Healthcare providers could face deeper workforce shortages in upcoming months as they face tighter family and sick leave exemptions starting Wednesday.
Although providers initially weren't required to follow the Families First Coronavirus Reponse Act as they treated the pandemic's patients, the Labor Department revised its requirements last week.
Under the law, employers with 500 or fewer employees receive tax credits for giving workers paid time off for coronavirus-related reasons. The revisions narrow the definition of who is exempted from the rule to include only those who are providing healthcare services or functions integral to patient care, such as diagnostic or preventive services.
The new requirements could further strain healthcare workforce shortages as more employees are entitled to time off.
"They've narrowed the definition a lot," said Chelsea Smith, a labor and employment attorney at law firm Hall Estill and acting general counsel to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. "If you're a staff person who isn't integral to providing healthcare, you're not going to fit."
The changes likely exclude maintenance workers, food service staff, human resources workers and other healthcare organization personnel, she said.
"I think it could put employers in a difficult position," Smith said.
The American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living said the changes to the rule will affect providers' ability to protect residents.
"Providers stand ready to adhere to this rule, but with chronic underfunding and a workforce shortage prior to the pandemic, providers need ongoing support from policymakers at every level to ensure a stable workforce through this crisis. Any further strains on our workforce impact our ability to fight this virus and protect our residents," the AHCA/NCAL said in a statement.
The change was part of a larger FFCLA revision made Sept. 11 after the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York determined that parts of the rule were invalid. The court ruled the healthcare provider exemption was overly broad.
Before, the definition of a healthcare provider depended on the identity of the employer; now it depends on the duties and responsibilities of employees, according to the revisions.
Under the temporary rule, employees are eligible to family and sick leave if they are caring for someone under quarantine, are under quarantine, are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking medical attention, or their child's school or place of place of care is closed or unavailable because of COVID-19.
The temporary FFCRA is in effect through the end of the year, according to the DOL.