By Abby Castaldi
With over 3,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States, widespread reactions from the public have resulted in the closing of schools, sporting events, and businesses. President Trump declared a national emergency and the World Health Organization officially classified the virus as a pandemic. The NBA, NHL, and NCAA have all cancelled events going forward. Public schools have shut down with more and more students starting to have their classes taught online. As individuals have been encouraged to “self-distance” themselves from the public, a growing number of people are staying at home and stocking up on goods, unsure of how long the effects of coronavirus will last. The CDC has issued guidelines for employers and business on how to stay safe in the wake of this pandemic, including encouraging sick employees to stay home, emphasizing hygiene, and discouraging travel. Coronavirus has affected industries, the economy, and individual lives in many ways due to its rapid spread and, sometimes, fatal consequences. As a result, the federal government has passed a response act to deal with the significant effects of the coronavirus on families and businesses in the United States.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
On Saturday, March 14, 2020 the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The FFCRA was passed with bipartisan support after days of negotiations. The FFCRA is intended to help small businesses and individuals deal with the effects of the virus. The legislation guarantees food aid for children and seniors, as well as free testing for individuals who suspect they contracted the virus. Funding for nutrition assistance programs has been expanded, specifically for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children as well as the Emergency Food Assistance Program. The FFCRA [CJC1] expands access to testing for the coronavirus by reimbursing the cost of testing for those without health insurance as well as requiring health insurers to cover the cost of the test for coronavirus.
The FFCRA also requires government and private employers with less than 500 employees to provide paid emergency sick leave for employees. Those employers must offer 14 days of paid sick leave for employees to self-quarantine as a result of exposure to the virus or for those who have symptoms of coronavirus. The FFCRA also requires these employers to offer at least 30 days and up to 3 months of paid sick leave for employees to care for a family member who is ill or for a child whose school has been shut down in the wake of this pandemic. Finally, a tax credit is included in the FFCRA to those employers who must cover sick leave for their employees. The tax credit is an attempt to mitigate the cost that mandatory paid sick leave for employees will have on the employers covered under the FFCRA. The FFCRA is an important step in dealing with the uncertainty and turmoil that the pandemic has created, yet there are some shortcomings of the FFCRA
The Problem with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
Although the FFCRA expands sick leave and family leave for employees the FFCRA does not cover many employees who may need paid sick leave. In fact, the FFCRA only guarantees paid sick leave for approximately 20 percent of American workers. Rather than mandating that all employers provide paid sick leave, only government employers and those employers with less than 500 employees are required to give their employees this option. Private employers with over 500 employees are not required to guarantee paid sick leave for their employees. Some of these companies are the largest in the nation and, although many offer paid sick leave for their employees, some have not. In a society where worker’s often live paycheck to paycheck, employees will ignore illnesses and continue to work despite the possibility of contaminating others. Approximately 20 million workers are excluded from the guarantee of paid sick leave enacted by the FFCRA. Because the FFCRA does not require these large employers to offer paid sick leave, low-wage employees will suffer the consequences and continue to risk their own health and the health of others.
As the effects of the coronavirus
continue to worsen and with uncertainty ahead, the House has taken important
steps to ensure those who are sick maintain their distance from others and
prevent the spread of illness. While the
FFCRA awaits approval by the Senate, coronavirus continues to spread throughout
the United States. To stop the spread of
the virus, the CDC has encouraged people to not only wash their hands and be
hygienic, but also to remain home if possible. Although the FFCRA will allow many people to
keep a safe distance from others, it fails to require a huge population of
employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees. Because the United States has not faced such a
pandemic and now relies on the prudence of individuals to stop the spread of
germs, giving employees the ability to stay home if they feel ill has become a
crucial element in the slowing down of the coronavirus epidemic. Going forward, more comprehensive legislation
requiring all employers to offer some type of paid sick leave will ensure that
employees, and particularly low-wage workers, have the option of staying home. Overall, the bipartisan support for the FFCRA is
a strong first step in responding to the virus and offering aid to the public. However, if the effects of the coronavirus
continue to worsen, Congress will need to enact more sweeping legislation to
prevent any further spread of illness.
 Jessie Yeung et al., Coronavirus Pandemic Spreads Around the Globe, CNN (Mar. 14, 2020, 12:38 PM), https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/coronavirus-outbreak-2-03-15-20-intl-hnk/index.html.
 Id.; Rolling Updates on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), World Health Organization (Mar. 11, 2020), https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/coronavirus-outbreak-2-03-15-20-intl-hnk/index.html.
 See Yeung, supra note 1.
 Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Feb. 26, 2020), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html.
 H.R. 6201, 116th Cong. (2020).
 Stephen Cooper, House Clears COVID-19 Relief Bill With Employer Tax Credit, Law 360 (Mar. 14, 2020, 1:38 AM), https://www.law360.com/tax/articles/1252682/house-clears-covid-19-relief-bill-with-employer-tax-credit.
 The House Passed a Coronavirus Relief Act. Here’s What it Could do for you, LAist (Mar. 14, 2020, 4:45 AM), https://laist.com/2020/03/14/what-the-families-first-coronavirus-reponse-act-might-do-for-you.php.
 Kelly Phillips Erb, House Passes Bill to Allow for Paid Leave, Testing & Tax Credits to Lessen Impact of Coronavirus, Forbes (Mar. 14, 2020, 3:09 PM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2020/03/14/house-bill-would-allow-for-paid-leave-testing–tax-credits-to-lessen-impact-of-coronavirus/#7138044a3520.
 There’s a Giant Hole in Pelosi’s Coronavirus Bill, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-pelosi-sick-leave.html.
 Emily Cochrane & Jim Tankersley, Here’s What’s in Congress’s Emergency Coronavirus Bill, N.Y. Times (Mar. 14, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/us/politics/congress-coronavirus-bill.html.