We hosted a conference call on federal and state changes to employment law, paid sick leave, and FMLA due to COVID 19, led by Charlot Wood, an employment attorney with Bell, Davis, and Pitt.
The opinions expressed in this recording are for general information purposes and are not intended to be, and should not be taken as, legal advice. Further, the information discussed in this recording is rapidly changing. Please consult your attorney, banker, accountant and/or other trusted advisers for legal and/or business advice.
Heading into the Coronavirus outbreak, North Carolina’s unemployment rate was 3.6% in February 2020. When March’s rate is released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on April 17th, we expect to begin to see the impact that the pandemic is having on employment.
Just shy of 30,000 North Carolinians filed for unemployment in a single day on April 7th. Of the 474,000 claims received in North Carolina since March 16, 414,000 are related to COVID 19.
Due to the significant impact on people’s ability to work and employers’ operations, state and federal legislation has been enacted and is continually evolving to meet people’s needs. The three major pieces of legislation important to this conversation are the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 118.
Expanded unemployment provisions of the CARES Act
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation
This provision provides for an additional $600 per week in addition to each state’s regular weekly amount. This additional supplemental payment applies through July 31 under current law. People filing for unemployment do not need to complete any additional steps to qualify for this income, and it is a flat rate for all qualified recipients. Funding is supplied by the federal government, it is not charged to the employer’s account. Initial payments are expected by April 17 and are retroactive starting April 4.
Pandemic Emergency Compensation
Individuals who have exhausted their benefits can receive up to an additional 13 weeks of benefits. The extended period of 13 weeks is funded by the federal government.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Provides benefits for self employed and independent contractors.
Provides a total of 39 weeks of extended benefits for the following reasons:
If you are diagnosed, a member of your household has been diagnosed, a child or other member of your household is without care or out of school and no other suitable childcare is available. If you are unable to reach your place of work. If you were scheduled to begin new employment which is now unavailable due to COVID 19. If you have had to quit a job as a direct result of COVID 19. If you have become the primary support for your household because a member of your household who was providing the primary income has died of COVID 19. If you place of employment has closed due to COVID 19.
Note that school closures or diagnosis of disease are time-limited reasons. For instance, when your child’s school year ends, this qualification is not applicable.
The state expects to be able to accept applications around April 25, but individuals may go ahead and apply at any time, even though their eligibility will not be determined until after the official application acceptance date.
These provisions are federally funded. The federal government is also paying some additional administrative costs for the States.
Gov Cooper’s Executive Order 118
Governor Roy Cooper enacted changes to unemployment law in an executive order issued on March 17th. The procedural and eligibility changes include:
- Removed one week waiting period for eligibility. CARES Act provided that the Federal Government will cover the first week.
- Added flexibility for the actively seeking work requirement for those who are no longer working due to reasons directly related to COVID 19. Employees don’t have to be actively looking for work but they have to file the weekly certification.
- Employees who experience a reduction in work hours are eligible.
- Unemployment offices are closed. Must apply online or by phone.
- Employers are not being charged for covid 19 related claims.
- Independent contractors and self employed people are not normally eligible for unemployment, but now they are eligible for certain benefits under the CARES Act. They should apply through NC Works.
North Carolina’s maximum unemployment benefit is $350 per week for 12 weeks under current law.
FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act)
This was the first major piece of federal legislation, enacted on March 18, in response to COVID 19. General provisions include:
- Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA provisions which became effective April 1 and expire December 31.
- Both provisions apply to employers with fewer than 500 employees. Full time, part time, and temporary employees count toward the total, but independent contractors and employees who have been furloughed or laid off prior to the request do not. Integrated organizations with multiple work sites are counted based off the total number of employees at all locations.
- There are six reasons why a person is entitled to take sick leave or medical leave: they are subject to quarantine order, advised by healthcare provider to self quarantine, experiencing symptoms and seeking diagnosis, caring for a person who is under quarantine, the individual is caring for his or her child whose school or childcare is closed, any other similar condition specified by DHHS.
- Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees can request an exemption to the childcare provision if the employee’s absence will cause a substantial risk to your business.
- If an employee on leave is laid off, the paid leave does not apply after that. If your business closes, employees are not entitled to leave after the business closes.
- Shelter in place orders count as quarantine or isolation orders only when they are the specific reason the employee is unable to work or telework.
- Self-quarantine provision also includes people who are at high risk and have been advised by a health care provider to stay home.
- Employees seeking the childcare provision must provide a statement that no other suitable person will be caring for the child during the time the employee is seeking paid leave.
Special Thanks to our Host:
Charlot F. Wood is an employment law attorney at the law firm of Bell, Davis & Pitt. Charlot’s practice also encompasses litigation, administrative & governmental law, and construction law. She has been recognized in the category of employment law by Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite awards and Best Lawyers®. She has practiced employment law for more than 30 years.