What Employees Need to Know About the $900 Billion COVID-19 Relief Package

The $900 billion COVID pandemic relief package passed as part of the broader Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, includes some very important details relevant to employment and the workplace. Michelman & Robinson, LLP highlights what employers need to know.

FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) Leave

Under the new relief legislation, employers will no longer be required to provide FFCRA leave (both emergency paid sick leave and extended FMLA leave) as of January 1, 2021. This is a big deal as the pandemic continues to rage on and many employers have employees who are currently on FFCRA leave.

Beginning on January 1, employers can voluntarily choose to continue providing FFCRA leave on their own accord, in which case companies can avail themselves of the tax credit for the leave through March 31. That being said, employers must be mindful to properly roll out any voluntary continuation of leave benefits so as to avoid potential discriminatory implications. Of course, employers electing to cut off FMLA leave under the FFCRA should first consult with counsel.

Of note, the relief package awaiting President Trump’s signature does not expand the amount of leave available to employees under the FFCRA. As such, employers cannot claim the tax credit for employees who have already utilized all of their FFCRA leave entitlement.

Unemployment Programs

The relief bill extends the Federal Unemployment Compensation Program, but reduces supplemental weekly benefits so that individuals who are unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits will now be entitled to an additional $300 (previously $600) for each week of unemployment between December 26, 2020 and March 14, 2021.

In addition, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation is extended as well, providing additional weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to individuals who exhaust their regular state benefits (to March 14, 2021). Likewise, the maximum number of weeks an individual may claim these unemployment benefits is set at 50.

Significantly, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance includes expanded coverage for the self-employed, gig workers, and others in non-traditional employment, until March 14, 2021. After March 14, new claimants will no longer be permitted to apply for PUA benefits, but eligible individuals who were receiving PUA benefits as of that date will continue to receive benefits until April 5. And like PEUC (referenced above), the duration of PUA benefits for eligible individuals will now be 50 weeks.

Finally, the relief package provides an additional subsidy of $100/week for workers having both wage and self-employment income, but whose basic unemployment benefits do not take self-employment income into account.

Employer Liability

Despite early indications to the contrary, the relief bill presented to President Trump does not include liability shields for employers facing potential state law claims related to COVID-19, or other cases involving the novel coronavirus brought pursuant to a variety of federal employment and labor laws.

As always, the Employment Practice Group at M&R is here to answer your employment-related questions, including those regarding COVID-19 relief.

This blog post is not offered, and should not be relied on, as legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.