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BACKGROUND

Have you considered the possibility you could be eligible for paid time off from your job because your child’s school is closed and you’re suddenly a school-at-home parent?  It’s possible, but the timing is crucial – the program expires on December 31, 2020. To discover whether you’re eligible for benefits you must take the initiative to call your employer or human resources department.  The law applies to businesses with fewer than 500 workers. Small businesses with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption.

Since mid-April, there’s been a lot written about employee leave laws that might cover parents in the “suddenly homeschooling” category.  Unfortunately, “the laws in this category do not do enough to solve the big problems parents are facing right now and rules related to the benefits can be somewhat complicated.” (Keshner, below)

Andrew Keshner, writing for Marketwatch on September 12, 2020, summarized certain temporarily expanded paid family leave laws. “During the early days of the pandemic,” he writes, “federal lawmakers passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Though America is the only highly industrialized country without a federal paid family leave law, the FFCRA temporarily enabled paid leave for families pulled from work to quarantine, care for others with COVID-19, or care for children who are at home because of closed day cares and schools.” (https://www.marketwach.com/story/a-reminder-as-schools-reopen-federal-law-now-gives-some-parents-paid-time-off-to-help-their-kids-with-remote-learning-2020-09-10 )

According to the temporarily expanded FFCRA, explains Mr. Keshner, “when it comes to school and child care, the U.S. Department of Labor says covered workers can access up to two weeks (80 hours) of emergency paid sick leave at two-thirds pay. The cap on pay in this time period is $200 daily and $2000 total.” (Center for Worklife Law/University of California, Hastings College of Law.)

Keshner notes some of the qualifications for assistance:

  • “A covered worker must have been on the payroll for at least 30 days.
  • A covered worker can also ‘tap’ the law’s expanded family and medical leave for an additional 10 weeks of pay at two-thirds their compensation.
  • If a school closes for half a day, parents can get paid time off.
  • If a student attends school some days but has distance learning on other days, parents can receive paid leave on the days their child is home.
  • If a parent chooses all remote learning instead of in-person instruction, they cannot access paid leave under the federal law because the school is not officially ‘closed.’
  • If school administrators start the year remotely and say they’ll make a reopening decision at a later date, the school is still closed and the paid leave is still available.
  • If a school might be open, albeit for half day, the FFCRA allows workers to apply for paid leave in bite-sized pieces, like from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.”

PAID LEAVE PROVISIONS ARE IN EFFECT FROM APRIL 1, 2020 TO DECEMBER 31, 2020.

As noted above, this can all be fairly confusing. To help sort out the requirements, the Center for Worklife Law set up a hotline. Anyone who has questions about the expanded law as related to COVID-19 can call (415) 851-3308 or email the Center at covid19helpline@worklifelaw.org.

WHAT IF SCHOOLS ARE CLOSED FOR THE FALL?

Jennifer Liu, writing for www.cnbc.com on August 17, 2020, writes that “If you’re a parent and work full- or part-time, you may be able to take paid leave to care for kids at home through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)…. Parents can take this leave option so long as school and day-care locations are physically closed, even if schools are conducting virtual learning.  If schools are partially reopened, you may be able to take paid leave on the days school is closed and your kids are at home. You may also be able to prove that your normal child-care options are unavailable as a result of the pandemic, including arrangements with a nanny, au pair, grandparents or a daycare that is open but at capacity.”

Liu further notes that “A major benefit of this program is that, unlike filing for unemployment insurance, the Families First leave allows you to retain your workforce attachment and, importantly during a global pandemic, your health insurance and other employer benefits.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/17/parents-may-qualify-for-paid-leave-unemployment-due-to-school-closure.html)

HOW DO I KNOW WHICH WAY IS UP?

Chief workplace justice officer for the advocacy group MomsRising (www.MomsRising.org ) Ruth Martin, says “many working parents remain in the dark about their FFCRA paid leave options. With all the challenges posed by the pandemic, ‘it’s hard for a working parent just to know which way is up.’ “

“We’re very worried,” Martin told CNBC, “about the lack of awareness about it – it’s alarming. This is the first time the country has had a nationwide limited paid leave program. With the law passed in March and going into effect two weeks later, there hasn’t been a lot of time for a mass public education campaign.”

Ms. Martin goes on to say that “If you think you may qualify for FFCRA leave, you should bring it up with your employer directly.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/17/parents-may-qualify-for-paid-leave-unemployment-due-to-school-closure.html )

FINAL WORD

FFCRA paid leave options are effective ONLY through December 31, 2020 unless additional provisions are passed by Congress and the White House.

You MUST contact your employer or your employer’s Human Resources division to inquire as to whether or not you are eligible for the paid time off to homeschool benefit. WE CANNOT STRESS THIS POINT STRONGLY ENOUGH! And don’t delay – benefits expire December 31, 2020!

MORE RESOURCES

https://www.momsrising.org/blog/know-your-rights-families-first-coronavirus-response-act-faq-by-a-better-balance-12

https://www.wave3.com/2020/07/20/know-your-options-if-you-have-work-homeschool/

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/money/how-to-get-paid-sick-leave-or-paid-time-off-to-stay-home-with-your-kids-for-2-weeks/ar-BB11EtM6

https://dol.ny.gov/pandemic-unemployment-assistance