The COVID-19 epidemic has created situations where employees are not able to work because they tested positive for the virus or have been quarantined as a result of a governmental order. It has also caused parents to miss work because their children’s school has closed due to the outbreak and there is no one to watch the kids. As a result, the federal government is providing sick leave benefits and child care leave benefits to affected taxpayers whose employers have fewer than 500 employees. The way this is being handled is the employer will pay the benefits to the employee and then will be reimbursed by the government.

COVID-19 Sick Leave

To qualify for paid sick leave, an employee (regardless of how long employed by the employer) who is unable to work in person or to telecommute for any of the following reasons qualifies for paid sick leave:

  1. Is subject to a COVID-19 federal, state, or local isolation or quarantine order.
  2. A health care provider advises them that they should self-quarantine as a result of concerns related to COVID-19 (self-quarantining without advice does not qualify).
  3. Is seeking medical diagnosis as a result of having symptoms of COVID-19.
  4. Is caring for somebody (not necessarily a family member) who is subject to a federal, state, or local isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19; or who has been advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider as a result of COVID-19.
  5. A child’s school or care facility has been closed or is unavailable as a result of COVID-19 and the employee needs to care for the child.

The exact definition of what paid sick time comprises is based upon the number of hours that an employee works. For full-time employees, paid sick leave is 80 hours. Those who work part-time will be entitled to the same number of hours of paid sick leave that they would normally work during a two-week period. A special calculation method is used for those who work a significantly different number of hours each week.

Referring to the numbered qualified reasons listed above, the leave pay that is based on reasons 1, 2 and 3 will be paid at the same rate the employee is normally paid, up to a maximum of $511 per day and a total of $5,110. Those who need paid sick leave based on the reasons numbered 4 and 5 will be paid their sick leave hours at a rate equal to two-thirds of their normal pay, with a maximum of $200 per day and a total of $2,000. These sick pay benefits are only available through the end of 2020.

Family Care Leave

Employees are able to take up to 12 weeks of leave if they can’t work (in person or via telework) because of their care responsibilities for a child or children under 18 years of age whose school or care facility has been shuttered as a result of COVID-19. The twelve-week period will provide compensation after the first ten unpaid days (though employees can use accrued paid sick or vacation time to provide payment for those ten days). The compensation will be calculated at two-thirds of the employee’s normal wages for the number of hours that they were regularly scheduled to work, maxing out at $200 per day and a total of $10,000.

Although the law does not require the employer be provided any advance notice, employees should give the employer notice as soon as events permit.

Employers are specifically prohibited from requiring employees to use other accrued paid leave before using these emergency leave benefits.

Employers who pay qualifying sick or child care leave will recoup the payments by being able to retain the income, Social Security and Medicare taxes (payroll taxes) withheld from employees that they would normally submit to the government in an amount equal to the amount of qualifying sick and child care leave that they paid. The employer’s share of Social Security and Medicare taxes are also eligible to be retained. Where the payroll taxes aren’t enough to cover the leave payments, employers may request an accelerated payment from the IRS. The IRS plans to announce details of the accelerated payment procedure before the end of March, 2020.

If you have questions related to these special benefits for 2020 or need additional details, please give our office at 561-826-9303.