One of the more confounding sets of rules under the FFCRA is when employers can require employees to substitute an employer’s own provided leave (which, for the sake of convenience I’ll refer to throughout as “PTO”) for paid leave —the 80 hours of paid sick leave (“EPSL”) or the 12 weeks of expanded family and medical leave (“EFMLA”)—mandated by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Today I am going to make an attempt to explain these rules, but I’ll fully admit that it’s still not 100 percent clear to me. The text of the FFCRA seems to suggest that an employer can never require the substitution of PTO. The DOL’s proposed regulations, however, muddy the waters, which were muddied even further by an amendment to those proposed regulations published last Friday, which deleted language from the regulations’ explanatory discussion relating to the substitution of PTO for EFMLA.
So let’s try to sort it all out.
1. An employer can never require an employee to substitute PTO for EPSL. The employee can elect that substitution, but it can never be forced by the employer.
2. If an employee is taking leave to care for a son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons, the employee qualifies for both EPSL and EFMLA. It is the employee’s sole choice whether to use EPSL during the initial two unpaid weeks of EFMLA (for which both types of leave will run concurrently), or save the EPSL for later use for another qualifying reason (or, I suppose, tack it on after the expiration of the FMLA leave). An employer cannot force an employee to use EPSL during those initial two unpaid weeks of EFMLA.
3. Here’s where it gets tricky. When can an employer require an employee to use PTO during EFMLA? Section 826.23(c) of the regulations is the key provision.
Section 2612(d)(2)(A) of the FMLA shall be applied, provided however, that the Eligible Employee may elect, and the Employer may require the Eligible Employee, to use only leave that would be available to the Eligible Employee for the purpose set forth in § 826.20(b) under the Employer’s existing policies, such as personal leave or paid time off. Any leave that an Eligible Employee elects to use or that an Employer requires the Eligible Employee to use would run concurrently with Expanded Family and Medical Leave taken under this section.
(Section 2612(d)(2)(A) of the FMLA permits an employer to require the substitution of PTO for FMLA leave.)
What does this all mean? It means that an employer can require an employee to use available PTO during the unpaid portion of an EFMLA school closure of loss-of-childcare coronavirus related leave. If an employer so requires, the PTO runs concurrently with the EFMLA allotment.
4. An employer and employee can agree to “top-off” EPSL or EFMLA (that is, true up the employee’s pay through the substitution of PTO so that the employee earns his or her full pay). But the employer cannot require it.
All clear, correct? Or clear as mud?
Disagree with my interpretation? Drop a comment below and let’s try to figure it out together.
This post originally appeared on the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, and was written by Jon Hyman, Partner, Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis. Jon can be reached at via email at email@example.com, via telephone at 216-831-0042, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.