The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFRCA), signed into law March 2020, expanded paid sick leave and family and medical leave related to COVID-19. Under the FFRCA, employers with fewer than 500 employees were required to provide two weeks for paid sick leave and up to an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave for absences related to COVID-19. Employers were eligible for a dollar-for-dollar refundable tax credit on the amount paid in leave benefits. The FFRCA leave provisions originally expired on December 31, 2020, but were extended to March 31, 2021, on a voluntary basis.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), signed into law March 2021, further extended these benefits for leave taken between April 1 and September 30, 2021. Paid leave is not mandatory as under the FFRCA, but employers who voluntarily choose to provide leave will be eligible for dollar-for-dollar tax credits. The ARPA does differ from the FFRCA in key ways, and employers should they comply with the new requirements to be eligible for the tax credits.
In order to be eligible for tax credits, employers must provide a new grant of two weeks sick leave for April 1 through September 30, 2021. This means that employees who exhausted their two weeks of sick leave under the FFRCA will now be entitled to an additional two weeks under the ARPA.
In addition to the qualifying reasons for leave under the FFRCA, the APRA includes new qualifying reasons. Originally under the FFRCA, employees were eligible for sick leave if they were: (1) subject to a government quarantine or isolation order; (2) advised by a health care professional to self-quarantine; (3) experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; (4) caring for an individual who was subject to a government quarantine or isolation order, or who had been advised to self-quarantine by a health care professional; or (5) caring for a son or daughter whose school or place of care had been closed or whose childcare provider was unavailable.
In addition to the above reasons, qualifying reasons for sick leave now also include time off to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine, recover from adverse reactions to the vaccine, and await the results of a COVID-19 diagnostic test, provided that the employee has been exposed to COVID-19 or the employer has requested that the employee obtain a test. Under the FFRCA, family and medical leave was only available if the employee was unable to work in order to care for a child because school or child care was unavailable; under the APRA, family and medical leave is now available for any reason sick leave is available.