Included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, were provisions allowing many federal employees access to up to 600 hours paid emergency leave for coronavirus-related reasons. The emergency leave is similar to the former emergency paid sick leave provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), but with some notable differences.
The first difference worth noting is the amount of paid leave allowed for qualifying federal employees. Prior to its expiration on December 31, 2020, the emergency paid sick leave provision in the FFCRA allowed many federal employees up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid leave for qualifying coronavirus-related circumstances. While 80 hours of leave certainly can be helpful when treating, recovering from, or caring for an individual diagnosed with COVID-19, in more severe cases, it did not seem like a sufficient amount of leave was being afforded to federal employees who were suffering long-term consequences from the virus. The emergency leave provision in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allows up to 600 hours (or 15 40-hour weeks) of paid leave to many full-time federal employees for qualifying circumstances.
With the amount of potential leave increasing dramatically from the leave available under the FFCRA, one caveat employees may want to take into consideration, especially when using a substantial amount of the emergency leave, is that any emergency leave used by an employee will proportionally reduce the employee’s total service time used to calculate any federal civilian retirement benefit. In other words, the emergency paid leave received by an employee under the act does not count as creditable service in calculating the employee’s service time for purposes of retirement benefits.
Many of the qualifying reasons for being permitted emergency paid leave under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 are similar – if not identical – to the qualifying reasons for previously being allowed emergency paid leave under the FFCRA. For example, employees can qualify for the emergency paid leave if they:
- Are subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
- Have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
- Are caring for someone who is subject to a self-quarantine order or who was advised to self-quarantine;
- Are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
- Are experiencing any other substantially similar condition.
The emergency paid leave available under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is also available for qualifying federal employees whose work is affected by childcare issues due to the ongoing pandemic. This provision is similar to what was available under the FFCRA, but the new act includes a discussion of virtual learning and hybrid learning approaches utilized by schools – methods of instruction that were likely too new and too mysterious to have been included in last year’s FFCRA. Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, emergency paid leave is available to eligible employees who are caring for a child whose school or place of care has been closed; if the school requires or makes optional a virtual learning instruction model or requires or makes optional a hybrid, in-person and virtual learning instruction model; or if the childcare provider is unavailable to due COVID-19 precautions.
A new but important consideration included in the emergency paid leave provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that was not explicitly laid out in the FFCRA is that emergency leave is also available for qualifying employees who are caring for a family member with a mental or physical disability or who is 55 years of age or older and incapable of self-care, without regard to whether another individual is available to care for the family member, if the family member’s place of care is closed or the direct care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.
One notable addition to the list of qualifying reasons for being authorized emergency paid leave under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is that employees can receive the emergency paid leave in order to obtain immunization related to COVID-19 or if the employee is recovering from an injury, disability, illness, or condition related to the immunization.
The emergency paid leave under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is available from March 11, 2021 through September 30, 2021.