Bar Exams in the Pandemic JURIST Digital Scholars
Federal court rejects Trump administration sick leave restrictions for employees impacted by COVID-19
© WikiMedia (Ed Brown)
Federal court rejects Trump administration sick leave restrictions for employees impacted by COVID-19

The US Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York threw out portions of a rule promulgated by the Trump administration Monday that sought to limit the scope of a federal aid package that mandated paid leave for employees impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA extended mandatory paid sick leave to employees who were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 as well as extended medical leave for employees who needed to care for children whose school or child care was closed as a result of the novel coronavirus. The Department of Labor (DOL) promulgated rules limiting the applicability of the FFCRA to only businesses that had “available work” for employees seeking paid leave and adopting an expansive definition of which jobs were considered “health care providers” and therefore exempt from the rule. New York State Attorney General Letitia James sued to block the implementation of the rule.

The court largely agreed with James’ objections, holding that the limitations imposed by the DOL were unsupported by the text of the statute. Judge Paul Oetken said in his opinion that the limitation of paid leave solely to businesses that had available work for employees was only expressly applied to three of the six situations in the statutory text of the FFCRA and that the DOL’s extension of it to all situations was improper. In addition, Oetken struck down the DOL’s expansive definition of “health care providers” who were exempt from the additional leave as “so vastly overbroad” that it would exclude “English professors, librarians and cafeteria managers” from benefits. Finally, Oetken voided provisions of the rule requiring employees to obtain written permission from employers and advance documentation for sick leave, finding that the requirements had no basis in the statute.

Attorney General James hailed the decision, saying on Twitter that the decision was “a major victory for workers across New York and our entire nation.”