As students begin to return to school, employers may wonder if the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) allows employees to take time off for school closures. Here, we will address back to school issues and the FFCRA.
For a refresher, the FFCRA allows eligible employees to take emergency leave for school closures under the family and medical leave portion of the law. But how does that work when school is open some days and closed others?
Back to School and the FFCRA
In late August, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) updated its FAQs for back-to-school concerns under the FFCRA. Below are the DOL’s answers to common questions about students returning to school and employee rights under the FFCRA.
Many school districts have opted to stagger when students can be in school. In New York City, with the nation’s largest school district, most students will go to school between one and four days each week, for example.
So, if schools are open every day but only for some students, can employees take paid leave under the FFCRA?
The short answer is yes. Employees can use paid leave when children are learning remotely as long as the employee needs to care for the child during that time and no one else can. The DOL considers the school “closed” during remote learning days.
When Parents Have Options
What if a district allows parents to decide whether their student goes to school in-person or at home? How dues the FFCRA’s paid leave provisions work when a parent opts for remote learning?
The answer here, according to the DOL, is no.
FFCRA leave is not available to take care of a child whose school is open for in-person attendance. If your child is home not because his or her school is closed, but because you have chosen for the child to remain home, you are not entitled to FFCRA paid leave.
Still, should a child need to be under COVID-19-related quarantine due to a civic or health care provider’s order, employee’s may be eligible for paid leave to care for the child.
Uncertain School Future
Of course, the fluctuating nature of the coronavirus means how schools might handle an outbreak is also on the minds of employees.
What happens if the school year starts as usual, but buildings are forced to close because of COVID-19?
In such an instance, would an employee be able to use FFCRA paid leave?
Here, the answer is yes. Employees would be eligible. But if the school reopens, availability of paid leave would depend on the particulars of how the district chooses to do so, which are outlined above.
School getting back in session is but one aspect of the FFCRA employers need to worry about.
Federal officials have continued to offer guidance on the FFCRA as the measure has been implemented across the country. Teleworking concerns, temporary rules, the legality of pay adjustments and enforcement of the FFCRA — among several other provisions of the law — will remain issues for employers through Dec. 31, 2020, when the law expires.
It’s incumbent upon employers to review the law and their own policies. The reopening of school is just another hurdle to overcome as the U.S. battles in the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and its new and updating employment laws.