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CORONAVIRUS — PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR BUSINESSES AND EMPLOYERS

Mar 25th, 2020   Ball Barry
Business Law

CORONAVIRUS — PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS FOR BUSINESSES AND EMPLOYERS

First and foremost, our thoughts are with all of you and your loved ones and we hope you are staying healthy and safe.  In the last few weeks, the world has changed drastically, and we are all facing unprecedented circumstances and uncertain times. Balancing our personal concerns for our health and wellbeing with the wellbeing of our business and employees is overwhelming, particularly with the volume of information we are expected to digest on a daily or hourly basis.

At Ball & Barry Law, we have developed some practical suggestions, for businesses and employers to consider in the here and now of this everchanging landscape.  Today we address Business Planning, Employee Communications and Family and Sick Leave.  We hope these suggestions help mitigate risks for businesses and employers while reducing concerns for employees.  Based upon feedback we receive from you, we will endeavor to provide additional, practical information.  As a valued friend of our firm, we wanted to share our efforts related to the coronavirus and let you know we’re here to help if you need us.

Think and Plan

COVID-19 information can fill every waking hour of our day, and consume our rest at night.  Indeed, it is critical to stay informed in this everchanging environment, and every shred of information we receive is important for some audiences.  At the same time, as businesses and employers, we must first focus on the information we needto know, and identify the issues that impact our customers, our employees and our businesses.  Now more than ever, every business must set aside time to think and to plan – to assess their customer needs and how to satisfy those needs in an unprecedented world filled with uncertainty, using the resources available or creating new ones.

At some level, the Coronavirus has impacted nearly every business.  It is natural to feel overwhelmed and panicked.  To persevere, however, we must also set aside those feelings, if just for an hour or two a day, and think strategically about what our businesses can do to serve our customers and survive, if not thrive, in the new normal.    During the anxious voids in the day, afford yourself the luxury of concentrated time to work on your business.  Work on the issues of the day, but also dig into ideas and plans for the future that you have put on the backburner.

In one of his many public addresses, President Lincoln recited a timeless adage: this too shall pass away.   Those words stand the test of time.  When the clouds lift, and we know they will, our thinking and planning today will guide present survival and future success.

Communicate with Your Employees

Everyone is shaken at some level by the rapidly emerging developments of this public health emergency. Whether you employ 10 or 10,000 people, you must communicate regularly with your workforce regarding the coronavirus and your company’s evolving policies and procedures.  You must demonstrate through words and action that you are monitoring the situation and you are working to keep your employees healthy and safe.   Provide reliable, up-to-date resources for your employees to use as the situation develops.

While it is important to communicate with your employees, it is also important to respect privacy and show discretion as it relates those who may be infected with the coronavirus. Do not disclose to co-employees the identity of employees who are diagnosed with, have symptoms of, or have been exposed to COVID-19.  Be very careful about what information you solicit from your employees.  Avoid discussing of an employee’s private medical information with the employee or coworkers. Do not ask an employee about respiratory conditions or immune disorders that may make the employee more susceptible to COVID-19. Do not ask an employee about their family’s medical conditions.  This information is private and likely statutorily protected.  As an employer, you only need to know whether an employee is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to assess whether they should be sent home.

Follow Your Rules, and Federal/State Laws

Many businesses have existing policies on paid time off, sick leave and the like.  Be sure to reference those existing policies as you weigh the needs of your business and employees.  Some companies are also considering changes to their existing leave policies, at least on a temporary basis.  Know that your existing policies may be impacted by new federal and state laws that provide special paid emergency family and medical leave and paid sick leave in response to COVID-19.  In particular, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) dictates a new starting point, or floor, that an employer of less than 500 employees must follow in response to an employee’s request for leave related to COVID-19.  In light of the financial impacts FFCRA may have on small businesses, it also affords certain future “dollar-for-dollar” tax credits.  FFCRA may provide hardship exceptions for employers of less than 50 employees if complying with the Act would jeopardize the business as a going concern.  The new law is scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

Generally speaking, if an employee is unable to work (or telework) due to a need to care for the employee’s minor children while a school or childcare is closed because of COVID-19, the employer must provide 10 days of unpaid leave and up to 12 weeks of job-protected paid leave at 2/3 the employee’s regular rate of pay. Employees must meet certain minimal requirements to qualify for leave, and paid leave is subject to certain caps. Small businesses may be exempt if abiding by the requirement would jeopardize the business’s existence.

In addition, an employee who is:

  1. The subject of a federal, state or local quarantine order;
  2. Advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine;
  3. Awaiting a COVID-19 test result;
  4. Caring for his or her own children whose schools or childcare facilities are closed;
  5. Caring for a quarantined individual; or
  6. Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms;

may be eligible for up to 80 hours of paid leave at differing rates.  This sick leave cannot be used in addition to the family medical leave discussed above.  The sick leave is subject to certain caps and small businesses may be exempt if abiding by the requirement would jeopardize the business’s existence.

On March 24, 2020, the US Department of Labor issued its first Guidance Regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  The fact sheets and Q&A sections of the guidance are particularly helpful.  After qualifying grace periods, the act will be enforced, and violations will be subject to penalties.  If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact Ball & Barry Law.

Our thoughts are with those who are impacted by the coronavirus. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and provide additional information as needed to best support our clients and friends.