The FFCRA helps curb the virus spread

This positive effect may support an extension of the law.

Posted November 5, 2020

One of the purposes of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Remember, this law was promulgated back in March, when many areas were enacting stay-at-home orders and the spread was not as robust as it is now. The law currently expires on December 31, 2020.

To help accomplish its goal, the law provides a financial safety net for employees to stay home when issues related to the COVID-19 virus strike. With fewer people at work, particularly for certain reasons, the law appears to have met its goal at helping to reduce the contagion.

A recent study from Health Affairs indicates that the FFCRA resulted in about 400 fewer new cases per day. The greatest effects stem from the 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave employees may take if they:

  1. Are subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order;
  2. Have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to the virus;
  3. Are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical diagnosis from a health care provider;
  4. Are caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine/isolation order or is medically advised to self-quarantine
  5. Are caring for a child whose school/daycare is closed or childcare provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID–19; or
  6. Have a substantially similar condition.

Employees have only one shot at those 80 hours of leave, so if they have a subsequent need for leave, they must turn to other policies, if available. It’s common knowledge that, without paid sick leave, employees are more likely to go to work sick, often spreading a contagious disease. This is true in relation to the flu, and it is also true in relation with the COVID-19 virus. Remember, many individuals have no symptoms, so screening employees is not foolproof.

For many years Congress has been debating potential paid employee leave laws such as the Healthy Families Act, but nothing made it across the finish line. But when the pandemic hit, members of Congress got busy and — with strong bipartisan support — enacted the FFCRA, which included paid leave, in part to help stem the infection rate. Perhaps the passage of the FFCRA has broken the federal paid leave dam.

Since the infection rate continues to climb in most of the U.S., the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has extended the health emergency to January 20, 2021. Therefore, allowing the FFCRA to expire as scheduled could result in yet more cases and subsequent deaths. Without the financial safety net, employees could be more tempted to go to work, even when infected.

Whether Congress will extend the FFCRA remains to be seen, but good arguments could support such a move.

This article was written by Darlene Clabault of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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