The Trump administration has quietly issued a new rule that will exempt many small businesses from having to provide workers with paid leave during the coronavirus pandemic, contradicting the mandate in the coronavirus stimulus package signed by the president last week.
The new rule issued by the Department of Labor on Wednesday effectively exempted businesses with fewer than 50 workers from being required to provide 12 weeks of paid leave for workers whose children are suddenly at home from school or child care under the coronavirus stimulus package signed by President Donald Trump, according to The New York Times.
During negotiations for the bill passed by Congress, Senate Republicans forced dialogue that excludes workers at large companies with more than 500 employees from being eligible for sick leave. As a result, more than 75% of American workers are employed by companies not required to provide them with sick leave during the pandemic.
The Trump administration’s guidance has effectively exempted these businesses entirely from having to provide paid leave to workers who have to take care of their families.
These companies can refuse to provide paid leave if doing so would “cause the small business to cease operating,” if the worker’s absence would create a “substantial risk” or if there were not enough workers “able, willing and qualified” to fill in for them.
The Times noted that health care providers, first responders and some federal government employees can also be denied paid leave under the bill.
Democrats called out the Labor Department for adding provisions not included in the original bill. The department’s guidance allows companies to require workers to provide certification that they needed to take leave and that there needed to be work for the employee in order to be eligible, thus exempting businesses that have been forced to shut down under stay-at-home guidelines.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., sent a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia accusing his department of issuing guidelines that “violate congressional intent” and “contradict the plain language” of the bill.
“Given that congressional intent was to respond to the unprecedented nature of this pandemic,” the letter said, the department had “the responsibility to provide the maximum flexibility for workers during this crisis — not restricting their leave to when employers grant their consent.”
Economists also sounded the alarm over a provision that exempts health care workers.
“Exempting health care providers and emergency responders threatens our nation’s ability to fight back against the coronavirus and makes us all more vulnerable,” Heather Boushey, who heads the progressive think tank Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told The Times. “Our health care workers are the most susceptible to exposure and are in a position to pass it on to other patients. These are the workers who most need to be protected.”
The new rule was just one way in which the Trump administration has sought to undermine provisions in the bill pushed by Democrats. The president issued a signing statement last week undercutting the law’s provision creating a “special inspector general,” who would be charged with overseeing corporate loans made by the Treasury Department under the new law.
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