Understanding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act



Updated 4/16/2020 8:41 AM

Since COVID-19, it's no longer business as usual. As a result, business law is looking at compliance and other critical issues related to the coronavirus, including new legislation such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

Focusing on FFCRA


The FFCRA creates new emergency paid sick leave and paid FMLA obligations for private employers with fewer than 500 employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The FFCRA took effect on April 1 and will expire on Dec. 31.

Emergency paid sick leave 

The emergency paid sick leave provisions require that covered employers provide up to two weeks of paid sick leave for employees. The emergency leave is in addition to any paid leave provided by employers. Specifically, covered employers are required to provide paid sick leave if the employee is unable to work or work remotely because of his or her own COVID-19 related illness or quarantine. 

Under these circumstances, the employee is entitled to receive his or her regular rate of pay, but the amount is capped at $511/day ($5,110 total).

However, when caring for an individual affected by COVID-19 or for children whose schools have closed, sick leave is paid at two-thirds the employee's regular rate. Under these circumstances, the benefit is limited to $200/day ($2,000 total).

It's important to note that any paid leave provided before the law was enacted cannot be credited against the employee's paid leave entitlement. In addition, hours cannot be carried over after Dec. 31.

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Emergency FMLA expansion

The emergency paid family provisions under the FFCRA amend the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and require employers to provide paid benefits in certain situations.

Covered employers are required to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for a qualifying need. A qualifying need includes an employee who is unable to work (or work remotely) due to the fact the employee needs to care for their children because the school or child care provider is unavailable due to the public health emergency. This applies to any full-time or part-time employee that has been on the employer's payroll for 30 days, prior to taking the leave.

NOTE: This is a significant departure from the FMLA's usual requirement that the employee work for the employer for 12 months and 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to taking leave.

The first two weeks of leave may be unpaid, but the employee has the option to substitute available paid leave. After two weeks of unpaid leave, employees are entitled to ten weeks of job-protected leave at two-thirds their regular rate of pay.


The cap of this entitlement is $200/day ($10,000 total). The regular rate is determined using the total earnings divided by the number of hours worked for the six months prior to taking the leave.

COVID-related legislation was quickly enacted, and further guidance continues to ensure compliance. MRA recommends businesses consult with their legal advisers, financial planners, and other qualified resources. A COVID-19 dedicated resource page is available on the MRA website at https://www.mranet.org/covid-19-updates.

• Michael Hyatt is HR government affairs director at MRA -- The Management Association.

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