Congress Working on Coronavirus Bill to Provide Paid Leave and More

President declares coronavirus national emergency

Capitol building

Lawmakers are finalizing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—which could provide free screening, paid leave and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for people affected by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

After several days of negotiation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that a deal was reached on March 13 with the White House to pass the bill. The House approved the bill later that night, CNN reported. The Senate will vote on the measure this week, and Trump is expected to sign it.

"Of course, senators will need to carefully review the version just passed by the House," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "But I believe the vast majority of senators in both parties will agree we should act swiftly to secure relief for American workers, families, and small businesses."

President Donald Trump declared a national emergency March 13, which frees up billions of dollars to fund public health and removes restrictions on hospitals to treat more patients. The administration also announced a partnership with several major employers—including Google, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens and Target—to provide faster testing in local communities. 

"We cannot fight coronavirus effectively unless everyone in our country who needs to be tested knows they can get their test free of charge," Pelosi said. "We cannot slow the coronavirus outbreak when workers are stuck with the terrible choice between staying home to avoid spreading illness and the paycheck their family can't afford to lose."

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) would provide:

  • Free coronavirus testing.
  • Paid emergency leave.
  • Enhanced unemployment insurance.
  • Additional funding for nutritional programs.
  • Protections for health care workers and employees responsible for cleaning at-risk places.
  • Additional federal funds for Medicaid.

We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on the news.

SHRM Resource Spotlight
Coronavirus and COVID-19

Paid Leave Benefits

As initially proposed, the bill would provide workers with two-thirds of their wages, paid through the Social Security Administration, for up to 90 days of leave related to their own or a covered relative's illness caused by COVID-19. The program would expire in January 2021. The original draft would have permanently require private employers to provide seven days of paid-sick-leave accruals to full-time employees (though this provision was removed). Immediate sick-leave benefits would be provided to workers who get sick during the coronavirus pandemic, and employers would have to provide 14 days of paid sick leave to full-time employees when a public health emergency is declared. Part-time employees would be eligible to take paid sick leave for the number of hours that they would normally work in a two-week period. Changes to the bill will likely be made, however, before it is signed into law.


Senate Won't Take Planned Break

McConnell announced that the Senate will be in session the week of March 16, despite a scheduled recess. "I hope Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong," he said on Twitter. But McConnell opposed provisions in the initial draft of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. He previously called the bill an "ideological wish list not tailored closely to the circumstances."


Lawmakers Quickly Approved $8.3 Billion Emergency Bill

Another emergency spending package to fight coronavirus rapidly worked its way through Congress, and President Donald Trump signed it into law March 6. The measure will provide funds to develop a vaccine, provide protective and laboratory equipment to workers who need it, and aid locations hit with the virus.

(SHRM Online)

Coronavirus Prompts Employers to Review Sick Leave Policies

Do employees have the right to take time off if they are concerned about contracting coronavirus? Can employers send sick workers home? Should employees be paid for missed work time? HR and other business leaders are likely considering these questions and more as COVID-19 makes its way through the United States. "We believe employers would be wise to review their paid-time-off practices immediately," said Francis Alvarez, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in White Plains, N.Y. "Employers are likely to face unique circumstances that were not anticipated when they prepared their attendance and leave policies."

(SHRM Online)

When May Employers Require Workers to Self-Quarantine?

Employers can require workers to stay away from the workplace during the maximum incubation period of the virus—thought to be approximately 14 days—but may decide to not be so strict with employees returning from countries with low-risk assessment levels or low travel-alert levels. But where do employers draw the line?

(SHRM Online)


Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.