Employer Guidance Update for COVID-19 April 2021

April 08, 2021
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In the last month, there have been significant changes by both the federal government and the State of California with reference to the COVID-19 pandemic. Links to updated Frequently asked Questions (FAQs) are also provided for guidance assistance.

Federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA)
On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) authorizing an additional $1.9 trillion in emergency COVID-19 relief. Like its predecessor bill, the newest stimulus package is designed to accelerate the country’s recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the key provisions in this new law is the continued voluntary extension of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) benefits, including Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Paid Childcare Leave under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act Expansion Act.

This temporary extension of voluntary FFCRA benefits started on April 1, 2021 and will only continue until September 30, 2021. At this time, we do not know if it will be extended, but everyone is hopeful that a majority of U.S. citizens, including our farmworker community, have been vaccinated.

The ARPA also expands the covered reasons for sick leave set forth in the FFCRA to include three new eligibility criteria: In addition to the original six FFCRA criteria, employers can also receive tax credits (1) When an employee is seeking or awaiting results of a diagnostic test or medical diagnosis of COVID-19 and such employee has been exposed to COVID-19; (2) Where the employer has requested such test or diagnosis; or (3) Where the employee obtains immunization, i.e., vaccination (related to COVID-19 or is recovering from any injury, disability, illness or a condition related to such immunization after medical diagnosis).

More importantly, employers may now claim tax credits for the payment of both the emergency PSL, as well as the Emergency FMLA leave. In the case of Emergency FMLA leave, the new law also removed the two-week waiting period on emergency leave.

Only employers with fewer than 500 employees are eligible to receive this benefit.

The good news for qualifying employers is that if you voluntarily elect the extended FFCRA benefits, you will see a tax credit which continues through September 30, 2021.

Senate Bill - 95
Recently, Governor Newsom signed into law SB 95 which provides Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (SPSL) benefits for employers with 25 or more employees. California’s previous supplemental paid sick leave law only applied to companies with more than 500 employees in the U.S. This new law is retroactive to January 1, 2021.

Aside from the usual reasons arising under the FFCRA, SB 95 expands the qualifying reasons for a leave. Under this new law, the following employees will be qualified for SB 95 benefits:

  1. Employee is attending an appointment to receive a vaccine against COVID-19.
  2. Employee is experiencing symptoms related to the COVID-19 vaccine that prevents the employee from being at work.
  3. The employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
  4. The employee is caring for a family member who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order or other guideline of the CDPH, CDC, local health officer or healthcare provider.

Under this new law, an employee will be eligible for 80 hours of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave provided he/she qualifies for one of the above reasons.

The law requires the employer to note on an employee’s paycheck stub or payroll statement the “bank” of 80 hours of SPSL. This line item must also be listed along with the existing line item for regular state paid sick leave of three days.

If an employer has already paid “exclusion pay” under the State ETS, those hours may be utilized against the bank of SPSL benefits under SB 95.

DFEH Issues Guidance on “Mandatory” COVID-19 Vaccinations
On March 4, 2021, a new FAQ was issued by the Division of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This FAQ advises employers that they may implement a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy provided it has certain safeguards for employees, such as their right to an interactive meeting and reasonable accommodations, if required because of religious or documented disability reasons.

The CSC will continue to provide additional information and updates that are related to COVID-19 compliance.

Paid Leave and SB 95 FAQ
2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave FAQs (ca.gov)

Spanish: Preguntas Frecuentes sobre las Horas de Enfermedad Pagadas Suplementarias por COVID-19 de 2021 (ca.gov)

Division of Fair Employment and Housing Vaccination FAQ
English: DFEH Employment Information on COVID-19 (ca.gov)

Spanish: Información de Empleo del DFEH Sobre el COVID-19 FAQ (ca.gov)

For additional questions please contact Mark Martinez: mmartinez@calstrawberry.org

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