Coronavirus: How Will Emergency Sick Leave and Family Leave Affect Ministry Payroll?

A new federal law provides paid sick leave and other benefits to thousands of U.S. employees affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Generally, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Act”) applies to a number of public employees and to private businesses with fewer than 500 employees. There is no specific exemption in the Act for religious organizations (although some small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may apply for an exemption), so it may also affect many ministries.

We’re examining how these measures could affect Christian churches, schools, and nonprofits who rely on Brotherhood Mutual for insurance coverage and on MinistryWorks® for assistance with payroll. Many details about implementation are still not known. Like you, we continue seeking expert guidance and will update these materials as new details emerge. Here are answers to some questions you may have about the new law.

Overview: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Act”) requires qualifying employers to provide paid leave for certain employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic if those employees are unable to work or telework. It also expands the Family and Medical Leave Act and provides emergency federal funds for such things as COVID-19 testing, unemployment compensation, and nutrition assistance programs. President Donald Trump signed the Act into law on March 18, 2020. It takes effect April 1 and expires on December 31, 2020.

The Act requires qualifying employers to provide paid and unpaid leave to certain employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two components to the Act’s sick leave provision: Emergency paid sick leave and an expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Act provides refundable tax credits to fund the emergency measures. It may also allow businesses with fewer than 50 employees to apply for an exemption if compliance would jeopardize the viability of a business. At this time, it’s unclear how to apply for this exemption. The U.S. Department of Labor is to provide additional guidelines and regulations in April 2020.

Review the highlights and get answers to some common questions, below.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

This measure requires qualified employers to provide an additional two weeks (80 hours) of paid sick time for full-time employees who are unable to work or telework because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part-time employees can receive an amount of paid sick time equal to the average number of hours the employee works in a 2-week period.

This emergency paid sick leave is to be available for use immediately by employees, regardless of how long the employee has been employed with the ministry

Are ministries exempt from paying emergency sick leave? 

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act amends the Fair Labor Standards Act. Ministries who believe they are not subject to the FLSA should consult local employment counsel to see whether this law applies to them. (Read “Does the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apply to our Ministry?”)

Which employees qualify for emergency paid sick leave? 

Qualifying employers must provide paid sick leave in situations where the employee cannot work or telework due to any of the following circumstances:

  1. The employee is subject to a federal, state, or local government quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
  2. The employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
  3. The employee has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
  4. The employee is caring for an individual subject to either paragraphs (1) or (2).
  5. The employee needs to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed or whose childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.
  6. The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of Labor.

Can emergency paid sick leave time be tracked by your payroll service with MinistryWorks?

Yes, it can.

Should employees on COVID-19 sick leave receive their normal rate of pay?

This sick leave is paid at the employee’s regular rate of pay if the leave is taken for the employee’s own health (Categories 1, 2, or 3 listed above). Benefits are capped at $511 per day and $5,110 total.

For employees who use this leave to care for others (Categories 4, 5, and 6 listed above), the benefit is provided at two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay. Benefits are capped at $200 per day and $2,000 total.

Must employees prove that they qualify for paid COVID-19 leave?

Ministry leaders will want to note that the there are no certification requirements under the Act. However, you may require an employee to follow reasonable notice procedures when he or she opts to take paid sick leave.

Can I require the person requesting sick leave to find a replacement?

Ministries cannot require an employee using emergency paid sick leave under this act to search for or find a replacement employee to cover the hours he or she would have worked.

Must employees exhaust other time-off benefits before receiving paid sick leave for COVID-19?

Ministries may not require an employee to use other paid leave benefits, such as vacation or sick time, before using paid sick leave under this Act. The Act allows employees to use the new paid sick time first.

May our ministry deny an employee’s request for emergency paid sick leave?

Failure of qualifying employers to provide emergency paid sick leave could subject the ministry to monetary penalties.

Additionally, an employer may not discipline, discharge, or discriminate in any other manner against an employee who takes paid sick leave pursuant to the Act.

Emergency FMLA Expansion Act

This emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (E-FMLA) requires qualifying employers to provide up to 12 weeks of protected leave to employees caring for children under the age of 18 whose schools or childcare providers have been closed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Qualifying employers must provide limited paid leave to employees during these absences. The law gives employers refundable tax credits to cover the cost of providing paid E-FMLA leave to employees. (See more about tax credits, below.)

Does the E-FMLA provide paid or unpaid leave?

The first 10 days of E-FMLA leave are unpaid. After that, employers must provide up to 10 weeks of paid leave. Please note that employees have the right to use Emergency Paid Sick Leave (described above) during the first 10 days of E-FMLA leave. Qualifying employers must offer employees this option.

How much do we pay employees during the “paid” portion of E-FMLA leave?

After the first 10 business days (two weeks) of E-FMLA leave have been completed, employers are to pay at least two-thirds of an employee’s regular rate of pay, subject to certain limits. The Act caps payment at $200 per employee per day and at $10,000 for the length of an employee’s E-FMLA leave.

Can an employee used emergency paid sick time during the “unpaid” portion of E-FMLA leave?

An employee can choose to use emergency paid sick leave, described above, for the first 10 business days of E-FMLA leave.

Is there a waiting period for eligibility?

The E-FMLA benefit is available to any employee who has been employed with the ministry for at least 30 days.

Tax Credits

The Act provides tax credits for qualifying employers to help offset the costs of providing paid leave to employees under the Act. Under the Act, the employer will be allowed a tax credit against the payroll tax imposed by section 3111(a) of the Internal Revenue Code for each calendar quarter. There are still many unanswered questions as to how the tax credit will apply to ministries. Church employers are not required to withhold Social Security benefits from clergy pay, and the Act does not address how church employers could qualify for the new tax credits in these situations. Additional guidelines and regulations are expected to be released in April 2020 that could provide some clarity.

Questions?

If you’re a MinistryWorks client, please direct questions to your ministry’s personal payroll specialist. They’re available, Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. If you cannot reach your payroll specialist directly, call MinistryWorks’ toll-free hotline: 866.215.5540. A receptionist will direct your call to a person who can help you.

If you’re not a MinistryWorks client, and you wonder how the Act’s provisions might apply to your situation, consider contacting the Department of Labor or the Department of Treasury at the telephone numbers below. You may also wish to review information for ministries related to COVID-19 in Brotherhood Mutual’s Safety Library: brotherhoodmutual.com/coronavirus.

Department of Labor                   1-866-4-US-WAGE

Department of Treasury              (202) 622-2000 

Additional Information

You’ll find additional information about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and actions you can take to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus by visiting the sites below.

Posted March 31, 2020