Health Care Facility Workers Score Temporary Victory In Attempt to Access Emergency Leave Provisions

September 8, 2020

By: Attorney Matt Carpenter

As the Covid-19 virus continues to wreak havoc on the nation, employees, employers, and state and local governments continue to seek guidance on the federal government's emergency leave programs. 

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires certain employers to offer sick leave and emergency family leave to qualifying employees who are unable to work due to the virus. These leave benefits work in tandem with offsetting tax credits granted to employers. 

In the State of New York vs. Department of Labor ("DOL"), a federal court dealt with challenges to the DOL's interpretation of the two major programs: the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLEA ”) and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”). 

The EFMLEA requires that certain employers provide up to 10 weeks of paid, and 2 weeks unpaid, emergency family and medical leave to eligible employees if the employee is caring for his or her son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

The EPSLA requires that certain employers provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave to employees who need to take leave from work for certain specified reasons related to COVID-19. These reasons may include the following:
the employee or someone the employee is caring for is subject to a government quarantine order or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
the employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking medical attention; or,
the employee is caring for his or her son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed or whose child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

When Congress passed the legislation, it tasked the DOL with certain interpretive and administrative responsibilities. On April 6, 2020, the DOL promulgated a "Final Rule" implementing the law’s provisions. In this case, the  State of New York brought suit claiming that several features of DOL’s Final Rule exceed the agency’s authority under the statute.

The court vacated the sections of the Final Rule that broadly defined exemptions for "healthcare providers," including those allowing employers to deny leave benefits if they didn’t have work available. Thus, if you're a worker at a health care facility but not providing medical care (lab workers, janitors, etc.), these leave benefits may now be available to you. 

The court did not invalidate the baffling carve-out for businesses with 500 or more workers, which remains in effect.  

As of this post, the DOL has not appealed the ruling nor issued a clarifying rule or updated definition consistent with this decision. 

If you're an employee who works at a healthcare facility, you may have the opportunity to seek protections of the EFMLEA and EPSLA previously unavailable to you.

For a consult call CTM Legal Group at 312-818-6700.