On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed into law a relief package aimed at blunting economic fallout from the new coronavirus outbreak. The bill includes free testing for the virus, food assistance for vulnerable populations, paid sick leave and, notably for working moms, paid leave for working parents with kids who are home because of school or daycare closures.
Vicki Shabo, a senior fellow for paid leave policy and strategy at nonpartisan think tank New America, called the legislation “historic,” noting this is the first time Congress has ever mandated employers provide paid sick and family time.
However, there’s a big loophole in the bill that exempts large companies from providing paid leave. “The final compromise that the Trump administration demanded carved out about half of the workforce altogether, which has dire public health consequences, and leaves workers who are struggling with extended COVID-19-related personal or family illnesses without paid family or medical leave after their paid sick days expire,” Shabo says. She’s hopeful the loophole will be closed in another emergency aid package Congress is currently working on.
Want to know if the new law applies to you? Check out our explainer, below.
Do I qualify for paid leave under the new law?
That’s the catch. Congress ultimately decided to exempt employees at large companies, about 48 percent of workers, according to The New York Times. If you’re self-employed or you work for the government or at a company with 500 or fewer US employees, congrats, you’re covered. There are a few exceptions: Small companies—those with 50 or fewer employees—could be exempt if the Labor Department determines providing leave would “jeopardize the viability of the business.” Employers can also decline to give leave to healthcare providers and emergency responders who are needed on the front lines during the crisis.
How much paid leave can I take?
If you qualify, you can take two weeks of paid sick leave if you are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for COVID-19, or if you are caring for sick family members. If you’re caring for children because their school is closed or your childcare provider is unavailable, you can take 12 weeks of paid leave.
Do I have to test positive for COVID-19 to receive paid sick leave?
No. It applies to anyone told to quarantine, showing symptoms, exposed to the virus or trying to get a test or preventative care, according to The Washington Post.
How much will I be paid?
Workers taking paid sick leave to care for themselves earn the full amount they’re usually paid, capped at $511 a day. Those who are caring for a sick family member or a child whose school or childcare provider is closed earn two-thirds of their usual pay, up to a maximum of $200 a day.
How will I be paid?
You should expect to be paid on a normal pay schedule, Shabo says. Your company will be reimbursed for the amount it pays you in the form of a tax credit, within three months, and the Trump administration has said it will advance the money earlier for employers that can’t wait that long. It’s fully refundable, according to the Times, so “if the amount that employers pay workers who take leave is larger than what they owe in taxes, the government will send them a check for the remainder.”
If you’re self-employed, you’ll be paid your average daily income via a tax credit. (You can reduce your estimated quarterly tax payments in the meantime, if you need more immediate relief.)
Will the paid leave be taxed?
Yes, the money will be taxed as usual wages.
When does it begin?
The Labor Department must issue guidelines by April 2 to help employers calculate how much paid leave their employees should receive, the Times reports. After that, simply notify your employer, and you should be able to take the leave and get paid the amount specified by the law.
Will I still receive benefits while out on leave?
The paid sick days provisions are not clear on this question, but Shabo expects the answer is yes. Since the paid leave for working parents is provided by an expansion of FMLA, which requires the continuation of health coverage, the answer is more definitive: yes.
Do I pay for those benefits like I usually do?
Why were big companies excluded?
The Times reports that Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration refused to pass the bill unless large companies were excluded. According to the US Department of Labor, 89 percent of workers at big companies have access to paid sick leave, with an average of eight days offered (well short of the 14 days the Centers for Disease Control recommend for self-quarantine if you have been exposed to COVID-19).
How do I sign up?
“You should ask for sick leave or extended childcare leave from your employer as you would normally ask for paid time off; they cannot require you to give a particular amount of notice under these new requirements,” Shabo says. “Point to the language of H.R. 6201 until there is guidance and a template employee notice from the US Department of Labor.”
When does this expire?
The benefits end on December 31, 2020.
How much will this cost the US government?
The total price tag of the legislation is $105 billion, according to the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. “Economists mostly agree now is not the time to be worrying about the deficit,” the Post reports. “Borrowing costs are at all-time lows right now, making it inexpensive for the government to take out loans to pay for the coronavirus response.”