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District of Columbia Expands D.C.’s FMLA and Unemployment Insurance Provisions

Labor & Employment Alert Sarah A. Belger, Hans P. Riede

The District of Columbia City Council enacted emergency COVID-19 legislation on March 17, 2020, the COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act (the “Act”). This Act expands the D.C. Family Medical Leave Act (“D.C. FMLA”) to include “Declaration of Emergency” ("DOE") leave and broadens unemployment insurance availability for affected employees. The text of the Act is available here.

D.C.'s FMLA
The D.C. FMLA typically covers employers with 20 or more employees working in the District. Employees must be employed for at least one year, without a break in service, and work at least 1,000 hours during the preceding 12-month period to be eligible for D.C. FMLA leave. Employees may take up to 16 weeks of unpaid family leave plus 16 weeks of unpaid medical leave during a 24-month period.

Declaration of Emergency Leave
The Act creates a new category of protected DOE leave. An employee who is unable to work as a result of COVID-19, during a period of time for which Mayor Muriel Bowser has declared a public health emergency, is entitled to DOE leave during that period. In other words, the amount of covered leave is indefinite and lasts during the period of the public health emergency.

The DOE leave is unpaid, and the new DOE leave requirement applies to all employers in D.C., regardless of the number of employees they employ in the District.

The Act also removes the one-year employment requirement and 1,000-hour work requirement for employees who have been ordered or recommended to quarantine or isolate by the Department of Health, any other District or federal agency, or a medical professional.

The Act does not specifically address how the new category of DOE leave interacts with other existing D.C. FMLA requirements relating to issues such as restoration rights, benefits and seniority. The D.C. Office of Human Rights may issue guidance clarifying these issues.

Certification of the Need for Leave
Employees need little documentation to qualify for DOE leave. The recommendation from the Mayor, Department of Health, any other District or federal agency, or a medical professional that the employee self-quarantine or self-isolate satisfies the certification requirement. When the government has mandated quarantine or isolation, the declaration of a public health emergency by Mayor Bowser serves as sufficient certification of the need for such leave.

Unemployment Insurance Update
The Act also expands the eligibility rules for individuals to be qualified for unemployment insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Act modifies the D.C. Unemployment Compensation Act and adds several categories of individuals who are eligible for unemployment insurance, namely:

  1. Employees who have become unemployed or partially employed as a result of a declared public health emergency;
  2. Employees who have been quarantined or isolated by the Department of Health or any other applicable District or federal agency;
  3. Employees who have self-quarantined or self-isolated in a manner consistent with the recommendations of the Department of Health, any other applicable District of federal agency, or a medical professional; or
  4. Employees of an employer that ceased or reduced operations, or has had a reduction in business revenue resulting from the public health emergency, as determined by the Mayor.

Affected employees are eligible for unemployment insurance regardless of whether the:

  1. Employee has searched for work;
  2. Employer has provided a date certain for the employee’s return to work; or
  3. Employee has a reasonable expectation of continued employment with the current employer.

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If you have any questions related to the provisions of the D.C. COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act, please contact your local Quarles & Brady attorney, or:

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