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U.S. Department of Labor Issues COVID-19 Guidance on FLSA and FMLA

Posted on: March 20th, 2020

By: Catherine Scott

As the federal government continues to grapple with questions from employers regarding COVID-19, the federal agencies have begun to roll out new guidance. The latest comes from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which has issued guidance for employers seeking answers concerning their obligations pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

DOL Guidance for FLSA

The FLSA provides rules and regulations concerning how employees must be paid, including the payment of wages and overtime. Employers around the country have wrestled with whether they can reduce salary and/or hours or furlough or lay off employees as the economy slows down due to COVID-19 and whether employees are required to be paid and in what manner.

The DOL has answered several frequently asked questions concerning these issues. The latest guidance provides as follows:

  • For non-exempt, hourly employees, employers can reduce their hours and/or pay, so long as minimum wage and overtime requirements are met. Non-exempt, hourly employees also can be placed on an unpaid leave of absence or furlough or be laid off due to an economic slowdown;
  • For exempt employees, employers are generally required to pay these employees their full weekly salary if any work is done during the workweek (subject to exceptions, such as when the employer is open for business and an employee, who has no PTO remaining or hasn’t qualified, misses an entire day of work).  Of course, exempt employees can be required to use any accrued, unused vacation or paid time off under the FLSA for any missed time so long as they are still being paid their salary.
  • All employees must generally be paid for telework performed at home, subject to the limitations described above;
  • Employees of private organizations are generally not allowed to volunteer their normal services without pay, subject to a few limited exceptions. Employees may volunteer for public organizations without pay if they (a) perform such services for civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation; (b) offer their services freely and without coercion, direct or implied; and, (c) are not otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same services as those for which they propose to volunteer.

Pay issues can be complicated and very fact-specific (and state-specific) so if you have a question about furloughs, layoffs, or schedule or compensation reductions (whether temporarily or permanently), please contact us so we can assess the individual factual and legal circumstances of your situation.

DOL Guidance for FMLA

Similarly, employers have wrestled with their obligations under the FMLA and whether they must provide job-protected leave to employees who need time away for a qualifying reason.  Initially, it is important to understand that any employer that has between 50 – 500 employees should first familiarize itself with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as that Act (which will be effective April 2, 2020) substantially expands some of the obligations traditional imposed on employers under the FMLA.  For those employers, however, that are below 50 or above 50 employees, you should keep the following principles in mind in dealing with the Coronavirus.

  • Employees who develop complications from COVID-19 may have a “serious health condition” that would trigger FMLA leave. The same is true of a “family member,” defined by the FMLA as a spouse, child, or parent, who develops complications from COVID-19;
  • However, leave taken by an employee to avoid exposure to COVID-19 would not be covered by the traditional principles of the FMLA;
  • The traditional FMLA does not currently cover employees who require leave to tend to healthy children or children who have been dismissed from school or childcare by their state governments;
  • The traditional FMLA provides only for unpaid leave to employees who qualify; however, the FMLA allows for employees to substitute paid leave in place of unpaid leave in certain circumstances and if the employer’s policies provide for such paid leave;
  • Employees seeking to use FMLA leave are required to provide 30-day advance notice of the need to take FMLA leave when the need is foreseeable and such notice is practicable.  In addition, employers may require employees to provide:
    • medical certification supporting the need for leave due to a serious health condition affecting the employee or a spouse, son, daughter or parent, including periodic recertification;
    • second or third medical opinions (at the employer’s expense);
    • periodic reports during FMLA leave regarding the employee’s status and intent to return to work; and
    • consistent with a uniformly-applied policy or practice for similarly-situated employees, a fitness for duty certification. (Employers should be aware that fitness-for-duty certifications may be difficult to obtain during a pandemic.)

The Department of Labor is generally encouraging employers to be flexible in dealing with situations involving employees affected by COVID-19, including re-examining both paid and unpaid leave policies in place at the employer and allowing paid telecommuting to occur.

Additional information: 

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues every day for the next week. We will discuss the impact of Coronavirus for companies in general, but also for business in insurance, healthcare, California specific issues, cybersecurity, and tort. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce educational content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.** 

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