Congress Sends COVID-19 Response Bill to President, Implications for U.S. Metalcasters

Update: The President signed this legislation into law the evening of March 18. Leave provisions will go into effect April 2.

The Senate approved a multibillion-dollar emergency aid package on Wednesday, March 18, to provide up to 12 weeks of paid sick and family leave for workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees, unemployment benefits, free coronavirus testing, and food and medical aid to people suffering from the results of the coronavirus pandemic. The package passed by a vote of 90-8.

The bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201), was previously passed by the House in the early hours of Saturday, March 14, before being altered late Monday, March 16. The bill now awaits President Trump’s signature, which is expected later today or tomorrow, as he has already publicly supported the bill. Once he signs the bill, it will become effective in 15 days.

The new paid sick and family leave requirement affects the majority of U.S. metalcasters. AFS is hosting a COVID-19 webinar on Thursday, March 19 at 1 pm CT/ 2 pm ET which will provide an overview of these requirements. You can register by clicking here.

Of particular interest to U.S metalcasters are the following two sections of the bill relating to employees being forced to miss work because of the COVID-19 outbreak: an emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and a new federal paid sick leave law. Here is an overview of these key changes:

Family and Medical Leave: The bill requires that employers, with under 500 employees, provide paid leave for an employee who is “unable to work (or telework) because of a need to care for a dependent whose school or place of care has been closed due to COVID-19.”

Employers must pay employees who have elected to take this protected “emergency” leave an amount equal to two-thirds of the employee’s average pay rate. The first 10 days for which an employee takes the “emergency” FMLA leave may consist of unpaid leave, but an employee may choose to use any accrued regular leave during that time or the newly mandated emergency sick leave (described below). The employer must then provide paid leave for remainder of emergency FMLA leave up to 10 weeks with a cap of $200 per day. Employees who have been with the company for at least 30 days would be eligible for this program.

Small Business And Other Exemptions: The bill also gives the Secretary of Labor the authority to issue regulations to exempt some small businesses with fewer than 50 employees (when the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern), and to exclude certain healthcare providers and emergency responders from the list of those employees eligible for leave.

Emergency Sick Leave: H.R. 6201 also establishes a new sick leave program that requires employers to immediately grant paid sick leave to any employee, regardless of tenure with the company, who is unable to work or telework because of one of the following reasons:

• The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;

• The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19;

• The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;

• The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order or has been advised to self-quarantine; or

• The employee is unable to work or telework because of the need to care for a dependent whose school or place of care has been closed as a result of COVID-19.

Full-time employees would be entitled to 80 hours of sick leave; part-time employees are entitled to the number of hours that they work on average over a two-week period. Additionally, the bill contains provisions that would prohibit retaliation against an employee who chooses to use the sick leave. Employers are prohibited from requiring employees to use existing leave or paid time off.

Under these requirements, companies with fewer than 500 employees will have to pay sick leave at either the usual pay rate if the individual is quarantining, diagnosed, or seeking preventative care; or at two-thirds the usual pay rate if the leave is taken to care for a family member or a dependent.

These new requirements on the paid sick and family leave will take effect 15 days after final passage and remain in effect until December 31, 2020.

What’s Next?

Lawmakers and the White House are already drafting another $1 trillion economic stabilization package. This third stimulus package based on a U.S. Treasury Department proposal released on Wednesday, March 18, would potentially include:

• $250 billion in loans for small businesses;

• Two rounds of direct payments of $250 billion each on April 6 and May 18; and,

• $50 billion to aid the hard-hit airline industry, with conditions on executive pay and service requirements.

Notably absent from this package is a payroll tax cut, which President Trump has suggested he wanted to be included in the package. But the idea lost steam in recent days as lawmakers from both parties rejected the idea, citing the need to grant immediate, large-scale relief.

The latest package could be put up for a vote in the coming days. But the details remained far from complete.

AFS is continuing to monitor this situation and has compiled a list of COVID-19 resources for metalcasters. Click here to visit the AFS COVID-19 Resource Page.