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Proposed Relief Legislation Includes Major Workplace Changes

Coronavirus Labor & Employment

There has been extensive reporting on the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill just released by President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. News reports have highlighted key aspects of the plan including additional $1,400 stimulus checks, extended unemployment benefits, and money to speed vaccine distribution and expand testing. The proposal also includes a number of additional measures that, if enacted, will greatly affect every employer. These include:

Reinstatement and Expansion of FFCRA Sick and Child Care Leave: The proposal includes provisions to expand upon the emergency paid sick leave included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act last March, which expired on December 31. The proposed legislation would mandate paid sick and family and medical leave for all employers – not just government employers and those private-sector employers with fewer than 500 employees. It would also eliminate exceptions for employers with fewer than 50 workers and for health care workers. The maximum leave allowed would be expanded from 12 to 14 weeks, with full pay of up to $1,400 per week. The legislation would continue to provide a refundable tax credit to pay for paid leave expenses for employers with fewer than 500 employees.

$15 per hour minimum wage: A key element of the Biden campaign platform, President-elect Biden’s team is not waiting to press for a national $15 per hour minimum wage. $15 per hour is more than double the current federal minimum wage, and higher than the current minimum wage in every state. Some cities, including New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose and Washington D.C., currently have minimum wages of $15 or greater. Proposals for a $15 minimum wage have consistently met with strong opposition from Republican lawmakers. It remains to be seen whether the thin Democratic majority in the Senate will allow the measure to be enacted into law. 

OSHA standards for state and local government employees: The proposal asks Congress to extend authority to OSHA to issue a COVID-19 protection standard that covers not only private-sector employers, but also frontline state and local government employees who are not generally subject to OSHA regulation. With or without new legislation, OSHA is widely expected to issue a COVID-19 workplace safety standard in the coming months. The proposal also includes additional money to fund OSHA enforcement activities.

Elimination of the tip credit: In addition to hiking the minimum wage to $15 per hour, the minimum wage proposal would do away with the “tip credit,” which allows employers to count tips received by employees who “customarily and regularly” receive tips toward their minimum wage obligation. The measure is likely to draw strong opposition from hospitality industry employers, many of which are already reeling due to the impact of the pandemic. 

Hazard Pay for essential workers: Reports also indicate that the Biden plan calls for pressure on businesses to provide hazard pay to essential workers who have continued to work during the pandemic, including back hazard pay for work performed during 2020. At present it does not appear that the proposed legislation would include a legal mandate to provide hazard pay, nor does it allocate government money to cover hazard pay.

Our team will continue to monitor the relief legislation as it takes shape in Congress. Please contact the authors or any Franczek attorney for more information.