Conflicting Definitions Lead to FFCRA Issues in Healthcare


Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) as a means of providing some relief to employees unable, or unwilling, to go to work as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The law does not apply uniformly to all employers and workers. Some are exempted, including employers and workers in the healthcare sector.

Unfortunately, conflicting definitions have led to some issues with the law as it relates to exclusion from benefits. There does not appear to be motivation among members of Congress to address the conflicting definitions, either. Things will stand as they are unless the FFCRA is amended or otherwise addressed.

Family Leave Benefits

A key provision of the FFCRA provides paid family leave benefits to employees forced to stay home by coronavirus-related issues. Most employees are required by the law to offer paid leave on a limited basis. They can make up for the cost of providing leave through tax credits and deferred employment taxes.

The healthcare sector is largely exempt from this provision. More on that in a minute. But first, let us look at how their exemption has impacted healthcare workers. According to HR Dive, just 7% of the healthcare workers employed by hospitals and residential facilities have been able to use paid leave to cover coronavirus-related absences.

In addition, just under 30% of the nation’s healthcare facilities excluded most or all of their employees from paid family leave. Roughly 21% of those facilities excluded only those staff members whose jobs involve direct patient contact. Almost all of the facilities excluded their employees from all benefits afforded by the FFCRA.

Defining a Healthcare Provider

Making all of this possible is how healthcare providers are defined by the FFCRA. Unfortunately, there are two definitions. For the purposes of determining exclusion from paid leave benefits, the law defines healthcare providers as:

  • medical professionals (clinicians)
  • those who keep medical facilities operational
  • research, development, and production professionals.

Defining healthcare providers in this way casts a fairly broad net that catches a lot of people. Yet the FFCRA relies on a much more conservative definition when discussing those healthcare providers qualified to give advice regarding coronavirus quarantine. Those workers are defined as “medical professionals who are capable of diagnosing serious health conditions.”

Conflicting Definitions Create Confusion

Conflicting definitions are nothing new in government. Just about every piece of legislation that comes out of Washington and the various state capitals devotes an entire section to defining terms. This is because terms have to be defined in light of the legislation they pertain to. Still, conflicting terms cannot help but create confusion.

On its face, the FFCRA is pretty clear about who is qualified to offer quarantine advice and who can be excluded from paid family leave benefits. It seems as though there is only confusion because someone wants to split hairs over how healthcare providers are defined.

Take the issue outside of the FFCRA legislation and both confusion and debate disappear. For example, you can visit the Health Jobs Nationwide website and hunt for jobs in healthcare IT. Such jobs are considered healthcare jobs for the purposes of finding IT professionals with specific healthcare experience.

On the other hand, those same jobs can also be found on sites specializing in IT jobs. They are considered IT jobs because, separate from the healthcare setting, the people who fill the jobs must be trained in IT.

Conflicting definitions within the FFCRA is causing problems in the healthcare sector. Perhaps legislators should have chosen separate terms to keep things straight. But should it really come to that?