District of Columbia Passes Emergency Legislation Expanding Coverage Under the DCFMLA and Unemployment Insurance

On March 17, 2020, the District of Columbia City Council unanimously approved, and the mayor signed, the COVID-19 Response Emergency Amendment Act (the “Act”) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Among other measures aimed at helping District businesses and residents, the Act temporarily expands covered absences under the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA) and broadens unemployment insurance access for affected employees. The legislation will remain in effect no longer than 90 days.

Expansion of Provisions of the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act

The DCFMLA covers employers with 20 or more employees in the District.  Currently, covered employees must be employed for one year with the same employer, without a break in service, and work at least 1,000 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding the time leave is requested to be eligible for DCFMLA leave.  If eligible, employees can take up to 16 weeks of unpaid family leave and 16 weeks of unpaid medical leave during a 24-month period. 

The Act expands DCFMLA by creating a new category of declaration of emergency (DOE) leave.  Employees are entitled to DOE leave when an employee is unable to work during a period of time in which the mayor has declared a public health emergency and the mayor, other federal or state official, or a medical professional, has ordered or recommended that the employee self-isolate or quarantine.  Under these circumstances, the law further suspends the one-year-of-employment and 1,000-hours-of-work requirements for eligibility.  The covered leave is indefinite during the period of the public health emergency and applies to all employers in the District regardless of how many employees it employs.  The below chart illustrates the expanded DOE leave requirements:

DC COVID-19 Emergency Legislation: Declaration of Emergency Leave

Affected Employers

Eligible Employees


Duration of Leave

All employers with employees in the District regardless of number of employees

All employees employed in the District regardless of length of employment

Mayor declares public health emergency and DC agency, federal government or medial professional recommends self-isolation or quarantine

Duration of public health emergency while it is recommended that employees self-isolate or quarantine

Based upon this expanded leave, employers in the District that either closed their businesses voluntarily or by order of the government should notify employees of coverage under the DCFMLA.  Similarly, employees who, upon recommendations from government officials or medical professionals opt to quarantine or self-isolate, are also entitled to the protections of the DCFMLA.  The Act provides that the declaration of the public health emergency serves as certification of the need for leave and additional documentation is not required.

Expansion of Unemployment Insurance

The emergency Act also expands the District of Columbia’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) eligibility by providing coverage to employees who, following the mayor’s declaration of the public health emergency, have been 1) ordered to quarantine or self-isolate by a federal agency, District agency or medical professional; or 2) decided to quarantine or self-isolate in a manner consistent with recommendations from the Department of Health or similar federal agency.  The Act also eliminates the current requirement that employees need to certify that they are actively searching for new employment.  It further permits UI benefits to be issued even if:

  • The employer has no date certain for when the employee will be able to return to work; or
  • Employees have reason to doubt they will ever resume employment with the employer.

Under the Act, employees are entitled to collect unemployment benefits under relaxed requirements so long as the public health emergency remains in effect.

Additional Provisions

The Act provides additional provisions aimed to protect both businesses and residents.  Some of these protections include:

  • The creation of a small business grant program to assist certain nonprofit organizations, local businesses, and independent contractors who do not qualify for unemployment insurance;
  • Prohibition of evictions and certain late fees for residential and commercial tenants;
  • Prohibition of utility shut-offs for non-payment and extension of public benefit programs such as the Healthcare Alliance, TANF, and SNAP;
  • Limitations on price gouging and stockpiling of certain goods;
  • Provisions to allow for delivery and carry-out sales by restaurants of beer/wine, if sold along with prepared food (pending written restaurant-by-restaurant approval by the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration); and
  • Delays of retail sales tax payments to the government by stores, restaurants, and other businesses and extension of deadlines/expirations of corporate tax filings, drivers licenses, professional licenses, etc.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.