Archive for COVID19

American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Provides up to 600 Hours Paid Emergency Leave

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.

Actions Taken to Repair Federal Labor-Management Relations in President Biden’s First Week in Office

It has been less than a week since President Joe Biden took the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, but the new administration has wasted no time in making efforts to repair damaged labor-management relations in the federal workforce.

On Day 1, President Biden issued an “Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”  In addition to revoking former President Trump’s Executive Order 13950, the new Executive Order directs federal agencies to assess various existing policies and programs for potential “barriers” to underserved communities and individuals and to create plans for addressing and overcoming such barriers.

Also on Day 1, President Biden issued an “Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing.”  In an effort to crack down on community transmission of the COVID-19 virus, the new EO requires individuals in federal buildings and on federal property to wear masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to CDC guidelines on the coronavirus pandemic. The EO also requires the heads of the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, and the General Services Administration to “promptly issue guidance to assist heads of agencies with implementation” of the EO.

President Biden also made the first welcome change to the composition of the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), elevating Member Ernest DuBester to the position of FLRA Chairman.  It is expected that in the not-so-distant future, President Biden will also appoint a replacement to Member James Abbott, who is currently serving in a holdover status.

Then, on Friday, January 22, President Biden issued perhaps the most eagerly anticipated Executive Order among federal labor rights advocates.  In an “Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce,” President Biden revoked former President Trump’s Schedule F Executive Order (EO 13957) and revoked Trump’s three civil service reform executive orders (EOs 13836, 13837, and 13839) that have been crippling the rights and abilities of federal Unions ever since they came into existence. For agencies that had already taken action to implement the now-revoked EOs, those agencies “shall, as soon as practicable, suspend, revise, or rescind, or publish for notice and comment proposed rules suspending, revising, or rescinding, the actions….”  President Biden’s EO also restored collective bargaining over permissive topics when contracts are up for negotiation.