Many employers are dealing with employment related questions related to COVID-19 planning. The Department of Labor (DOL), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and most health providers are providing update guidance. We’ve included some of the common questions and answers:
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued Q&As on the federal Family and Medical Leave Act in the context of COVID-19 and other public health emergencies. Under the FMLA, covered employers must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons, which may include the flu where complications arise. Employees on FMLA leave are entitled to the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms as before they took leave.
The Q&As include the following key points, among others:
- The FMLA provides leave for an employee’s serious health condition or to care for a family member’s serious health condition;
- The FMLA does not provide leave for avoiding the workplace out of fear of contracting a disease.
- The FMLA does not require leave for employees caring for dependents who have been dismissed from school or child care.
- Employers requiring a doctor’s note should consider that healthcare resources may be overwhelmed during a pandemic, making it difficult for employees to obtain appointments or verification that they are no longer contagious.
Many of the DOL’s answers encourage employers to consider flexible leave policies for their employees. The Q&As also address the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to employee leave issues.
On March 11, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-15 to advise that high deductible health plans (HDHPs) can pay for COVID-19 testing and treatment before plan deductibles have been met, without jeopardizing their status. According to the IRS, this also means that individuals with HDHPs that cover these costs may continue to contribute to their health savings accounts (HSAs).
The IRS also noted that any COVID-19 vaccination costs count as preventive care and can be paid for by an HDHP without cost sharing.
To qualify as an HDHP, a health plan cannot pay medical expenses (other than preventive care) until the annual minimum deductible has been reached. IRS Notice 2020-15 provides an exception to this general rule to remove financial barriers that might otherwise delay testing for and treatment of COVID-19.
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The majority of health plans are encouraging employees who are experiencing symptoms to stay home and call their doctor to coordinate the proper testing or use tele health.