COVID-19 ‘school closure’ benefits still available for parents
Approved towards the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak and remaining in effect through the end of 2020, a federal law offers relief to New Jersey workers who may need time off because their child’s school or care program isn’t up and running as usual this fall.
Through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, certain employers are required to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Among those reasons: “To care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.”
Using the benefits available, employees can receive two-thirds of their pay, capped at $200 per day, for up to 12 weeks.
“The employee has to have worked for the employer for at least 30 days, the definition of employer essentially covers any employer with fewer than 500 employees, and there are carve-outs and exceptions for hardships for smaller businesses,” said workers’ rights attorney Adam Kleinfeldt with Deutsch Atkins in Hackensack.
According to Kleinfeldt, the Department of Labor has issued opinions and regulations that suggest a school is “closed” if it’s chosen to go completely virtual. But there’s still a lack of clarity surrounding districts that are running on a hybrid model of in-person/virtual learning, he said.
Kleinfeldt said workers should speak with their employers to figure out their options. The law advises workers to give employers as much notice as practicable, if the leave is foreseeable.
Employers are permitted to ask certain questions to workers interested in taking the emergency time off.
“If your employer is saying they can’t do that or it’s too much of a burden on them, you want to document everything in writing,” Kleinfeldt said. “My practical advice is to do everything you can to stay employed because these benefits are limited.”
Bob Considine, chief communications officer for the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said the benefits could present challenges to businesses in terms of productivity and costs, but the federal extended pandemic sick time can be reimbursed to businesses through tax credits. Also, there are still plenty of businesses with employees working from home.
“Anecdotally, we do hear that while those balances of work and child care aren’t always easy, they are attainable,” Considine said.
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