FFCRA Enforcement – DOL Investigating Employers for Denying COVID-19 Sick Leave

By Alyssa Levy

On April 23, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a News Release about an Arizona employer who declined to pay sick leave benefits to an employee quarantined on doctor’s orders and who was ultimately made to pay full wages. The employer disputed the legitimacy of the quarantine order issued by a foreign doctor.  Following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, the employer paid the employee’s full wages for 80 hours of sick leave.  

Paid sick leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act of the FFCRA is not an optional benefit for employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide their employees. All such employees are eligible for Paid Sick Leave. Employees who have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19 are specifically entitled to up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at 100% of their regular rate up to a maximum of $511 per day. Paid sick leave is available for other reasons too. 

Employers beware.  Even if there is doubt as to whether the requested paid sick leave is related to COVID-19, the Department of Labor’s intolerance of ignoring the FFCRA’s requirements may invite an investigation. Although this Arizona employer reached a reasonable conciliation agreement, it is not advisable to test the limits of repercussions in these uncharted waters. The Department of Labor’s temporary period of non-enforcement of the FFCRA is over.

In the end, is it worth the fight? An employer may obtain dollar-for-dollar tax credits for wages paid under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act.