2008 and 2009.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act

Today, the House of Representatives is poised to pass a $2 trillion stimulus package that was passed unanimously by the Senate earlier this week. The President is set to sign the bill into law before the day is done. Dubbed the largest stimulus bill ever passed, the legislation is really an attempt to rescue businesses and individuals reeling from the double- whammy of the COCID-19 coronavirus and a shut down economy. The bill plans to extend unemployment insurance, provide direct payments to Americans, provide loans to businesses, provide funds to hospitals, state and local governments, and provide loans to specific industries with strings attached. The centerpiece of CARES would allow small- and medium-sized businesses to receive federal loans – in some cases forgivable – to cover payroll and other expenses. It also expands unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the outbreak, while extending unemployment eligibility to many who are otherwise not regularly entitled to receive such benefits.

The new bill would cover far more workers than are usually eligible for unemployment benefits, including self-employed people and part-time workers. The bottom-line: Those who are unemployed, are partly unemployed or cannot work for a wide variety of coronavirus-related reasons would be more likely to receive benefits. The bill will substantially expand jobless aid by providing an additional 13 weeks and adding up to $600 per week on top of the usual payment.

The bill would also provide for direct payments from the federal government to taxpayers. Most adults would get $1,200, although some would get less. Single adults who have an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or less would get the full amount. Married couples with no children earning $150,000 or less would receive a total of $2,400. And taxpayers filing as head of household would get the full payment if they earned $112,500 or less. For every child age 16 or under, the payment would be an additional $500.

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