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Paid Leave Not Panning Out for Most U.S. Workers

Many American workers seeking assistance through the new paid leave law are discovering that they are not eligible for the benefits. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was enacted by Congress in March 2020, and included a temporary 12-week paid-leave provision. This provision offers workers up to two weeks of paid sick leave at their regular earnings if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are experiencing symptoms, or are subject to a government quarantine order. Up to 10 additional weeks of family leave, paid at two-thirds of the typical salary, are available to employees who need to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to the virus. However, it turns out there are a wide array of exemptions, both in the law and in subsequent regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). According to a study by the Center for American Progress, up to 80% of the workforce may not be eligible for the benefits.

Exemptions in the original legislation include companies with more than 500 workers, much of the health care sector, and some businesses with fewer than 50 workers. The DOL regulations further narrowed the provision’s reach by allowing employers to deny leave to furloughed employees or when there’s no work available. Moreover, while many businesses are operating in good faith and providing coverage when possible, the economic reality has meant that some organizations cannot afford to wait for the promised tax credits in exchange for the paid leave. The ambiguities in the law and regulations has also created confusion among employers and employees alike, compounding an already difficult situation for all.