Labor Department Is Now Enforcing Coronavirus Paid-Leave Rules

As the U.S. Department of Labor gave employers sufficient time to comply with paid-leave through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, many businesses can provide paid-sick-leave for employees if it is needed. Read this blog post to learn more.


The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) initially gave employers time to comply with coronavirus-related paid-sick-leave and paid-family-leave mandates and correct mistakes without facing scrutiny, but the department has officially ramped up its enforcement efforts.

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), many businesses with fewer than 500 employees must provide up to 80 hours of paid-sick-leave benefits if employees need leave to comply with a self-quarantine order or care for their own or someone else's coronavirus-related issues. The act also provides emergency paid family leave for parents who can't work because their children's schools or child care services are closed due to the pandemic.

The FFCRA's paid-leave provisions took effect April 1 and expire on Dec. 31. The DOL announced on April 20 that the nonenforcement period had officially ended, and the department issued its first enforcement order shortly thereafter. An electrical company based in Tucson, Ariz., was ordered to compensate an employee who was denied paid sick leave after he showed coronavirus symptoms and was told by a doctor to self-quarantine. The employer was ordered to pay the worker $1,600, which covered his full wages ($20 an hour) for 80 hours of leave.

"This case should serve as a signal to others that the U.S. Department of Labor is working to protect employee rights during the coronavirus pandemic," said Wage and Hour District Director Eric Murray in Phoenix. "We encourage employers and employees to call us for assistance to improve their understanding of new labor standards under the [FFCRA] and use our educational online tools to avoid violations like those found in this investigation."

We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online on the FFCRA.

Paid-Sick-Leave Details

Under the FFCRA, covered employers will have to provide up to 80 hours of paid-sick-leave benefits if an employee:

  1. Has been ordered by the government to quarantine or isolate because of COVID-19.
  2. Has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19.
  3. Has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
  4. Is caring for someone who is subject to a government quarantine or isolation order or has been advised by a health care provider to quarantine or self-isolate.
  5. Needs to care for a son or daughter whose school or child care service is closed due to COVID-19 precautions. (This leave can be combined with emergency paid family leave.)
  6. Is experiencing substantially similar conditions as specified by the secretary of health and human services, in consultation with the secretaries of labor and treasury.

Paid sick leave must be paid at the employee's regular rate of pay, or minimum wage, whichever is greater, for leave taken for reasons 1-3 above.  Employees taking leave for reasons 4-6 may be compensated at two-thirds their regular rate of pay, or minimum wage, whichever is greater. Part-time employees are eligible to take the number of hours they would normally work during a two-week period. Under the legislation, paid sick leave is limited to $511 a day (and $5,110 total) for a worker's own care and $200 a day (and $2,000 total) when the employee is caring for someone else.

(SHRM Online)

Family Leave and Sick Leave Work Together

The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA), which is part of the FFCRA, provides paid leave to parents who can't work because their children's schools or child care services are closed due to the pandemic.  An employee may take paid sick leave for the first 10 days of leave or substitute any accrued vacation, personal leave or sick leave under an employer's policy. For the following 10 weeks, the individual will be paid at an amount no less than two-thirds of the regular rate of pay for normally scheduled hours. The individual will not receive more than $200 per day or $12,000 for 12 weeks that include paid sick leave and EFMLEA leave, the DOL stated. As of April 1, workers who have been on the payroll for at least 30 calendar days are eligible for paid family leave benefits.

(SHRM Online)

More Guidance

Many employers and workers have been confused about how to apply the law or access its benefits, so the DOL has been regularly releasing compliance information and updating its Q&A document. In addition to temporary regulations, the DOL released a fact sheet for employees and a fact sheet for employers. The department also provided model workplace posters for nonfederal employers and federal employers that are covered by the mandate. The DOL will continue to add resources to its website, so employers should keep checking for updates. "Please continue to use our website as a primary source of information," said DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton.

(SHRM Online)

Answers to the Most Common Coronavirus Questions

Would an employee who is afraid of coming to work and contracting COVID-19 be eligible for paid sick leave? Are nonprofit organizations required to comply with the FFCRA? How do the new requirements interact with collective bargaining agreements? Here are some answers to FFCRA and other common coronavirus questions.

(SHRM Online)

SOURCE: SHRM. (28 April 2020) "Labor Department Is Now Enforcing Coronavirus Paid-Leave Rules" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/Labor-Department-Is-Now-Enforcing-Coronavirus-Paid-Leave-Rules.aspx


How Managers Are Handling Performance Reviews During COVID-19

With many employees working from home during this coronavirus pandemic, many HR managers are facing unknown challenges in supervising employees and implementing performance reviews from afar. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


As millions of Americans work remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, managers unaccustomed to supervising employees from afar face challenges in evaluating performance and providing good feedback.

"Most of the components of our performance reviews have been discarded during the coronavirus crisis," said Mike Falahee, chief executive officer at Marygrove Awning Co. in Livonia, Mich. "After all, how can we review someone who can't do their job the way they're accustomed to doing it?"

