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The American Rescue Plan Act Part 1: Expanded Qualifying Reasons for Paid Leave

 lawyer signing legal document and agreement with court background. wide view.Employers should be aware of a number of key provisions under Biden’s new stimulus bill, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). I’ve provided summaries of some of the most significant in this three-part series: 1) expanded qualifying reasons for paid sick and emergency family leave; 2) expanded tax credits; and 3) changes to COBRA affecting notices, terminations, and severance agreements. In this three-part series, I will cover the aforementioned provisions. 

ARPA’s Expanded Qualifying Reasons for Paid Sick and Emergency Family Leave

As you may recall, FFCRA mandated both paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave to employees for specific COVID-19 related reasons. Though the leave has not been mandatory since December 31, 2021, it has now been continued as permissive with accompanying tax credits by ARPA through September 31, 2021.

First, under FFCRA’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, an employee was entitled to paid leave if he or she was “experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and seeking a diagnosis.” The requirement that employees be experiencing symptoms effectively excluded employees who were exposed to COVID-19 but asymptomatic. ARPA modifies this eligibility category to eliminate the reference to COVID-19 symptoms and instead allows leave when an employee is “seeking or awaiting the result of a COVID-19 test or diagnosis when the employee has either been exposed to COVID-19, or the employer has requested the test or diagnosis.”

Also, an employee is now eligible if they are taking leave in connection with “obtaining immunization related to COVID-19 or recovering from any injury, disability, illness or condition related to such immunization.” This is significant as this now provides qualifying employers a way to get tax credit reimbursement for giving their employees time to get vaccinated or if they experience an adverse reaction from the vaccine. In some states and cities, like New York and Philadelphia, employers are required to provide this anyway. Now, there is an avenue for reimbursement. (1) obtaining a COVID-19 immunization; (2) recovering from an injury, disability, illness, or condition related to the immunization (i.e., side effects of the vaccine) or (3)

With respect to the portion of FFCRA covering Emergency Family and Medical Leave, leave was previously available only in connection with an employee’s inability to work or telework due to a COVID-19-related closure of a son or daughter’s school or place of care. Now, this leave may be taken for the original EFMLA qualifying reason and for any of the EPSL qualifying reasons. This significantly expands the qualifying reasons and thus the amount of paid leave that employees may take.

Best Practice Tip: Review your sick leave policy and consider creating a separate COVID-19 sick leave policy. Ensure that you have outside counsel who understands the federal, state, and local laws that are applicable to your business so that you’re not only providing what is legally necessary but being reimbursed where possible.


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