A United States federal judge in Manhattan struck down four regulations issued by the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) limiting paid leave entitlements under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. In his August 3, 2020 decision, Judge J. Paul Oetken found the DOL exceeded its authority (a) by determining that employees were not entitled to paid leave if the manufacturer determined no work was available, (b) broadly defining “health care provider” resulting in the exclusion of workers otherwise entitled to paid leave, (c) requiring a manufacturer’s consent before a worker could take intermittent leave, and (d) requiring workers to provide documentation prior to taking leave. State of New York v. United States Department of Labor, Case No. 20-CV-3020 (S.D. N.Y. Aug. 3, 2020), available on Bloomberg Law.
Adopted by Congress and signed by the President in March 2020, the FFCRA gives manufacturing employees and others paid and unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks for designated circumstances related to COVID-19, including leave care for a child under the age of 18 whose school, place of care or child care is closed due to a COVID-19 reason. The cost of paid leave is offset by a “dollar-for-dollar” credit on federal withholding and payroll taxes. The law became effective April 1, 2020 and the DOL issued interim final regulations on April 6, 2020. Because many states had already implemented mandatory “stay-at-home” orders when the law became effective, many manufacturers and others did not believe the paid leave entitlement was available to their workers. The DOL’s regulations seemed to confirm this understanding, as the DOL took the position that workers were not entitled to paid leave if work was otherwise “not available.”
By invalidating that DOL’s interpretation, however, the Court’s decision potentially opens the door for manufacturing workers to claim retroactive paid leave. In other words, the Court’s decision potentially means that workers were entitled to paid leave even if the manufacturer was closed because of a “stay-at-home” order or the individual was otherwise on a layoff.
Manufacturers may wish to confer with legal counsel to assess the impact of the court’s decision on past, current and future leave entitlements.