DOL Announces Revisions to FFCRA That Will Seriously Impact Healthcare Providers
On September 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) announced revisions to regulations that implement the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
Most significantly, the revised rule will require healthcare providers to provide FFCRA protected/paid leave to a broader range of employees than previously believed. The revisions also clarify other employers' responsibilities regarding FFCRA paid leave.
The revisions were issued in response to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York's August 3, 2020, decision invalidating portions of the FFCRA regulations and are slated to go into effect on September 16, 2020.
In short, the revisions:
1.) Health Care Provider Definition Narrowed:
The FFCRA permits employers to exclude "health care providers" from the Act's leave benefit provisions. The DOL initially defined the term broadly, excluding from FFCRA coverage "anyone employed at any doctor's office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, employer, or entity." as well as any individual employed by an entity that contracts with any of these institutions, as well as anyone employed by any entity that provides medical services, produces medical products, or is otherwise involved in the making of COVID-19 related medical supplies.
The New York Federal Court struck down this definition as too expansive. In response, the DOL has narrowed the exclusion to essentially track the definition provided in 29 CFR 825.102. Generally, this only includes those individuals capable of providing health care services, which include "diagnostic services, preventive services, treatment services, or other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provision of patient care," or otherwise meet the definition of the term found in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA definition includes "doctors of medicine or osteopathy" authorized to practice in their state or other medical professionals such as podiatrists, dentists, clinical psychologists, optometrists, many chiropractors, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, clinical social workers, physician assistants, and other similar professionals.
Under the new rule, employers may also elect to exempt nurses, nurse assistants, medical technicians, and laboratory technicians who process test results as health care providers.
The revision also offers guidance on the type of employee who may not be exempted as a healthcare provider: information technology (IT) professionals, building maintenance staff, human resources personnel, cooks, food service workers, records managers, consultants, and billers. The revised rule states that while the services provided by these employees may be related to patient care - e.g., an IT professional may enable a hospital to maintain accurate patient records - they are too attenuated to be integrated and necessary components of patient care.
2.) Work Availability Reaffirmed. This revision reaffirms that paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave may be taken only if the employee has work available from which to take leave. In other words, if there is no work available, the employee is not entitled to protected leave. This applies to all qualifying reasons for paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave.
3.) Employer Permission Still Required for Intermittent Leave. The revision confirms that an employee must obtain employer permission in order to take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave intermittently under Section 825.50. If the employer refuses to approve the request, leave may not be taken intermittently.
4.) Documentation Timing Clarified. Initially, the DOL indicated that employees must provide the required documentation prior to taking leave. The revision clarifies this point, and establishes that employees must merely provide required documentation as soon as practicable.