Federal District Court in New York State Overturns U.S. Department of Labor Regulations Concerning Sick Leave for Health Care Providers
In the immediate onset of the COVID-19 crisis, federal, state, and local governments implemented a wide swath of regulations intended to protect the health and financial wellbeing of employees and their loved ones. One such set of regulations, enacted by Congress in March 2020 and known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), generally provides expanded paid sick leave, free COVID-19 testing, and expanded unemployment benefits for workers.
Paid Sick Leave for Health Care Providers
However, in its implementation of the FFCRA, the United States Department of Labor (“USDOL”) issued a Final Rule excluding “healthcare workers” from certain FFCRA protections enjoyed by non-healthcare workers, specifically paid sick leave. In an action entitled, State of New York v. United States Department of Labor, et al, commenced in the Southern District of New York, New York State challenged the USDOL’s interpretation of the Final Rule, arguing if employers are allowed to exclude health care workers from the FFCRA paid sick leave benefit, the “breadth of the term ‘healthcare provider’ has grave consequences…”
At issue, the USDOL defined the term “healthcare worker” (and as a consequence excluded them from the paid sick leave protections in the FFCRA) as “anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, employer, or entity.” As a result of the broad USDOL definition, many health care practices and facilities denied their employees’ requests for paid sick leave that otherwise would have been provided to non-healthcare workers.
New York v. U.S. Department of Labor
In its decision dated August 3, 2020, the Southern District ruled in favor of New York State holding that the USDOL exceeded its authority in so broadly defining the term “healthcare worker.” The Court opined that the USDOL interpretation conflicted with what Congress intended in enacting the FFCRA and, furthermore, could result in scenarios where non-clinical employees or affiliates of medical practices being excluded from the FFCRA protections as well. The Court’s decision has far-reaching implications for health care providers in New York State.