Healthcare workers lose out on COVID-19 sick leave protections, federal watchdog says

A young male healthcare worker wearing a mask in an emergency room
When the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) passed by Congress in March, the Department issued a temporary rule significantly broadening the definition of health care providers whom an employer might exempt from the FFCRA’s requirements. (Getty/nattrass)

Among the moves made by Congress in the weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared were create protections to allow workers to take up to two weeks paid sick leave in the event they contracted COVID-19, had to care for a dependent with COVID-19 or were required to self-isolate because of suspected exposure to the virus.

However, a new report from a federal watchdog finds a temporary rule issued by the Department of Labor has left some of the most vulnerable jobs without protections, the Washington Post reported. Most notably, the Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General said: Healthcare workers. 

When the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) passed by Congress in March, the Department issued a temporary rule significantly broadening the definition of health care providers whom an employer might exempt from the FFCRA’s requirements instead of using the original definition established by the Family and Medical Leave Act, the OIG's report said.

RELATED: Industry Voices—3 actions to support healthcare workers' well-being during COVID-19

The temporary rule included about 9 million healthcare workers impacted by the exemptions, the OIG report said. "The estimate provided to the public and other stakeholders could be understated because it did not include all of the occupations in the Department’s expanded definition for health care providers," the OIG wrote in its report. 

That broadened definition led to various stakeholder groups communicating concerns to labor department, as well as a formal lawsuit filed by the Attorney General for the State of New York claiming the department's temporary rule denied healthcare workers the paid leave provided by Congress.

The Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl M. Stanton responded to the report, saying she accepted the agency's recommendations. The department would administer and enforce the rule according to the current healthcare provider definition unless and until the court vacates the regulation. "If that occurs, WHD will assess its legal obligations and options," response said. 

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