You could get 12 weeks of coronavirus-related paid leave under a new law — but only until December 31. Here’s how to know if you’re eligible for the benefits.

Offices, schools, restaurants and gyms have closed across the country in an effort to comply with social distancing guidelines designed to slow the spread of the virus. dotshock/

The federal government is expanding American’s access to paid sick leave, in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Employees at select companies are now eligible for up to 12 weeks of coronavirus-related paid leave thanks to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The law, which began on April 1 and expires December 31, is part of the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak while limiting its economic fallout.

Private-sector employees and select parts of the federal government will benefit from the act.

The FFCRA only applies to businesses with workforces smaller than 500, according to the Department of Labour. Employees at large companies aren’t included in the new legislation.

Employees at some small businesses might also be excluded, as the legislation allows companies with less than 50 employees to apply for an exemption if they can prove that providing paid leave will “jeopardize the viability” of the business. The Department of Labour is asking business owners who want to take advantage of the exemption to hold off on contacting the department until it can develop further regulations on the process.

The new guidelines guarantee eligible employees up to two weeks or 80 hours of paid leave between now and December 31.

The FFCRA states that the time off can be used if the employee is sick, quarantined, under a shelter-in-place order, or needs to care for a sick loved one with COVID-19. Employees can also take time off to care for children whose schools have been closed in most circumstances, although this provision doesn’t apply to some small businesses that can prove that the additional leave will endanger their survival.

The Department of Labour mandates that worker’s leave paychecks will be based on their average weekly pay over the past six months, including tips and overtime, or on the local minimum wage, whichever is more.

Workers will also have the option to take an additional 10 weeks of paid family leave, for which they would only receive two-thirds of their normal salaries during that time. Employees have to be at their current workplace for at least 30 days before they can use this benefit, the legislation states.

The act does not apply to workers who have had their shifts reduced or eliminated entirely because of the pandemic, however.Business Insider previously reported that some business were scheduling their workers for zero hours weeks instead of laying off for furloughing them.

The Department of Labour is underwriting the cost of the program.

The act gives eligible businesses access to new refundable tax credits to cover the cost of providing paid leave, according to the Department of Labour. Employers need to keep documentation of the leave and complete forms from the IRS in order to get their FFCRA credit.

The act is part of a larger push by lawmakers to stifle the economic impact of the outbreak. President Trump signed a $US2 trillion rescue package on March 27, that will provide additional assistance to small businesses through loans and checks to individual Americans.

Still, an unprecedented 9.92 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits in the past two weeks alone. Businesses have laid off droves of workers as establishments have seen revenues plunge or have been forced to close because of government mandates. Data from Harris Polls indicates that a significant portion of the newly unemployed are young, and worked service jobs.

The novel coronavirus has infected nearly 1 million worldwide and killed more than 52,000, since being identified in Wuhan, China, in December. Europe is now regarded as the epicentre of the outbreak, but the United States has reported more cases than any other country.