FFCRA leave guidance changes now effective

A lawsuit challenging the Department of Labor (DoL) FFCRA leave guidance was filed in April 2020 by the New York Attorney General. (New York v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, No. 20-CV-3020 (JPO), 2020 WL 4462260 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2020) The decision of the federal district court invalidated four sections of the DoL regulations. The invalidated regulations included:

  • The persons covered as “health care providers” who could be excluded from the leave provisions of the Act,
  • Regulations stating the employer must permit intermittent leave under the EPSLA or EFMLEA,
  • Prior notice of leave provisions, and
  • Availability of leave if the employer does not have work for the employee to do.

DoL recently issued a new temporary rule with explanations of some of the provisions (intermittent leave) and clarification/amendment of others (notice of leave), effective September 16- December 31, 2020. Unless extended through additional legislation, the leave provisions in FFCRA (EPSLA and EFMLEA) expire at the end of December.

Find the notice in the Federal Register here: https://preview.tinyurl.com/yysmuzlg.

DoL clarified and expanded upon its interpretation on intermittent leave. An ongoing question for public schools has been how to administer the use of EFMLEA leave for child care when the employee’s child(ren) are on a hybrid schedule, attending in person and remotely from week to week or day to day. Updated regulations clarify that EFMLEA child care leave for parents whose students are on hybrid programs is not considered intermittent leave.

The rationale: because school buildings are closed to students on days when students attend remotely, remote days are considered a qualifying reason for leave. In contrast, when the child goes to school in person, the school is open. When the school switches back to remote learning, it is a new qualifying reason for leave. This guidance is different from previously-published guidance and is a new interpretation. Intermittent leave was addressed at questions #20-22 of the Dol “FFCRA Questions and Answers”. It is assumed this Q & A will be revised after the effective date.

DoL’s new explanation of the rationale as published in the Federal Register, 85 FR 57677 :
“The employer-approval condition would not apply to employees who take FFCRA leave in full-day increments to care for their children whose schools are operating on an alternate day (or other hybrid-attendance) basis because such leave would not be intermittent under § 826.50.

In an alternate day or other hybrid-attendance schedule implemented due to COVID-19, the school is physically closed with respect to certain students on particular days as determined and directed by the school, not the employee. The employee might be required to take FFCRA leave on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of one week and Tuesday and Thursday of the next, provided that leave is needed to actually care for the child during that time and no other suitable person is available to do so. For the purposes of the FFCRA, each day of school closure constitutes a separate reason for FFCRA leave that ends when the school opens the next day.

The employee may take leave due to a school closure until that qualifying reason ends (i.e., the school opened the next day), and then take leave again when a new qualifying reason arises (i.e., school closes again the day after that). Under the FFCRA, intermittent leave is not needed because the school literally closes (as that term is used in the FFCRA and 29 CFR 826.20) and opens repeatedly. The same reasoning applies to longer and shorter alternating schedules, such as where the employee’s child attends in-person classes for half of each school day or where the employee’s child attends in-person classes every other week and the employee takes FFCRA leave to care for the child during the half-days or weeks in which the child does not attend classes in person.

This is distinguished from the scenario where the school is closed for some period, and the employee wishes to take leave only for certain portions of that period for reasons other than the school’s in-person instruction schedule. Under these circumstances, the employee’s FFCRA leave is intermittent and would require his or her employer’s agreement.”

Teleworking employees: DoL clarified that an employee may take intermittent leave while teleworking for any of the FFCRA qualifying reasons if the employer permits it.

Notice and documentation of leave: The DoL also amended one regulation that required notice to the employer of the need for leave prior to taking the leave.

  • EPSLA leave: notice of the need for leave cannot be required prior to the leave. The revision states that notice of leave after the first day should be given “as is practicable.”
  • EFMLEA leave: if the need for the leave is foreseeable, notice should be given in advance. If not foreseeable, the employee must give notice “as is practicable.” Employees may be required to provide documentation including the employee’s name, dates for which leave is requested, qualifying reasons for the leave, and an oral or written statement the employee is unable to work.

What this means for your district:
Administering EPSLA and EFMLEA child care leave has been challenging. DoL’s interpretations and positions continue to evolve. These regulations clarify some of the questions we have been getting, although additional questions remain. Please consult with an EB attorney if you have specific questions about how the newly-effective regulations apply in specific situations.

Injunction Seeking to Prevent Implementation of Title IX Regulations Denied

The U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York recently denied a request for a preliminary injunction to prevent new Title IX regulations from becoming effective on August 14, 2020.

In general, Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools. It is often used in sexual harassment claims of students involving teacher-on-student harassment or student-on-student harassment. Since 1997, the U.S. Department of Education (the “DOE”) issued guidance discussing how schools should resolve allegations concerning sexual harassment and sexual violence.

The DOE adopted formal regulations in 2020 after publishing a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2018. The regulations contain several provisions that depart from past guidance. The plaintiffs, the State of New York and New York City School District, requested an injunction alleging that the regulations exceed the DOE’s authority; that they are arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with federal law; and that the DOE failed to follow procedures required by law in issuing the regulations.

In order to obtain a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must show a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the underlying claim. The court found that it is undisputed that DOE has the authority to promulgate rules and regulations implementing Title IX. It also found that the DOE had the authority to define the operations of a school to which Title IX applies and to specify how the grievance procedure contained in the regulations would apply to both the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator of harassment. Further, the DOE regulations were not determined to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. Therefore, the court determined that the plaintiffs did not have a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits so the request for a preliminary injunction was denied.

What this means for your district: The new Title IX regulations became effective on August 14, 2020. Districts should have adopted a revised Title IX policy to comply with the new regulations. In addition, it is recommended that all K-12 employees be trained on the new Title IX regulations because a school district will be presumed to have actual knowledge of sexual harassment if any employee has knowledge of such conduct. To assist our clients with this training, Ennis Britton has recorded a training module that is available to clients for employee training purposes. If you wish to utilize those training modules, please contact Barb Billow via email at bbillow@ennisbritton.com.

State of New York v. United States Department of Education, U.S. Dist. S. NY, 20-CV-4260 (August 9, 2020).