Trump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees

Trump administration issues guidance scaling back paid leave requirement for small business employees
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit Trump criticizes CNN on split-screen audio of Rose Garden address, protesters clashing with police MORE’s administration has pulled back requirements for small businesses to administer paid leave to their employees in a guidance published Wednesday.

The Labor Department’s guidance for the coronavirus stimulus bill said companies with fewer than 50 workers have the option to decline 12 weeks of paid leave that the bill mandated for those whose children are home from school or child care.

Employees are granted two weeks of paid sick leave and 12 weeks of paid family leave under the law, which exempted employers from administering the paid family leave if it hindered business from functioning. 

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The law already does not apply to companies with more than 500 employees, meaning in total, more than 75 percent of American workers are employed at companies that can be exempt, The New York Times noted.

But the Department of Labor interpreted that small businesses could be exempt from providing the family leave if it would “cause the small business to cease operating,” if employee absence would pose “a substantial risk” to the business or if there were not enough employees “able, willing and qualified” to fill in for the individual on leave. 

Small businesses cannot deny sick leave. 

But health care providers, first responders and certain federal government employees could also be declined the family paid leave under the law.

Democrats expressed concern that the law did not provide the needed flexibility for workers during the pandemic. Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayCOVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen Democratic leaders say Trump testing strategy is 'to deny the truth' about lack of supplies MORE (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroCOVID-19 workplace complaints surge; unions rip administration Lack of child care poses major hurdle as businesses reopen Frustrations grow over incomplete racial data on COVID-19 cases, deaths MORE (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene ScaliaEugene ScaliaAFL-CIO sues OSHA to demand standard for worker protections Trump ordering halt to pension investments in Chinese equities OSHA inspectors conducting hundreds of coronavirus-related workplace investigations: report MORE saying the guidelines “violate congressional intent” and ”contradict the plain language” of the law.

Scalia said in a statement Wednesday the law gave “unprecedented paid leave benefits to American workers affected by the virus, while ensuring that businesses are reimbursed.”

Paid leave was one of the most contentious aspects of the massive stimulus bill, as Democrats pushed for more leave for employees, delaying the Senate vote on the package.