On December 21, 2020, Congress passed an appropriations bill package providing additional coronavirus relief. The legislation, spanning more than 5,500 pages, is a colossal undertaking that is still being dissected by experts. One question at the forefront of school administrators’ minds in recent weeks was whether Congress would extend the mandatory paid leave provisions under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). At the time the FFCRA was passed, paid leaves under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLEA”) were scheduled to sunset with the end of 2020. As many of our clients know first‑hand, the FFCRA has forced schools nationwide to weather staffing shortages amid the pandemic.
We can report that the appropriations bill does not contain language extending the mandatory leave provisions of the FFCRA. In other words, school districts will not be required to provide mandatory sick leave under EPSLA and the EFMLEA in 2021. Instead, Congress extended provisions of the FFCRA relative to tax credits for employees who take leave under EPSLA and the EFMLEA. Employers who wish to provide employees with paid sick leave and receive tax credits may do so for any leave taken through March 2021. However, Congress did not extend availability of the tax credits to public entities, which were never able to take advantage of the credits. The bottom line is school districts will not be able to receive tax credits for voluntary paid sick leave given to employees through March 2021, but school districts will also not be required to offer paid sick leave under the FFCRA.
Lack of a paid sick leave extension will be a welcome development for school districts that have made significant compromises and have been forced to adapt to delivery of virtual learning while short‑staffed. Along with more aid for educational entities packaged within the appropriations bill, and with the rollout of the first vaccines earlier in December, the end of mandatory paid sick leave is another sign that the nation may be entering the late stages of the pandemic. In any case, expiration of mandatory paid sick leave is ultimately a much‑needed win for school districts as we close out a very difficult year.