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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Coronavirus Update 6–3–2020: Do “Lake of the Ozarks” employees sent home from work qualify for paid sick leave under the FFCRA?


Last week I discussed how to handle employees who are not social distancing outside of work. My thoughts were spurred by videos of employees partying over the Memorial Day weekend at Lake of the Ozarks and elsewhere around the country.

I said the following: 

I would also place any employee who violated social distancing rules outside of work (whether the information is volunteered on a self-assessment or discovered through a viral video) on a mandatory two-week unpaid leave of absence and require a quarantine as a condition of continued employment.

It looks like I might have a reader in Lincoln County, Missouri. 

According to KSDK, employers are mandating unpaid leaves of absence and quarantines for employees who spent their holiday weekend amid the throngs at Lake of the Ozarks, The story also quotes an attorney who says that placing an employee on an unpaid leave of absence, under those circumstances, might violate the FFCRA's requirements for paid sick leave for an employee "advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19."

I completely disagree, and the Department of Labor has my back.

Take a look at Question 77 to the DOL's FFCRA Questions and Answers:

May I take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under the FFCRA if I am on an employer-approved leave of absence?

It depends on whether your leave of absence is voluntary or mandatory. If your leave of absence is voluntary, you may end your leave of absence and begin taking paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under the FFCRA if a qualifying reason prevents you from being able to work (or telework). However, you may not take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under the FFCRA if your leave of absence is mandatory. This is because it is the mandatory leave of absence—and not a qualifying reason for leave—that prevents you from being able to work (or telework).

In other words, if an employee's leave of absence is the employer's choice, as is the case in the Lake of Ozarks example, then the employee does not qualify for FFCRA paid sick leave, because it's not a COVID-19 medical recommendation or quarantine that's preventing the employee from working but the leave of absence. It's no different from a furlough, for which employees also do not qualify for FFCRA paid leave. As long as you place an employee on leave before they tell you they've been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19 concerns, you shouldn't have to worry about paying the employee for that leave under the FFCRA.

* Photo by Shane on Unsplash
 
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