On March 18, 2020, President Donald Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA”), which took effect on April 1, 2020, and expired on December 31, 2020. Among other things, the FFCRA sought to assist both employees and employers affected by COVID-19. Specifically for employees, the FFCRA introduced the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (the “Emergency Pay Act”), which guaranteed employees paid sick leave when dealing with health issues related to COVID-19. While the FFCRA may have expired, we are still seeing litigation cases arising out of events that occurred prior to the expiration date.
Who Is Covered Under the Emergency Pay Act Cover?
From April 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020, a covered employer was required to provide its employees paid sick time if they were unable to work—or telework—due to a need for leave because one of the following reasons:
- The employee was subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
- The employee had been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
- The employee was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis;
- The employee was caring for an individual who was subject to an order as described in parts (1) or (2);
- The employee was caring for a child if the school or place of care had been closed, or the child care provider was unable to work; or
- The employee was experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Labor and Human Services.
Litigation Brought for Violations of the Emergency Pay Act
A federal district court in the Northern District of Alabama (“the court”), recently permitted an employee to move forward with claims against his former employer for violations of the Emergency Pay Act.
The employee filed a complaint alleging that the employer:
- Denied him paid sick leave;
- Retaliated against him because he took off work to provide care to his spouse and children; and
- Terminated his employment to avoid providing him with paid sick leave.
The former employer moved to dismiss the employee’s complaint, arguing that the employee did not plead sufficient facts to demonstrate that he satisfactorily complied with the regulatory notice requirements for the Emergency Pay Act.
The court disagreed with the company and found that the former employee pled sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for violation of the Emergency Pay Act. In denying the employer’s motion to dismiss, the court noted that it could reasonably infer that the employee properly notified the employer that his request for leave fell under the Emergency Pay Act, because the employer paid the employee some of his owed sick leave benefits.
The court found that the former employee alleged that the employer knew:
- His name;
- That he needed to take leave for some period of time; and
- The reason he need to take leave, which included caring for his children.
The Emergency Pay Act regulations did not establish strict notice requirements, but rather afforded employees flexibility to provide notice of the need for leave “as soon as practicable.” Thus, the Court held that it would not hold the employee to strictly pleading specific notice requirements.
Retaliation Claims Under the Emergency Pay Act
Similarly, the Court found that the employee pled sufficient facts supporting a retaliation claim under the Emergency Pay Act. The Court found that the employee alleged that he engaged in protected activity by requesting and taking protected leave, and that that the employer terminated him three (3) days after he took one (1) day of leave.
Thus, the Court denied the employer’s motion to dismiss, thereby permitting the employee to continue in litigation with the Emergency Pay Act claims. This will likely not be the last litigation brought forth pursuant to the FFCRA.
Protect Your Right to Leave
If you feel your rights under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act were violated during the applicable time, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King.