Review Recent Requirements for Benefits Coverage as Business Normalizes

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The COVID-19 pandemic heavily disrupted normal operations and the CARES legislation introduced new avenues for governmental assistance for employers and employees alike. Navigating these different programs and requirements has been a heavy lift for many companies throughout the pandemic. With business returning to normal for many companies, it’s still difficult to understand the different benefit programs available and their requirements. This article reviews current benefits coverage requirements, information that many employers and HR services may find helpful during their return to normal operations.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 & American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

The paid leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) expired on December 31, 2020. With this change, employers no longer have to provide paid sick, or emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave for employers who miss work due to coronavirus.

However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) have provisions that impact employers. These plans allow employers who choose to continue providing coronavirus leave similar to the FFCRA requirements to receive an employer tax credit. The tax credit would be good for leave granted from April 1, 2021, through September 30, 2021. Employers may opt to continue offering paid leave for coronavirus-related illnesses past this date, but they would not receive the benefit of a tax credit.

If claiming the benefits granted under ARPA, the employer could take a dollar-matched tax credit by retaining the payroll taxes equal to the amount of qualifying sick and family care leave paid up to the statutory maximums. These funds would be held by the employer rather than submitted to the IRS.  The ARPA also expands qualifying reasons for paid leave that may be included to obtain the tax credit. The expanded reasons include:

  • To obtain a COVID-19 vaccination
  • To recover from illness or injury sustained while receiving the vaccine
  • While waiting for a test result or medical diagnosis for COVID-19
  • To accompany a qualifying individual obtaining an immunization
  • To care for a qualifying individual recovering from any injury, disability, illness, or condition related to the immunization

Offering coronavirus-related employee absences is a completely voluntary act by employers. However, it ensures employees can take time from work when sick or a family member is sick. Employers will also want to consider state-specific laws and legal compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and make sure their HR services are up to date.


The ARPA also provides free COBRA coverage for employees and their covered family members who lost group health insurance due to involuntary termination or a reduction in hours related to COVID between April 1, 2021through September 1, 2021. This benefit is not eligible for those who voluntarily quit their job. It is also a payroll tax credit with no premiums for covered individuals throughout the six-month defined timeframe. Employers need to identify assistance-eligible individuals who may receive the COBRA subsidy and ensure that it is applied correctly.

Multiple Incentives

While these benefits allow employers more flexibility in supporting their staff throughout the pandemic, some regulations prohibit “double-dipping” with the tax credits. For instance, if the employer claims all three tax benefits, they must diligently claim the appropriate amount for each. In addition to this, employers must also understand how these relief measures interact with other federal and state incentives and loans. As an example, the federal Paycheck Protection Program may exclude wages eligible for tax credits under other programs.

Promoting Health in the Workplace

While it is essential for all employers to understand the covered benefits that may come into play as businesses return to normal, employers can also promote healthy practices in the workplace. OSHA has published guidance called Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace. This document addresses policies related to the facilitation of vaccinations, implementing social distancing measures, providing workers with proper PPE, performing adequate cleaning and disinfecting, and reporting infections, among other provisions.

Employers may request employees get tested if they show symptoms of COVID-19. However, employers must follow this policy consistently across all employees. Antibody testing is not currently allowed un the ADA. Employers may also ask all employees who will be physically entering the workplace if they have COVID-19 or symptoms associated with their illness or have been tested for COVID-19. Employers may also require employees who show signs of respiratory illness to stay at home until they are symptom-free.

Navigating the complex entitlements and benefits related to COVID leave and the various pieces of federal legislation can become complicated quickly. This is often made more difficult by additional state and local laws. For more information about benefits coverage during a return to work, contact CAHR Services today.

CA HR Services specializes in working with small and medium-sized companies to help develop legal, efficient, and appropriate HR processes and procedures that meet state and federal labor law requirements.