Furlough Versus Protected Employees Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
There are two big items that came down on March 18 in response to the COVID 19 situation.
The first was guidance from the State of Michigan on how to furlough employees. To furlough means to put someone on temporary leave. You can read all about it here: email from State. Governor Whitmer just passed an executive order stating that employees who go on temporary leave are still eligible for unemployment and the groups won't have to pay an increase in unemployment charges. This is a good thing because it ensures employees can still receive some sort of paycheck (but as some of you well know, it's nothing like the real deal).
Temporary leave is a better move for employees than a full termination because it allows them to remain on benefits. Of course the provisions of the carrier contract have to allow this. We are working on a BPI page that outlines each carrier's response to this special time for both workers on leave and specific claims. We are updating it as we learn more.
Most preliminary indications are for ancillary there is no reason to term the employees on furlough. We are still waiting formal guidance from Aetna. Then of course there's the issue of voluntary benefits and employee contributions. The carriers have grace periods for these items and that is also outlined on our dedicated COVID 19 page.
Option two is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which President Trump signed into law yesterday. What this does is to protect employees who go on leave as a result of government mandating quarantine for the following reasons:
is subject to a government quarantine or isolation order for COVID-19;
has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine for COVID-19;
is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
is caring for an individual subject to a COVID-19 quarantine or isolation order; or
is caring for their child because the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider for the child is unavailable, due to COVID-19 reasons.
This is a good option because employers don't have to place an employee on leave. They can still pay wages and even get a tax break because of it. You can read all about it here. In addition, all the money employers pay for health benefits qualifies for the tax refund under this act.
So employers have two issues to face, lay off employees due to the disruption caused in the economy by the virus. And/or lay off employees because they have disruption caused by the virus itself or for caring for family members due to the virus or because daycare or schools closed.
The second issue has been addressed by the Feds in the form of an employer tax break. The first has the issue of employee benefits. When someone goes on temporary leave, what happens to their benefits? That is really a case-by-case scenario. Some employers may stop paying for those benefits. In that instance the employees will go on COBRA or to the marketplace for health and be forced to port their voluntary ancillary coverages if possible. In other instances the employer will leave them on the plan and all indications are now that our carriers, even Aetna will allow them to stay on. When the employees are hired back, Aetna and most of our ancillary carriers will allow them back on with zero wait.
Aetna has extended their employee assistance program to friends of families of their health plan members. You can access it 1-833-327-AETNA (1-833-327-2386). This is a confidential line whereby you can talk to a licensed professional who might be able to suggest some next steps for finding comfort.
If you have questions, give me a call and we can talk!
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