Congressional COVID-19 Bill Includes Employer Provisions

After approving an $8 billion emergency funding bill last week, Congress is considering follow-up legislation to address the potential economic fallout from COVID-19. House Democrats released their new aid package, which could pass the House this week. Provisions of interest to employers include:

Paid sick leave. Employers would be required to provide employees 14 days of paid leave for a “public health emergency,” including the coronavirus, while letting employees gradually accrue seven days of paid sick leave during normal times. Businesses with 50 or fewer employees would be reimbursed for the cost of emergency sick leave.

Emergency leave benefit. A new federal benefit for eligible employees, equal to two-thirds of their average monthly earnings, would be available to employees when they must take 14 or more days of leave for coronavirus-related reasons and aren’t otherwise compensated.

Importantly, these leave provisions would not preempt state and local paid leave requirements.

Unemployment insurance. The measure also provides $1 billion this year to help states process and pay unemployment insurance benefits.

Democrats left out the payroll tax cut floated by President Trump. 

The White House and congressional Republicans are signaling that they won’t support the bill, so while it may well pass the House the outlook in the Republican-controlled Senate is uncertain. The big question is whether the parties can strike a deal quickly. Both sides are eager to pass legislation before next week’s scheduled congressional recess, and then consider additional stimulus/aid legislation in coming weeks.

On the regulatory front, the IRS recently agreed to employers’ request that their HSA-qualifying high-deductible health plans be allowed to provide first-dollar or pre-deductible coverage for all medical care services and items related to coronavirus testing and treatment without jeopardizing an individual’s HSA-eligibility. But employers are urging that IRS – and Congress – also provide much needed relief from potential HSA-eligibility restrictions on telehealth services so employers can offer no cost-sharing telehealth services without interfering with an individual’s ability to make or receive HSA contributions.

And earlier this week, the Department of Labor posted some helpful guidance for employers on their responsibilities under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

All of this is just the opening bid – there are certainly more responses to come from Washington, including a possible delay in certain tax payment deadlines. We’ll be watching all of this closely and will be helping to advocate for sound benefits policies – we’ll keep you posted.

Geoff Manville
by Geoff Manville

Partner, Mercer’s Law & Policy Group

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