Nearly two years after declaring a public health emergency exists due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) has extended that determination yet again. On January 14, 2022, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra announced the eighth consecutive renewal of the nationwide COVID-19 public health emergency. HHS first issued a public health emergency declaration for COVID-19 on January 31, 2020. HHS has renewed the declaration eight times at approximate three month intervals since then (on April 21, 2020, July 23, 2020, October 2, 2020, January 7, 2021, April 15, 2021, July 19, 2021, October 15, 2021, and most recently on January 14, 2022). This latest renewal took effect on January 16, 2022 and is effective until April 16, 2022, unless the secretary renews the declaration again or determines COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency.
HHS Public health emergency declarations trigger certain employer requirements under the Colorado Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (“HFWA”). The HFWA requires employers to supplement employees’ regular paid sick leave in certain circumstances related to a public health emergency. This obligation commences when a “public health emergency” is declared and continues “until four weeks after the official termination or suspension of the public health emergency.”
The HFWA defines a “public health emergency” as one “ declared by a federal, state, or local public health agency,” such as the HHS.
If the HHS COVID-19 public health emergency declaration remains in effect until April 16, 2022, the HFWA requirement for Colorado employers to provide public health emergency leave would not expire until May 14, 2022, at the earliest.
The Colorado Division of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the agency charged with enforcing the HFWA, has confirmed this ongoing emergency leave requirement, stating on its website “[a]s of the New Year (2022), both federal and state emergency declarations remain in effect”. (Emphasis added.) The CDLE has also advised that the Division plans to update its webpage immediately when the current public health emergency ends and the four-week end period under the HFWA begins.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar and podcast programs.