HR 6201 was signed into law on March 18, 2020 and will become effective April 2. This bill responds to the coronavirus outbreak by providing paid sick leave and free coronavirus testing, expanding food assistance and unemployment benefits, and requiring employers to provide additional protections for health care workers. For employers with under 50 employees, the Secretary of Labor has the discretion to exempt certain small businesses via a waiver. We will share the website for the waiver, once it is shared by the Department of Labor.
The three issues of most interest to dental practices include: emergency paid sick leave; emergency expansion of family and medical leave; and tax credits.
Under the sick leave provisions, dentist owners could be required-under certain circumstances-to pay two weeks of sick leave to employees. Those circumstances include:
- 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 health care 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 is caring for an individual to which circumstances Nos. 1 or 2 apply;
- The employee is caring for a son or daughter if that child's school or place of care is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions; or,
- The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of the Treasury.
However, as stated above, the bill allows the Secretary of Labor the authority to exempt small businesses (those that employ fewer than 50 employees) from the leave requirement for good cause. For example, a small business may seek an exemption when the leave of an employee would jeopardize the viability of the business.
A broad coalition of dental organizations has sent a letter to the Secretary of Labor requesting that dental practices of fewer than 50 employees be granted that exemption.
Likewise, under the family medical leave provisions, dentist owners could be required to pay for leave, but only for those employees who must care for their children because their school or childcare center is closed. The statute calls for the Department of Labor to use its regulatory authority to write regulations that would exempt employers. It is expected that this will include an exemption for employers with under 50 employees.
Without the exemption, those dentist employers-with employees who must care for their children because their school or childcare center is closed-must provide up to 12 weeks of leave. The first two weeks may be unpaid and the next 10 weeks are paid. However, employees may opt to use the paid leave benefit or other accrued paid leave (vacation, sick or otherwise) during those first two weeks of unpaid time. However, employers may not require the substitution of paid leave. The remainder of the 10 weeks would be paid leave provided by the employer to the covered employee. The leave is to be paid at a rate of no less than 2/3 of the employee’s regular rate for hours normally scheduled to work – capped at $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate. Further, benefits would continue for the leave period.
The bill also provides employers with tax credits against payroll taxes to cover amounts paid under the new sick and family and medical leave benefits. This is intended to help offset the cost to employers.
The Department of Labor will put out guidance on these provisions that will help guide businesses through the regulations. We will share this information with our members as soon as it is available from the Department of Labor.