How to Avoid COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Penalties

Brian German Labor and Immigration, Regulation

It is important for employers to fully understand what is required under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). A farming operation in Bakersfield was recently ordered to pay nearly $5,500 in back wages after the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division determined an employee was denied benefits under the EPSLA. Partner at Barsamian & Moody Law Firm, Patrick Moody explained that employers need to understand what is expected of them.

paid sick leave - Families First Coronavirus Response Act

“They want to make sure that they have somebody who understands this, so when a situation does arise they’re able to know what it is they’re supposed to do so you don’t end up in trouble like this employer here did down in Southern California,” said Moody. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re complying with the rules and to do that you have to be aware of what the rules are and how they apply when an employee comes in and says ‘hey, I need time off.’”

The maximum amount of paid sick leave that employees are entitled to under FFCRA is 80 hours. There are certain criteria that will need to be met in order to be eligible for the leave time. The amount of time provided through FFCRA is in addition to the three days, or 24 hours, that is provided under California law. “If the employee wants to use their regular California paid sick leave first, they can. If they want to use this emergency paid sick leave first, they can. The employer can’t dictate which one they use,” Moody explained.

The requirements for paid sick leave are further complicated by the provisions related to childcare. An additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave must be provided in an instance where an employee must care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed due to COVID-19. Although Moody explained that employers who have not complied with the paid sick leave requirements are not looking at exorbitant fines and penalties, there is still substantial risk in not adhering to the rules.

“There are plaintiffs’ firms out there who are looking for ways to sue employers over this because the law does put in enforcement provisions that include the ability to recover attorney’s fees,” Moody noted. “So, there are absolutely people out there who are looking for ways to file lawsuits against employers over this. You want to make sure you’re doing the best you can upfront to try and not make mistakes.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West