The 1993 federal legislation and a new bill addressing COVID-19 both focus on employees with serious illness, and their rights to fair treatment.

With all that’s going on right now with COVID-19, the coronavirus, the biggest questions our firm is seeing (outside of “how will my medical practice survive?”) center on “pandemic are:” how do I get paid for telemedicine, and what is the difference between the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The major difference between these two is that sick leave, provisions for which are written into Families First, may be taken by an employee when required, and could be for any type of illness. FMLA only applies in cases of serious and/or terminal illnesses such as cancer. FMLA is not used when someone needs a day or two to shake off a cold, or even the flu.

FMLA requires a minimum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave due to serious illness of oneself or a family member. The sick leave, however, is a benefit that is provided by the employer and is absent of any federal laws, although some states have enacted legislation.

If an employee or his/her immediate family member contracts the coronavirus, FMLA could be triggered, assuming the disease becomes a serious health condition. FMLA does not apply to asymptomatic employees who require a leave of absence as a result of government-mandated quarantine or employer-mandated quarantine due to potential risk of coronavirus. Employers are encouraged to contact counsel to determine how to designate leave requests.

Under the Families First Act, which is only for employers with more than 50 employees, the following applies:

  • An employer shall provide to each employee employed by the employer paid sick time to the extent that the employee is unable to work (or telework) due to a need for leave because:
    • The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
    • The employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
    • The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
    • The employee has to care for the son or daughter under 18 years of age of such employee, if the school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider of such son or daughter is unavailable.

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