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By Carmen Ensinger
Greene County Board members discussed the need for a policy regarding forced COVID quarantine for its employees at its Nov. 8 Personnel Committee meeting.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which took effect April 1, 2020, requires certain employers, including the County, to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions expired on Dec. 31, 2020.
However, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which took effect April 1, 2021, extended the provisions created by the FFCRA through Sept. 20 and expanded the qualifying reasons to use emergency paid sick leave and emergency family and medical leave.
The idea behind the FFCRA is to enable employers to keep their workers on their payrolls, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus. The County and other private employers are reimbursed with tax credits for the cost of providing employees with paid leave taken for specified reasons related to COVID-19.
Now that the ARPA provisions have also expired, any paid leave provided to an employee that doesn’t come from the employee’s vacation time or sick time, falls completely on the county with no reimbursement from the government.
Greene County Public Health Administrator Molly Peters attended the meeting at the request of the Personnel Committee to give input. The issue at hand revolves not around employees with COVID, for which staying home is a given, but those employees who must quarantine because someone in their household has tested positive. It should be noted that individuals who are fully vaccinated are not required to quarantine if they are living in a household that has a family member with COVID unless they develop symptoms.
“Quarantine, I feel, is needed to prevent disease and the purpose is to protect your workers and there has been multiple people who have been quarantined through this pandemic,” Peters said. “Individuals who have been vaccinated would not need to quarantine unless they develop symptoms in which case they would be tested or stay at home.”
One board member asked what the length of quarantine was.
“The length of quarantine would vary based on the person and how they are living in the home,” Peters said. “There are a lot of different scenarios in homes so it would be hard to set a standard policy.”
Peters said there is a need for workers to be present and not out on quarantine all of the time.
“There has been individuals quarantined multiple times and this could continue for a long time and we need to make sure the policy is fair for everyone,” Peters said. “Trying to set a policy in general, there is a need for your workers to be present on a daily basis and since they do have access to preventative measures (vaccine) and it is still their choice, we are asking our staff to take their sick time, comp time and vacation time if they have to quarantine.”
More simply put, employees unwilling to take the preventative measures provided to them (vaccine), should have to use their sick time or vacation time should they have to quarantine because someone in their household is sick with COVID because if they had been vaccinated there would be no need for them to quarantine.
Board member Chris Elliott asked about new employees who would have accrued no vacation or sick time.
“They would just take time without pay then,” Peters said. “They could apply for Family Medical Leave.”
But what about the new employee that comes down with COVID.
“If you are sick and you are told you have to stay home, that is when I feel we should kick in,” Board Member Andrea Schnelten said. “IF it is worked out with your supervisor and you are mandated to stay home, then we will pay you comp days. I feel we should at least do that.”
Board Member Christie Lake asked if the county couldn’t let the new employee “borrow” on future vacation and sick days.
“You can’t really do that because what if that employee doesn’t stay with us,” Elliott said. “We could pay them a week of sick days from next year and they might quit next month so that is not a solution.”
Peters said she just wants the employees in her department at work.
“I want people present and at work,” she said. “There have been multiple situations where there have been employees quarantined multiple times.”
The board decided to table the matter for more consideration at the Nov. 10 County board meeting.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The Department of Labor’s (Department) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. These provisions will apply from the effective date through December 31, 2020.
FFCRA helps the United States combat the workplace effects of COVID-19 by reimbursing American private employers that have fewer than 500 employees with tax credits for the cost of providing employees with paid leave taken for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The law enables employers to keep their workers on their payrolls, while at the same time ensuring that workers are not forced to choose between their paychecks and the public health measures needed to combat the virus. The Department’s Wage and Hour Division administers the paid leave portions of the FFCRA.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), effective April 1, 2020, created the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and amended the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to help protect families and workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), effective April 1, 2021, extended the provisions created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) through September 30, 2021 and expanded the qualifying reasons to use emergency paid sick leave and emergency family and medical leave.