Legislation Workplace exposures

COVID-19 pandemic: Trump signs emergency paid sick leave bill into law

sick leave

Photo: tupungato/iStockphoto

Washington — Employers with fewer than 500 employees, as well as all government employers, must provide 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave to full-time workers who are in quarantine as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, seeking diagnosis or preventive care for the illness, or caring for affected family members, under legislation signed into law March 18 by President Donald Trump.

Earlier in the day on March 18, the Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) after receiving on March 17 an amended version of what the House had approved the previous weekend.

The new law entitles part-time employees to a number of paid sick hours equal to their average hours worked over a two-week period.

Additionally, the law amends the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 by allowing workers under the employment parameters mentioned above up to 10 weeks of paid family leave to care for a child of an employee if the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the care provider is unavailable “due to a public health emergency” such as COVID-19.

The law also authorizes the secretary of labor to “exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders” from the paid sick leave or child care provisions. Further, organizations with fewer than 50 employees may be exempted from the provisions should the Department of Labor determine “the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the initial measure March 5.

“This is a commonsense step,” Murray said on the Senate floor March 18. “It’s good for workers who need to stay home if they are sick or need to take care of family – without losing a job or paycheck. And it’s good for small businesses, who want to keep their workers and communities safe, and who are struggling to stay afloat during this sudden crisis.”

According to a March 11 report published in The Hill, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, blocked an effort to pass the initial bill by unanimous consent, which would have waived a vote.

Although Alexander expressed that he had “significant issues” with the legislation during his March 18 Senate floor remarks – namely those concerning small businesses – he nonetheless voted in favor of the measure, helping it pass by a 90-8 vote.

“If Washington, D.C., is going to require small businesses, many of which are struggling or going out of business, to pay a new mandate, Washington should pay for it,” Alexander said, according to a press release from his office. “This is no time to impose an expensive new mandate or unexpected new costs when they don’t have the money coming in to pay for the normal costs. So I’m afraid, as a result of this, many employers worried about this provision may have an incentive to lay off their employees.”


Trump had anticipated signing the bill before it reached his desk. On March 13, he tweeted: “I fully support” the measure and “look forward to signing the final bill, ASAP!”

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The illness is reportedly linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In the United States and its territories, as of March 18, 7,038 people in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands had been diagnosed and 97 had died, the agency states.

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