Parents across the nation have spent the summer worrying and wondering about what the new school year will look like as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. This trepidation includes questions about how working parents will handle their employment responsibilities if their kids cannot attend school some or all of the time. In an attempt to address some of these concerns, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently provided guidance for parents about their family and medical leave rights under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
School districts have adopted a range of strategies and approaches for how they will teach students in this uncertain time. Many have decided to keep students home and learning remotely, as almost all schools did in the spring. Others have adopted “hybrid” models in which students can or must attend classes in-person on some, but not all days of the school week. Others give parents the option of choosing between remote and in-person attendance. All of these approaches mean that kids may be at home at least some of the time they would have otherwise been at school.
Paid and Unpaid Leave Under the FFCRA
The FFCRA established a new type of approved and protected leave under the FMLA: public health emergency leave related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pursuant to the FFCRA, certain employees (generally, those at companies with fewer than 500 employees) can take up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of expanded family and medical leave, 10 of which are paid, for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Employers cannot retaliate against workers who legitimately exercise their right to FFCRA leave.
One of the reasons an employee may take this expanded leave is “because of a need to care for the employee’s son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons.”
FFCRA Leave Rights Under Remote, Hybrid, and Opt-Out School Models
The DOL’s new FAQs address parental leave rights under the three main models (other than mandatory in-person attendance) that schools have adopted.
- All Remote Learning: Parents are eligible to take paid leave under the FFCRA while their child’s school remains closed. If the child’s school reopens, the availability of paid leave under the FFCRA “will depend on the particulars of the school’s operations,” according to the DOL.
- Hybrid/Alternate-Day Learning: A parent is eligible to take paid leave on days when their child is not permitted to attend school in person and must instead engage in remote learning, as long as the parent needs the leave to actually care for their child during that time and only if no other suitable person is available to do so.
- Optional In-Person Learning. When a school gives a parent the option of having their child attend in-person classes or attend remotely, that school is “open.” Therefore, the parent is not entitled to take leave under the FFCRA if they choose to keep their child home. However, if a child is under a quarantine order or has been advised by a health care provider to self-isolate or self-quarantine because of COVID-19, the parent may be eligible to take paid leave to care for their child.
Contact Kreis Enderle With Your COVID-19 Employment And Leave Questions
If you have questions about employment issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including leave rights under the FFCRA, the employment law attorneys at Kreis Enderle are here to provide you with answers.