COVID-19 Legal Update for 2021

Unfortunately, as we complete the first month of 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic is still surging and many of the laws related to it changed on January 1, 2021. This article surveys a few of those laws, but is by far not an exhaustive list or a complete analysis of all of the new laws. Please give us a call if you have any specific questions related to the COVID-19 laws or otherwise.

Colorado Healthy Families and Workplace Act

 On July 14, 2020, Governor Polis signed into law the Healthy Families and Workplace Act (HFWA). The day it was signed, the HFWA required all employers in the State to provide paid leave to employees under Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The EPSLA required employers to provide up to eighty (80) hours of paid sick leave to employees at their regular rate if the employee was quarantined pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis. Employers were also required to provide employees up to eighty (80) hours of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employees regular rate of pay if the employee was unable to work because of a need to care for an individual subject to quarantine or care for a child whose school or child care provider was closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19 and/or the employee was experiencing a substantially similar condition. The FFCRA also provided an Emergency Family Medical Leave and Expansion Act (EFMLEA), which provided up to ten (10) week of paid leave at two-thirds their regular rate for employees who were unable to work because their child’s place of care or school was closed due to COVID-19. The HFWA did not require all employers to provide the EFMLEA leave.

On January 1, 2021, the HFWA no longer required employers to provide leave under the EPSLA. However, new legislation signed into law on December 27, 2020, at the federal level, incentivizes certain employers to continue to provide the EPSLA and EFMLEA until March 31, 2021. An analysis of that new legislation is described further below. For 2021, the HFWA will require employers to provide employees with up to 48 hours of paid sick leave. The paid sick leave must accrue at one hour for every thirty hours worked. In addition, during a public health emergency, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, employers must provide full time employees with up to 80 hours of paid leave and for part time employees the greater of the scheduled or actually worked time in a two-week period. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) recently promulgated rules for the HFWA.

More COVID-19 Stimulus Packages

On December 27, 2020, former President Trump signed into law, the Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2021. This Act was a spending bill passed by Congress for the 2021 fiscal year, but included a COVID-19 stimulus package. The stimulus package can be found under section Division M, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021. It provides, among other things, COVID-19 related stimulus checks for certain individuals, an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to certain businesses, extends unemployment benefits, and continues paid sick and medical leave for certain employers that choose to provide the leave. The text of the new law can be found here. The new stimulus bill is quite different from the last COVID-19 stimulus bill passed in March 2020. The stimulus checks are only for $600, not $1,200, and only individuals that earned less than $75,000 in 2019 will receive the full $600. Legislation to increase this amount to $2,000 was introduced at the end of 2020, but not passed by the Senate. The EPSLA and EFMLEA are no longer mandatory and employers are only given a tax incentive up until March 31, 2021 to continue to provide such leave. The PPP loan has also been expanded by providing additional reasons for claims, including but not limited to, operation expenditures, property damages costs, and worker protection expenditures. In addition, business that have less than three hundred (300) employees and can show a twenty-five (25) percent loss in gross receipts in certain quarters can reapply for a second PPP loan.

President Biden is currently pushing for a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill that would among other things provide funding for States and schools, provide another round of stimulus checks of $1,400, increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, extend unemployment aid and support, and provide funding for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. An outline of a few of these bill provisions can be found in this CNN article.