On March 17, 2020, the District of Columbia passed the COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 (the “Act”), which extends additional benefits under the District’s unemployment insurance (“UI”) law and the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (“DCFMLA”), and among other things also provides various forms of business relief. The Act is effective immediately.

DCFMLA Expansion

The Act expands the reach of the DCFMLA to provide “declaration-of-emergency” (“DOE”) leave to employees unable to work as the result of the circumstances giving rise to a public health emergency declared by the Mayor.  The need for leave can be demonstrated by (1) the employee’s self-quarantine or self-isolation at the recommendation of the Mayor, Department of Health, any other applicable agency, or a medical professional; or (2) a government-mandated quarantine or isolation.

The DCFMLA expansion applies to all District employers, regardless of size or number of employees. Further, the expansion applies to all employees, regardless of whether they meet the DCFMLA’s typical requirements of one year of employment with and 1,000 hours of work for the employer.

Under the Act, the DOE leave continues indefinitely throughout the period of the declared public health emergency.  The leave, however, remains unpaid.

Employers should provide notice to affected employees of their coverage by these new provisions.

UI Benefits Immediately Available

During the public emergency declared by Mayor Muriel Bowser, an affected employee may be immediately eligible for UI benefits without satisfying the work-search requirement.  Under the Act, affected employees entitled to coverage are those that become unemployed or partially unemployed due to the circumstances giving rise to the public health emergency, including one of the following circumstances: (1) being quarantined or isolated by the Department of Health or any other applicable agency; (2) deciding to self-quarantine or self-isolate under the guidance of the Department of Health, any other applicable agency, or a medical professional; or (3) employment by an employer  that ceased or reduced operations due to an order or guidance from the Mayor or Department of Health, or experienced a reduction in business revenue due to the public health emergency.

Affected employees will be eligible for UI benefits even if:

  1. the employer has not provided a date certain for the employee’s return to work; or
  2. the employee does not have a reasonable expectation of continued employment with the current employer.

Benefits paid under this provision will not be charged to employers’ experience rating accounts.

Business Relief

The Act creates a public health emergency small business grant program that allows the Mayor to give grants or loans to eligible small businesses, non-profit organizations, and independent contractors and self-employed individuals not eligible for unemployment insurance, which may be used to cover wages and benefits, operating costs, and repayment of loans obtained through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The Act also prohibits evictions, including for non-residential tenants, during the public health emergency; allows all businesses except hotels to defer without penalty sales tax payments for February and March 2020 until July 20, 2020; and extends the March 31 real property tax due date for hotels until June 30, 2020.