Yesterday, March 18, Congress passed H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, to provide relief to families and businesses that may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.  The AAO, in cooperation with other dental groups, is taking steps to see that AAO member practices are not unduly affected by the legislation.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides paid benefits to employees affected by the coronavirus in two different ways, through 1) amendments to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and 2) new emergency paid sick leave provisions.

Under the FMLA amendments, employees are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to care for a child younger than 18 whose school is closed or whose childcare provider is unavailable.  Notable for many AAO members’ practices, the amendment carves out an exception for businesses with 50 or less employees, which are shielded from liability for damages in a civil action for violating the new extended FMLA leave provision.

Under the new emergency paid sick leave provisions, employers will be required to provide paid sick leave to all employees for the following coronavirus-related reasons:

  • Federal, State, or local quarantine;
  • self-quarantine at the advice of a health care provider;
  • obtaining a medical diagnosis if experiencing symptoms;
  • caring for a sick individual who is subject to Federal, State, or local quarantine or is self-quarantined at the advice of a health care provider;
  • caring for a child whose school or childcare facility has been closed or whose childcare provider is unavailable; and
  • experiencing any other “substantially similar” condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Full-time employees will be entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave at either their regular rate for their own coronavirus-related quarantine, or two-thirds of the regular rate for caring for a sick family member, caring for a child whose school or childcare facility has been closed or whose childcare provider is unavailable, or experiencing any other “substantially similar” condition.

Under these emergency paid sick leave provisions, the Secretary of Labor may issue regulations excluding health care providers or emergency responders and/or exempting small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the paid sick leave requirements.

The AAO has joined its partners in the Organized Dentistry Coalition to send a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to express concerns about these specific provisions in the legislation, and to ask that that Secretary Scalia enact regulations to exempt from the sick leave requirements small businesses that are experiencing significant financial challenges, including dental offices and orthodontic practices.  A copy of that letter can be found here.

Finally, the Act also includes tax credits for employers.  These tax credits include:

  1. Employers will be able to recover some costs associated with the paid emergency family and medical leave and emergency sick leave through tax credits.
  2. The bill allows certain qualified health plan expenses that are allocable to qualified sick leave wages or qualified family leave wages to qualify for the tax credits.
  3. Qualified health plan expenses are amounts paid or incurred by an employer to provide and maintain a group health plan that are excluded from employees’ income.

The AAO legal and advocacy team will continue to work with our federal lobbyists to monitor any federal measures to address the impact that COVID-19 is having, or will have, on our members as healthcare professionals and small business owners and, where appropriate, lobby for inclusion of our members in such relief measures.