Trump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients ‘if push comes to shove’ Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar MORE’s administration has pulled back requirements for small businesses to administer paid leave to their employees in a guidance published Wednesday.

The Labor Department’s guidance for the coronavirus stimulus bill said companies with fewer than 50 workers have the option to decline 12 weeks of paid leave that the bill mandated for those whose children are home from school or child care.

Employees are granted two weeks of paid sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family leave under the law, which exempted employers from administering the paid family leave if it hindered business from functioning. 

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The law already does not apply to companies with more than 500 employees, meaning in total, more than 75 percent of American workers are employed at companies that can be exempt, The New York Times noted.

But the Department of Labor interpreted that small businesses could be exempt from providing the family leave if it would “cause the small business to cease operating,” if employee absence would pose “a substantial risk” to the business or if there were not enough employees “able, willing and qualified” to fill in for the individual on leave. 

Small businesses cannot deny sick leave. 

But health care providers, first responders and certain federal government employees could also be declined the family paid leave under the law.

Democrats expressed concern that the law did not provide the needed flexibility for workers during the pandemic. Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday Senate Democrats propose canceling student loan payments during coronavirus Stimulus plan hinges on McConnell, Schumer repairing toxic relationship MORE (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroStimulus price tag of .2T falls way short, some experts say Paid sick leave is a universal right: The time has come Overnight Health Care — Presented by Philip Morris International — Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal amid coronavirus threat | Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol | Coronavirus emerges as 2020 flashpoint MORE (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene ScaliaEugene ScaliaTrump calls on Congress to restore tax deductions for business meals, entertainment America’s governors should fix unemployment insurance Trump floats restoring full corporate tax deduction for meals as coronavirus derails restaurants MORE saying the guidelines “violate congressional intent” and ”contradict the plain language” of the law.

Scalia said in a statement Wednesday the law gave “unprecedented paid leave benefits to American workers affected by the virus, while ensuring that businesses are reimbursed.”

Paid leave was one of the most contentious aspects of the massive stimulus bill, as Democrats pushed for more leave for employees, delaying the Senate vote on the package.

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