Employers have spent the past year figuring out leave policies and requirements during the pandemic and leave continues to be an issue. Although Congress had the opportunity to extend the requirement that companies with 500 or fewer employees provide paid medical leave and family leave to workers affected by COVID-19, it did not do so, allowing the mandates to expire on Dec. 31. However, the eleventh-hour stimulus package did keep in place, through March 31, the tax credit for employers who voluntarily provide this paid benefit.
Those who choose to continue benefits under the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) are not required to provide new or additional Families First Coronavirus Response Act leave time. Rather, employers can choose to allow employees to take leave left over from 2020.
More changes to leave policy are likely at the state and federal levels as the Biden Administration has made it clear it intends to continue providing economic stimulus as well as protections for employees.
While smaller employers may return to pre-COVID status that did not legally require them to comply with Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), there are indications that policies will again be proposed that will require some form of mandated paid leave. The question is when it will be mandated and what the requirements will look like. Will sweeping changes be introduced or will there be tweaks to existing FMLA policies?
In past years, bills have been introduced at the federal and state levels to expand FMLA benefits to employees of smaller companies and change FMLA from unpaid to paid leave. New Hampshire employers with operations in Maine are already dealing with state-mandated FMLA policies. Maine’s new policy, which went into effect Jan.1, mandates private employers with more than 10 employees provide one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours of paid leave annually.
In NH, Gov. Chris Sununu has said that a paid FMLA benefit in some form is on his agenda for the coming year. Sununu vetoed a bill last year to provide 12 weeks of paid leave due to illness or to care for a sick relative or for the birth or adoption of a child, which would be funded through payroll deductions. The governor previously supported a proposal to create a voluntary insurance program for businesses or individuals, starting with state employees.