- Several features of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)'s regulations implementing the paid-leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) exceeded the agency's authority under federal law, a federal judge has ruled (State of New York v. U.S. Department of Labor, et al., No. 20-CV-3020 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2020)).
- Among the struck-down DOL regulations are: the final rule's work-availability requirement; its definition of "health care provider" for the purposes of excluding certain healthcare sector employees from emergency leave benefits; its requirement that an employee secure employer consent for intermittent FFCRA leave; and its requirement that documentation be provided by an employee before taking FFCRA leave.
- The federal judge permitted the outright ban on intermittent leave for certain qualifying reasons — specifically, intermittent leave based on qualifying conditions that correspond with an increased risk of infection — as well as the substance of the final rule's documentation requirement to stand. The court, the judge said, "sees no reason that the remainder of the Rule cannot operate as promulgated in the absence of the invalid provisions."
The ruling is an important one for the nation's first-ever federal paid leave law for private-sector workers. New York originally filed the suit in April following the release of DOL's FFCRA implementation guidance earlier in the month. Shortly before the lawsuit's filing, Congressional Democrats criticized DOL's final rule in a letter to Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia that said the agency's guidance either deviated from the FFCRA's statute or did not have a basis in it.
Asked about the letter, a DOL spokesperson told HR Dive in April that the agency took "quick action to implement paid sick leave and expanded paid family and medical leave provides necessary support for America's workforce in uncertain times."
The federal judge said in the ruling that DOL faced "considerable pressure" in promulgating its final rule. "This extraordinary crisis has required public and private entities alike to act decisively and swiftly in the face of massive uncertainty, and often with grave consequence," the judge noted. "But as much as this moment calls for flexibility and ingenuity, it also calls for renewed attention to the guardrails of our government. Here, DOL jumped the rail."
Management-side attorneys expect the ruling to be appealed, Bloomberg Law reported. The decision applies nationally, creates uncertainty for employers who experienced pandemic-related shutdowns or reductions in force and requires healthcare employers to "re-examine whether they must provide paid leave" to certain employees, Sami Assad, partner at FordHarrison LLP and chair of the firm's Home Healthcare Practice Group, wrote in an article.
The FFCRA applies to U.S. employers with fewer than 500 employees, but those with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from two of the law's paid-leave requirements. An authorized officer of the business must use a three-prong test to determine whether the employer may claim an exemption. Also, the IRS has published guidance detailing how small businesses can receive 100% reimbursement for paid leave pursuant to the FFCRA.