Change, Change, & More Change: COVID Keeps on Giving


After the year we had in 2020, we have all become used change. And 2021 seems to be continuing that tradition.


Recent action in Washington, DC and Tallahassee, Florida, has brought additional changes employers need to be aware of relating to COVID’s impact on benefits, time off and employer liability. Here is a quick snapshot of some of the changes.


Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) has again extended the authorization of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave provisions. Since January 1, 2021, eligible employers could voluntarily provide these FFCRA leave options to employees while still claiming the associated tax credits for the leave. This deadline has now been extended to September 30, 2021. Employers are not required to provide this leave, but if you do, you need to comply with all provisions of the leave and ensure it is not applied in a discriminatory manner where it would favor highly compensated employees, full-time employees or based on the tenure of employees.


Emergency Paid Sick Leave Changes

Beginning April 1, 2021, the number of hours an employee can use for EPSL has been reset. Employers who are voluntarily providing this leave for employees can now provide a new set of 80 hours (10 days of normal hours). If they used their full 80 hours between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, they have a new set of hours. This did not increase the number of hours available if they did not use their hours prior to April 1, 2021.


In addition, reasons for taking EPSL now include getting a COVID-19 vaccine, recovering from side effects from receiving the vaccine, and waiting on a COVID-19 diagnosis. Each of these new reasons are paid at 100% of salary up to $511 per day.


Expanded Family and Medical Leave

The reasons for taking EFML now include all the reasons included for EPSL. The qualified EFML coverage amount is also increased from $10,000 to $12,000 per employee because the ARPA eliminated the requirement that the first two weeks of EFML be unpaid or substituted by EPSL. The rate of coverage is unchanged at 2/3 of pay up to $200 per day.


Don’t forget to update your FFCRA leave request forms to include the new reasons for leave for EPSL and EFML.


COBRA

The ARPA will cover 100% of the cost of COBRA or mini-COBRA premiums through September 30, 2021, for employees and their qualified dependents who lose coverage due to involuntary job loss or reduced work hours. This premium coverage does not apply to those who leave voluntarily or are terminated because of gross misconduct. Also, those eligible for other group health coverage or Medicare are not eligible to receive this subsidy.


There is now also an extended election period for impacted employees as well as additional reporting requirements for employers and employees. If you have not yet done so, contact your COBRA administrator or benefit broker to learn the details of your new responsibilities.


Florida Employer COVID Liability Protection

On March 29, 2021, Florida Governor DeSantis signed into law Senate Bill 72 which provides protections from civil liabilities for businesses that have made a good faith effort to comply with guidance relating to COVID-19.


What does this mean for employers? Continue to make a good faith effort to comply with “authoritative or controlling government-issued health standards and guidance.” If there is an emergency or executive order provided by the state or local government, comply with it. If there are recommendations made by the Department of Health or Centers for Disease Control, make a good faith effort to substantially comply with the guidance. Doing so will help protect employers and allow them to continue to provide gainful employment to their communities. It also means that if you didn’t make a good faith effort to comply and someone has a COVID-19 claim, you may be at risk.


Employers want and need to ensure the health and safety of their employees, customers and visitors. This bill sets out the requirements if someone takes civil action based on a COVID-19 related claim and requires the courts to make certain determinations during the proceedings. Finally, it sets deadlines for filing claims against businesses.


This bill is a win for Florida employers who made a good faith effort to comply with recommendations at the time and protect their employees.


Change is constant. Change is inevitable. Change is important when it comes to providing employees with a safe and healthy work environment. Don’t fight the change. Understand it, communicate it and embrace it. I know…easier said than done.

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