MEMBER ALERT: COVID-19 LEAVE AND VACCINATION
By: Mississippi Municipal League & Mississippi Municipal Service Company
In March 2020, President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (the “FFCRA”) into law. It required employers to provide eligible employees with up to two weeks of paid sick leave and up to ten weeks of paid family leave for certain circumstances related to the coronavirus’ impact. Paid leave under the FFCRA expired on December 31, 2020.
The new year and inauguration of President Biden will bring changes to the administration of your COVID leave policy. Under the COVID stimulus signed into law in December, employers may voluntarily continue providing the COVID leave originally required by the FFCRA through March 31, 2021, but they are not required to do so. Because governmental employers have never been eligible for the tax credits associated with COVID leave under the FFCRA, it may be time to reassess your leave policies to ensure that they are providing appropriate protection for your work force while ensuring that governmental business can continue.
Use of Sick Leave. The December 31, 2020 expiration of mandated paid leave under the FFCRA provides greater flexibility in setting leave policies. This may mean simply reverting to your preCOVID policies, or you may adopt new policies to address continuing leave issues in the pandemic. This could include adjusting written sick leave policies to permit an employee to use accrued, but unused sick leave for COVID quarantine periods as well as for actual sick time. These policy changes may assist in keeping employees who are sick or may be contagious away from the public and the remaining work force. Whatever sick leave policy is adopted, formal written policies should be modified and notice provided to employees.
Biden Proposals. President Biden has announced that requiring nearly all employers to offer paid COVID leave will be part of his agenda. For small employers, the paid leave would be reimbursed via a tax credit. There is no indication whether governmental employers would be entitled to this tax credit. Under the FFCRA, private employers received the credit via payroll tax credits, but governmental employers did not. At this point, we recommend anticipating that no tax credits will be available.
COVID vaccines likely will be a required vaccine under health insurance policies. We recommend contacting your insurer to determine vaccine coverage and whether there is any copay so that it may be appropriately communicated to employees. Many employers are questioning whether a vaccine may be mandated. At this time, given the vaccine shortage, we recommend encouraging employees to be vaccinated but avoiding any mandatory requirement. Once the COVID vaccine is widely available, there still may be risks with mandating it, especially where there may be religious or medical objections that individual employees have.