Earlier today, Judge Oetken issued a decision invalidating several provisions of a Department of Labor rule implementing the paid sick leave and emergency family leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The Labor Department had excluded employees who were unable to work because their employers had no work available for them as a result of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. It also adopted a broad definition of “health care provider,” which would have allowed “an English professor, librarian, or cafeteria manager at a university with a medical school” to be denied paid leave.
New York State challenged the rule under the Administrative Procedure Act, arguing that employees would be forced to choose between taking unpaid leave and going to work while sick–the former would reduce their taxable income and harm the State’s tax revenue, while the latter would cause the virus to spread and raise the State’s health care costs. Finding that New York had standing to sue, Judge Oetken ruled that the Labor Department’s work-availability rule was “entirely unreasoned” and “manifestly contrary to the statute’s language,” while its definition of health care provider was “vastly overbroad.” Judge Oetken acknowledged that the current crisis put time pressure on the Labor Department, but also emphasized that it was important to maintain the “guardrails of government”:
The Court acknowledges that DOL labored under considerable pressure in promulgating the Final Rule. This extraordinary crisis has required public and private entities alike to act decisively and swiftly in the face of massive uncertainty, and often with grave consequence. But as much as this moment calls for flexibility and ingenuity, it also calls for renewed attention to the guardrails of our government. Here, DOL jumped the rail.