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David T. Harmon
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David T. Harmon
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New York Federal Judge: DOL Restrictions on Federal Paid Leave Benefits Unlawful

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Among other things, the FFCRA extended federal paid leave benefits to many workers employed at companies or organizations with fewer than 500 total employees.

Subsequently, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance on several different provisions within the law. Notably, the DOL’s guidance limited the number of employees who were eligible for federal paid leave of benefits under the law.

On August 3, a New York federal judge invalidated key portions of the DOL’s guidance. In the State of New York v. United States Department of Labor, et al, Judge J. Paul Oetken struck down DOL regulations,  expanding paid leave benefits.

Decision: Several Portions of DOL’s FFCRA Rule Invalidated

For the most part, the federal court agreed with the arguments raised by the plaintiffs, finding that the DOL overstepped its authority in restricting access to federal paid leave benefits under the FFCRA.  Here are the three most important things to know about the decision:

  1. Employers are Not Permitted to Deny Leave for Lack of ‘Work Availability’: The DOL created a broad ‘work availability’ exception. Essentially, the exception allowed employers to deny otherwise covered employees access to paid leave benefits on the grounds that business operations were halted or reduced in relation to the pandemic. The ruling states that federal paid leave under the FFCRA cannot be contingent on work availability.
  2. DOL’s Definition of ‘Health Care Provider’ Overly Broad: Under the FFCRA, health care providers are not eligible for federal paid leave benefits. The DOL interpreted this provision in the broadest sense possible—determining that any worker employed by an employer that provides health services could be denied leave. As an example, a maintenance worker at a health clinic would be ineligible for benefits under the DOL’s rule. The federal court determined that the DOL’s interpretation was overly broad.
  3. Employer Consent Not Necessarily Required for Intermittent Leave: Finally, the court narrowed the DOL’s regulation on intermittent leave. It found the agency’s requirement that employees receive employer consent before taking intermittent leave to be unreasoned and unjustified. Intermittent leave is especially important for parents or caregivers who may need to make emergency childcare arrangements.

The Trump Administration has an opportunity to appeal the decision to the Second Circuit. If an appeal is filed, it is possible that a stay will be issued or that the Second Circuit will reinstate the regulations. Considering the decision, all employers covered by the FFCRA should ensure that they have the proper policies in place.

David T. Harmon, Esq., and Keith D. McDonald, Esq., are partners in our Labor & Employment Practice Group. David co-chairs the Executive Compensation and Employee Benefits Practice Group and focuses his practice on the areas of executive compensation, employment, and business law. Keith concentrates his practice on commercial litigation, labor and employment, and higher education law. David and Keith can be contacted at dtharmon@norris-law.com and kdmcdonald@norris-law.com if you have any questions about temporary federal paid leave regulations as well as any other matter in the areas described above.

For more topics related to COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus Thought Leadership Connection.The information contained in this post may not reflect the most current developments, as the subject matter is extremely fluid and constantly changing. Please continue to monitor this site for ongoing developments. Readers are also cautioned against taking any action based on information contained herein without first seeking advice from professional legal counsel.

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