On March 18, 2020, the President signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which requires local governments and other employers to provide employees with expanded sick and family leave for reasons related to COVID-19.
Specifically, the FFCRA provides a covered employee with two weeks of paid sick leave if he or she is sick with, quarantined because of, or caring for a child due to COVID-19, and up to an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave to care for a child whose school or care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
Importantly, however, the FFCRA carves out an exclusion from these provisions for health care providers and emergency responders. While the legislation does not include a definition for such employees, it is imperative that the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division denote public water and wastewater utility staff as "emergency responders" when implementing these provisions of the FFCRA.
As the nation continues to grapple with the increasingly devastating effects from the coronavirus, public water and wastewater agencies are on the front lines of addressing this pandemic. Proper sanitation and the flow of clean water to every home, hospital, and essential industry is more critical now than ever before, and water utilities around the country are working tirelessly to ensure their customers have access to safe and reliable water services.
Many water agencies are suspending water shutoffs and restoring connections for water and wastewater service to delinquent accounts in light of the critical role clean water plays in mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Water and wastewater professionals are among the nation's essential critical infrastructure workforce who must remain on the job to help fight and bring an end to this pandemic.
The loss of highly trained essential workers for months at a time during this unprecedented situation would significantly hinder the ability of the nation's water agencies to provide services vital to the health of our communities and efforts to combat the coronavirus. This is especially so when, as now, water utilities must undertake special precautions to ensure the health and safety of their own staff.
The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) therefore encourages DOL to follow the guidance provided by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which expressly includes the water and wastewater sectors as "critical infrastructure industries with a special responsibility in these times to continue operations," and water and wastewater employees as essential to "ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety, as well as economic and national security."
DOL should therefore include all "employees needed to operate and maintain drinking water and wastewater/drainage infrastructure," such as those noted below listed in CISA's guidance, as "emergency responders" for purposes of FFCRA.
• Operational staff at water authorities
• Operational staff at community water systems
• Operational staff at wastewater treatment facilities
• Workers repairing water and wastewater conveyances and performing required sampling or monitoring
• Operational staff for water distribution and testing
• Operational staff at wastewater collection facilities
• Operational staff and technical support for SCADA Control systems
• Chemical suppliers for wastewater and personnel protection
• Workers that maintain digital systems infrastructure supporting water and wastewater operations
NACWA encourages DOL to further consult with the water sector to ensure that the appropriate categories of employees are included as "emergency responders" for purposes of FFCRA implementation.
Public water and wastewater utilities are continuing to provide essential services for their communities in the face of this unprecedented crisis. DOL should assist these efforts by defining the critical water personnel responsible for ensuring the nation's access to clean water as "emergency responders" under the FFCRA.
For any questions, or to engage further on this issue, please contact NACWA's General Counsel and Chief Advocacy Officer, Nathan Gardner-Andrews, at email@example.com or (703) 774-6513.