Attorney: Employers can offer COVID-19 relief benefits to workers

  • COVID-19 relief benefits can be offered by employers

OKLAHOMA CITY – Employers can choose to offer extended leave benefits in 2021 for workers who are sick with the COVID-19 virus or need to care for children whose schools or daycares have shut down, an Oklahoma City employment lawyer confirmed.

The leave was initially offered in 2020 when Congress approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) benefits, which were set to expire Dec. 31, 2020. Now, those benefits will be extended through March 31 since President Donald Trump signed the new coronavirus relief package Dec. 21.

Mary Snyder, an attorney with the Crowe & Dunlevy law firm, said there are some stipulations about the benefits extension, which include an option for employers.

“Employers will be allowed, but are not required, to continue to provide FFCRA leave through March 31, 2021,” she said.

If employers choose to extend the benefits to workers who have not used any COVID-related leave time, companies will receive the same tax credits they did in 2020, Snyder said. The tax credits, taken against payroll taxes, will end March 31, she added.

Employees who used the leave during 2020 will not be eligible for the same benefit in 2021.

Snyder urged employers to re-issue the leave policy in connection with the new relief package.

“Employers should make the decision about who gets the leave, but should contact their legal counsel about potential discrimination,” she said. “Some employers may decide they want to cover one area of their business, but not another based on last year’s leave benefits. That’s why they should contact their company counsel.”

Worst case scenario, Snyder said, is that an employer refuses to offer any leave connected to the newest relief package.

Federal legislation provides two types of leave. First, employees who have the virus can use 80 hours of paid sick time for situations that require quarantine or isolation. Those employees can receive up to $5,110 or $511 per day. A second bucket of money is designed for people who must care for an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 or care for a child whose school or daycare has been closed. Those people receive $200 per day or $12,000 during a 10-week leave period.

In both instances, documentation is required by the employer who must share that information with the IRS and the U.S. Department of Labor, Snyder said.