Shifting Tactics

No doubt, many company leaders share that sentiment as the world of work has changed swiftly in the past eight weeks. In that time, many companies have shifted to remote-only operations.

According to a Gallup survey, the percentage of workers who say their employer offered them flextime or remote-work options grew from 39 percent in mid-March to 57 percent by early April.

Additionally, 62 percent of employed Americans say they've "worked from home during the crisis, a number that has doubled since mid-March," according to Gallup.

Company leaders and managers say several strategies—some that were in place before the virus, some that are new—have helped them measure workforce production in the age of COVID-19.

Kerry Norman is vice president of talent solutions at CHG Software in Salt Lake City. Several years ago, CHG decided to ditch its traditional annual performance reviews for front-line employees.

"We found that it was ineffective for several reasons," Norman said. "First, it was a look backward, so it didn't help improve future performance. Second, it wasn't an effective measurement tool because assessments varied so greatly from one leader to the next. Third, it was disengaging for employees. It felt more like a judgment than a motivational tool."

Now the company focuses on providing "in-the-moment" feedback, and that has proved helpful during the virus.

"We want people to know what they're doing right and where they can improve, rather than waiting until the end of the year when it's too late to do anything about it," Norman said.

Shifting Roles

The pandemic is also forcing everyone at CHG, managers as well as their staff, to be more flexible. That means employees are taking on new roles, some for which they've never been trained. And managers must show flexibility when evaluating these workers, allowing time for a learning curve and understanding that there will be hiccups.

"Our people are now learning their skills can be used in ways they never knew existed, and they're helping in areas of the company that may have been foreign to them just weeks ago," Norman said.

Andres Lares is a managing partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute in Baltimore. Before the virus hit, the company conducted formal reviews once a year. Now, Lares said, his firm's managers check in with workers weekly.

Moreover, his firm's managers have, for now, stopped evaluating employees based on the revenue they generate. Instead, he said, "we want to see our marketing team reach out to more people than ever via phone or e-mail during this time. In doing so, we're not emphasizing sales and revenue in the short term, but we are tracking demonstrated thought leadership from our employees that leads to more sales" in the future.

Adem Selita is chief executive officer at the Debt Relief Co. in New York City, which already had an automated performance system that tracked employees' metrics by the day, week, month and year.

With COVID-19 shaking up the company's office culture, that system has changed. These days, each performance review is scheduled more than a week in advance and employees are sent a template to fill out with instructions. Employees send back their responses for the manager to look over and use as a guide during the review.

"While time is still spent on going over output, the emphasis now is on what the employee needs help with, what they'd like to work on, ultimately with three takeaways the employee will focus on and discuss in the next review with their manager," Selita said.

Communication Challenges

Following this new performance review blueprint hasn't been easy during the pandemic.

"The biggest setback at first was communications," he said. "We're moving from a management culture where leaders are steps away from an employee's desk to a scenario where leadership isn't physically present. That leads to many questions not being asked [by the manager or employee] until it comes time for performance reviews."

On the upside, managers have noted new opportunities to discuss performance more broadly.

"With traditional performance reviews, employees were using much of their allotted time discussing small-ticket items, leaving them with little time to focus on development and what they can do better," Selita said. "By establishing more regular check-ins, we've found that employees are leaving sessions feeling more capable and motivated than ever."

Ken Eulo is a founding partner at Smith & Eulo Law Firm in Orlando, Fla. His firm has decided to push back performance reviews entirely during the coronavirus crisis.

"We believe it's unfair to hold employees to the same standards during this outbreak," he said. "The economy is suffering, and we are offering limited services as a firm. Consequently, we have completely halted performance reviews for the time being, as we can't find reasonable parameters to measure each employee's performance due to the circumstances."

Eulo said his firm will resume performance reviews when its services return to normal.

"For the time being, we are trusting employees to hold themselves accountable," he said.

SOURCE: O'Connell, B. (28 April 2020) "How Managers Are Handling Performance Reviews During COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/performance-reviews-during-coronavirus-.aspx


What to Do When Scared Workers Don’t Report to Work Due to COVID-19

Throughout the globe, many are terrified of contracting the communicable disease, the coronavirus. With this being said, many essential workers are refusing to go to work with that fear in their minds. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Some essential workers are refusing to come to work out of fear of contracting the coronavirus. Their employers must weigh the employees' legal rights and understandable health concerns with the organizations' business needs. It can be a tough balancing act.

"A good first step for an employer to respond to an essential worker who's expressing fears of returning to work is to actively listen to the employee and have a conversation," said Brian McGinnis, an attorney with Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia. "What are their specific concerns? Are they reasonable?"

McGinnis said that employers should consider whether it already has addressed those concerns or if additional steps are needed. Often, having a conversation with the employee "will avoid an unneeded escalation," he said.

Employees' Legal Rights

What if that doesn't work? Tread cautiously, as employees have many legal protections.

An employer usually can discipline workers for violating its attendance policy. But there are exceptions to that rule, noted Robin Samuel, an attorney with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles. Putting hesitant employees on leave may be a better choice than firing them.

