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The Trump administration diminished the scope of a coronavirus aid law that went into effect Wednesday.
The law, which guarantees paid leave, ensures coverage for 25% of the workforce, according to Department of Labor guidelines published Wednesday.
Lawmakers criticized the Labor Department guidelines, saying they "violate congressional intent" and "contradict the plain language" of the law.
The Trump administration issued a new rule this week that lets small businesses choose whether to give workers paid sick leave, undercutting Congress's new law that sought to guarantee it.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act sought to protect workers and families from losing income if they fell sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. It gives workers two weeks of paid leave, 12 weeks if their children are home from school or require child care, and reimburses employers with tax credits.
It came with some carveouts, though: The law exempts businesses with over 500 employees, and companies with fewer than 50 employees could ask the Department of Labor for an exemption if they believed the rule could bankrupt them. Nearly 75% of workers are employed by companies with under 50 employees or over 500, according to the New York Times.
Now, the Department of Labor has issued a rule that lets small businesses choose whether to give workers paid sick leave, rather than apply for a waiver.
Businesses with fewer than 50 employees, according to the guidance, do not need to pay workers for child-related leave if the worker's absence would "cause the small business to cease operating," if it would create "a substantial risk" to the business, or if the company cannot find a replacement "able, willing and qualified" to work.
The exemptions 'violate congressional intent,' lawmakers say
The exemptions even apply to medical workers, first responders, and some government employees, some of whom are already facing layoffs.
Some lawmakers rebuked some Labor Department guidelines, they "violate congressional intent" and "contradict the plain language" of the law.
In a letter to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, and Rep. Rosa Delauro, of Connecticut, urged the Labor Department "to provide the maximum flexibility for workers during this crisis — not restricting their leave to when employers grant their consent."
On Wednesday, Scalia praised the legislation, which he said included "unprecedented paid leave benefits to American workers affected by the virus, while ensuring that businesses are reimbursed."
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