What You Need to Know About the New DC Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act
The DC Council has passed an emergency bill to provide broad relief to workers and businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020, which passed unanimously on March 17, 2020, offers a wide array of protective measures, encompassing expanded medical leave, tax deferrals, increased unemployment eligibility, and landlord-tenant protections. All DC employers, workers, and residents should know what their emergency rights and obligations are.
What Does the Emergency Act Do?
The Emergency Act extends unemployment insurance to workers in DC who become unemployed or partially unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. Normally for unemployment insurance, under the DC Unemployment Compensation Act, there is a one week waiting period and a requirement to search for work. Now, under the Emergency Act, unemployment insurance is available upon application if the employee becomes unemployed or partially unemployed by:
- A workplace closure or position elimination;
- Being quarantined or isolated by the Department of Health (DOH), any other applicable DC or federal agency, or medical professional;
- A cessation or reduction in an employer’s operations or revenue due to an order or guidance from the Mayor or the DOH;
- Leaving a job because their employer fails to comply with DOH public safety directives; or
- Being fired or quitting because their employer required them to show up to work after being advised to quarantine.
The Emergency Act also expands DC’s Family and Medical Leave Act to cover workers quarantined and self-quarantined with coronavirus. Previously, employees who worked for one year, with 1,000 hours of service in DC, for employers with 20 or more employees, were eligible for benefits, including 16 weeks of unpaid family leave every two years and another 16 weeks of medical leave every two years.
Now, under the Emergency Act, during the public health emergency, the one-year employment and 1,000 hour work requirements do not apply to employees taking medical leave who have been ordered or recommended to quarantine or isolate, by the DOH, any other DC or federal agency, or a medical professional. Employees who take medical leave under the Emergency Act, regardless of employer size, cannot be fired for taking this protected leave.
Under the Emergency Act, businesses can apply for grants to cover operating costs, employee wages and benefits, and Small Business Administration loan repayments, so long as the business can prove it suffered financial hardship because of the pandemic. To be eligible under the Emergency Act, businesses must be based in DC, have fewer than 500 employees, and have revenues below certain thresholds. The Emergency Act places an emphasis on protecting nonprofits, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals otherwise ineligible for UI. The Emergency Act also extends the deadline for businesses to file their sales taxes to July 20, 2020.
Other Protective Measures
The Emergency Act also includes the following prohibitions, extensions, and exceptions:
- Evictions of residential and commercial tenants are prohibited;
- Late fees for rent are prohibited;
- Deadlines for hotels to pay property taxes are extended until June 30, 2020;
- Deadlines for public benefit programs, like Healthcare Alliance and Immigrant Children’s program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program are extended;
- Price gouging and stockpiling are prohibited;
- Disconnecting utilities (gas, water, and electric service) is prohibited;
- Prescription medications may be refilled prior to the expiration of the waiting period between refills;
- Deadlines and expirations of drivers and professional licenses are extended; and
- Restaurants may deliver beer, wine, and liquor, as long as it is delivered alongside meals (subject to Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration guidelines).
The Emergency Act is not meant to offer full protection for DC businesses and workers, but was passed to provide immediate relief to as many people as possible. The DC Council has not ruled out passing additional measures to help businesses and workers in the future, including freezes on foreclosures and cash assistance to impacted workers.
As emergency legislation, the Emergency Act will immediately become law as soon as it is signed by the Mayor, and will remain in effect for 90 days. The DC Council also is working on the COVID-19 Response Temporary Amendment Act of 2020 (Temporary Act), which will allow the protections afforded by the Emergency Act to remain in effect for 270 days. The Temporary Act still requires a second DC Council vote, and approval by the Mayor and Congressional review.
It is important for all employers to remember that the Emergency Act does not replace existing federal and DC laws, including the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2008, which requires up to seven days of paid leave, depending on the employer’s size. Before taking any adverse employment actions, employers should be sure to consult with an attorney to make sure they are in compliance with all sick and safe leave protections, as well as relevant wage and discrimination laws.
Josh Schmand is a litigation and employment attorney who works on complex business, corporate, and commercial disputes, as well as employment matters, advising clients on the risks and benefits of litigation, preparing for trial when needed, and serving as a determined advocate. For more information, contact Josh at firstname.lastname@example.org or (301) 347-1273.