FAQ: If an employee voluntarily travels (takes a vacation) and has to quarantine when they return due to a state quarantine order, are they eligible for FFCRA emergency paid sick leave?

Yes, the employee would be eligible, provided they otherwise meet the eligibility requirements for emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). To review, to qualify for EPSL, an employee must be unable to work or telework because the employee:

  1. Is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. Has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
  3. Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. Is caring for an individual subject to an order described in item one or self-quarantine as described in item two;
  5. Is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19; or
  6. Is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.

Accordingly, an employee that takes a vacation and is required by a state order to quarantine upon return would be eligible for EPSL leave based on reason one. The fact that the employee’s trip was voluntary as opposed to work-related is not a disqualifying factor. In other words, the FFCRA does not distinguish between reasons for receiving a self-isolation or quarantine order; it simply requires that EPSL be offered if the person is ordered to quarantine and cannot work or telework as a result.

Question 87 of the DOL FFCRA questions and answers may be instructive in this regard. It references a situation in which an employee is returning from a cruise ship upon which other passengers tested positive. This exposure resulted in the employee’s quarantine by a government official upon return. The DOL response indicated that such an employee was entitled to paid sick leave if the employee could not work (or telework) because of the order. So, the EPSL entitlement was not affected by the fact that the trip was the employee’s choice.

It is also important to remember that the FFCRA was promulgated largely to protect the health of workers and their communities by mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus. For this purpose, it is not relevant whether an employee’s potential exposure to the virus results from voluntary or involuntary behavior.

Therefore, a covered employer should not deny leave to an otherwise eligible employee who is subject to a state quarantine order following voluntary travel and is unable to work or telework as a result. The DOL has already taken some enforcement action with respect to employers who have improperly denied FFCRA leave. So, an employer would want to be careful not to restrict such leave in a manner not required by the legislation.

Of course, this response addresses only the application of the federal FFCRA paid sick leave to the voluntary travel situation. State COVID-19 paid sick leave may not be available to those who are quarantined following voluntary travel; eligibility for any such state leave would depend upon the particular state’s leave law provisions.

DOL FFCRA Questions and Answers »