Congress Extends Some Protections for Workers During the Pandemic

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (CAA, 2021) was signed into law on December 27, 2020. The CAA, a $2.3 trillion spending bill for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2021, has important implications for employees by extending certain protections enacted earlier this year for employees affected by the pandemic.

Changes to Protections Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act:

The “Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA),” which became effective April 2, 2020, required employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid family and medical leave to employees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, caring for individuals with COVID-19, caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to the pandemic, or quarantining under the direction of a health care provider due to COVID-19 concerns. The FFCRA also provided employers a payroll tax credit for paid family and medical leave related to COVID-19. The Act expired on December 31, 2020.

The CCA extends the FFCRA payroll tax credit through March 31, 2021, but employers are no longer legally mandated to provide COVID-related paid family and medical leave under the CCA. Employers, however, can still be sued for violating the FFCRA before December 31, 2020. 

Changes to Protections Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act:

The CAA also extended some relief from the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act,” passed on March 28, 2020.  The CARES Act established the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, a temporary program that expanded unemployment insurance coverage to individuals unable to work due to COVID-19. The CAA extends the PUA program to those weeks of unemployment ending on or before March 14, 2021. Self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and part-time workers are still eligible for coverage under the PUA program even though they are not eligible for standard unemployment insurance benefits.

The CAA also reauthorized and modified the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which expired on July 31, 2020. FPUC under the CAA provides $300 per week (rather than the previous $600 per week) to supplement benefits for weeks of unemployment beginning after December 26, 2020 and ending on or before March 14, 2021.

Additionally, the CAA extends the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) contained within the CARES Act. The CARES Act provided a 50% credit for companies who continued to pay their employees during a COVID-19 imposed lockdown. The CAA expands eligibility for the ERC, increases the credit to 70%, and extends the credit through June 30, 2021.

For Employees:

You can read the full text of the CAA here. Employment laws are complicated, and during this pandemic, they are constantly changing.  Please contact the lawyers at Correia & Puth if you are seeking advice or if you’re experiencing issues with your employer regarding COVID-19.  We can help clients determine their rights and consider ways to resolve the obstacles to relief.