What Employers Need to Know About Biden’s Proposed American Rescue Plan
In January 2021, President Biden announced his administration’s proposed COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan (the Plan), which would revive the federal mandate for employers to provide paid sick and paid FMLA leave for certain COVID-19-related absences under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). Currently, as of January 1, 2021, FFCRA pay is optional and covered employers (less than 500 employees) can, but are not required to provide it.
The Plan, as it is presently proposed, would revive and extend the FFCRA paid leave requirements and provide other employment-related benefits, including:
• Expanding covered employers to include nearly all employers regardless of size (even those with 500 or more employers), including healthcare workers and first responders.
• Expanding leave available to federal employees to include both paid sick leave and expanded FMLA leave.
• Expanding paid leave to provide "over 14 weeks of paid sick and family and medical leave" for COVID-19-related absences through September 30, 2021, capped at $1,400 per week, for all COVID-19-related reasons identified under the FFCRA, including: to quarantine or to seek a diagnosis; to care for others in quarantine or who are seeking a diagnosis; and to provide additional childcare due to a COVID-19 related school or care center closure.
• Including a provision for paid leave for employees to get COVID vaccinations, which was not in the original FFCRA.
• Limiting the availability of tax credits for FFCRA leave payments only to employers with fewer than 500 employees. Larger employers would not be eligible for the tax credit benefit.
• Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.
• Calling for employers to provide back hazard pay to certain essential frontline workers.
• Extending unemployment benefit programs for workers who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits, including self-employed workers, which would include a $400 per week supplement to paid benefits.
Biden’s plan also addresses non-employment aspects of the pandemic, including, the shortages of the vaccine, setting up community vaccination sites, and increased COVID-19 testing and contract tracing. This Plan also calls on Congress to authorize the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) to issue a COVID-19 protection standard that covers workers not typically covered by OSHA and to increase funding for OSHA enforcement. Biden has already issued an Executive Order calling on OSHA to do this.
While the Plan is proposed legislation, it provides an outline of the issues that will be debated in Congress as the next COVID-19 pandemic relief bill is shaped in Washington DC. We will continue to keep you updated on the employment aspects of this legislation as things develop.