On March 18 — after it was introduced on March 11, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 14 and by the Senate on March 18 — President Donald Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into law. The bill provides paid sick leave requirements and paid family leave requirements to workers affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The law goes into effect on April 1 and will sunset at the end of the year unless renewed. The official description of the bill can be found here.
Here are five things horticulture industry professionals should know about the law and how it could affect them. Business owners seeking specific information about their businesses should seek out their own accounting and legal advice, and reach out to AmericanHort directly.
1. The bill is designed for businesses with 500 or fewer employees and does not mandate larger employers like Amazon or Walmart to give any other additional leave. According to webinar Chris Schulte, a lawyer at AmericanHort partner CJ Lake, this is the opposite design of the Affordable Care Act, which put requirements in place for larger businesses. The total number of employees does include any seasonal employees.
There is also a small business exemption for businesses with 50 or fewer employees that can show complying with the law would put the business in financial jeopardy.
“They are not trying to put people out of business with this,” Schulte said.
2. The paid sick leave requirement is triggered by the following:
quarantine or isolation order
doctor orders to self-quarantine
experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking diagnosis
caring for a quarantined individual (not limited to family)
caring for child whose school/daycare is closed or experiencing other substantially-similar conditions as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with Department of Labor and the U.S. Treasury
If triggered, employers must provide wages for two weeks (up to 80 hours) at the regular rate of pay. The maximum pay for this is $511 per day or a maximum of $5,110 per worker.
3. The paid family leave requirement is triggered when a worker needs to care for someone who has been quarantined. That calls for two-thirds the rate of pay with up to 10 weeks additional pay to care for a child who has had a school or daycare closure causing them to be at home. This form calls for $200 a day with a $2,000 or $10,000 max depending on the duration of the leave.
4. This law does not change any of the current family leave laws in place at the federal level or state level. Workers who have been on payroll for at least 30 days are eligible for the family leave. Guidelines for all forms of leave are still being entirely ironed out by the Department of Labor, which will be enforcing the law.
For part time employees, the following rules apply:
According to Beth Swanson, a lawyer at AmericanHort partner K-Coe Iscom, any wages for either leave option can be claimed as a tax credit. The exact process for this has yet to be determined by the IRS, but clarity is expected soon.