Christine Snyder, an attorney with Tucker Ellis in Cleveland, cautioned, "If an employer permits employees to use vacation or PTO [paid time off] for leave, it may soon find itself without a workforce sufficient to maintain operations. Therefore, an employer may want to rely upon the terms of its existing time-off policy, which typically requires approval to use vacation or PTO, to require that leave for this reason be unpaid."

OSH Act

Employees can refuse to work if they reasonably believe they are in imminent danger, according to the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. They must have a reasonable belief that there is a threat of death or serious physical harm likely to occur immediately or within a short period for this protection to apply.

Samuel explained that an employee can refuse to come to work if:

  • The employee has a specific fear of infection that is based on fact—not just a generalized fear of contracting COVID-19 infection in the workplace.
  • The employer cannot address the employee's specific fear in a manner designed to ensure a safe working environment.

NLRA

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) grants employees at unionized and nonunionized employers the right to join together to engage in protected concerted activity. Employees who assert such rights, including by joining together to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, are generally protected from discipline, Samuel noted.

"That said, the refusal must be reasonable and based on a good-faith belief that working conditions are unsafe," said Bret Cohen, an attorney with Nelson Mullins in Boston.

ADA

Employers should accommodate employees who request altered worksite arrangements, remote work or time off from work due to underlying medical conditions that may put them at greater risk from COVID-19, Samuel said.

The EEOC's guidance on COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) notes that accommodations may include changes to the work environment to reduce contact with others, such as using Plexiglas separators or other barriers between workstations.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act, unlike the ADA, does not have a reasonable-accommodation requirement, pointed out Isaac Mamaysky, an attorney with Potomac Law Group in New York City. Nonetheless, he "would encourage employers to be flexible in response to leave requests from vulnerable employees," such as older essential workers, as the right thing to do and to bolster employee relations.

FFCRA

If a health care provider advises an employee to self-quarantine because the employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the employee may be eligible for paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), Cohen noted. The FFCRA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and the quarantine must prevent the employee from working or teleworking.

FFCRA regulations permit employers to require documentation for paid sick leave, noted John Hargrove, an attorney with Bradley in Birmingham, Ala.

Employers may relax documentation requirements due to the difficulty some employees could have obtaining access to medical providers during the pandemic and to encourage ill employees to stay away from work, said Pankit Doshi, an attorney with McDermott Will & Emery in San Francisco.

Hazard Pay

Although not currently mandated by federal law, hazard pay—extra pay for doing dangerous work—might be appropriate for an employer to offer to essential workers, McGinnis said.

If hazard pay is offered, similarly situated employees should be treated the same, he said. Otherwise, the employer risks facing a discrimination claim.

Andrew Turnbull, an attorney with Morrison & Foerster in McLean, Va., noted that companies with multistate operations may have legitimate reasons for offering hazard pay to employees working at locations with a high risk of exposure and not where the risk is minimal.

Hazard pay might be a good choice for public-facing jobs, where employees may not be able to observe social distancing, said Román Hernández, an attorney with Troutman Sanders in Portland, Ore.

Some localities require hazard pay in some circumstances, Doshi noted. These localities include Augusta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., and Kanawha County, W.Va.

Inform and Protect Workers

Lindsay Ryan, an attorney with Polsinelli in Los Angeles, said that employers should keep employees apprised of all measures the employer is taking to maintain a safe workplace, consistent with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and local health authorities.

If employers have the means to do so, they should screen employees each day by taking their temperatures and send workers who have fevers home, Snyder said. Alternatively, employers can require employees to take their own temperatures before reporting to work, she added.

"Finally, in light of recent CDC guidance regarding the use of cloth masks to prevent infection, employers should allow employees to wear masks in the workplace and consider providing employees with cloth masks if they are able to acquire them," she said.

SOURCE: Smith, A. (20 April 2020) "What to Do When Scared Workers Don’t Report to Work Due to COVID-19" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/coronavirus-when-scared-workers-do-not-report-to-work.aspx

COVID-19 Changes Internships, Apprenticeships

As the coronavirus pandemic has put a restriction on many plans, it's also raised concerns for organizations with internship and apprenticeship programs for early career development opportunities. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Travel restrictions and social-distancing mandates prompted by COVID-19 are causing organizations to rethink their approach to apprenticeships and internships, which typically involve hands-on, in-person participation.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is seeing a steady push toward moving internships online or limiting them in size and duration. A quick unscientific poll it conducted April 3 with 130 of its employer members provided insight on how members are adapting their programs:

  • 35 percent are making no changes to their program.
  • 35 percent are reducing the length of internships by delaying the start date.
  • 29 percent are moving to a virtual program.
  • 20 percent are moving events such as end-of-program presentations online.
  • 15 percent are reducing the number of interns.

Some organizations are considering micro-internships that condense a 10-to-12-week internship into a one-to-two-week experience later in the summer, said Bruce Soltys, head of talent acquisition sourcing strategy at The Travelers Companies based in Hartford, Conn. It has a 450-person internship program at 25 locations throughout the U.S.

He was among speakers at a panel discussion on internships that NACE hosted April 2.

"Companies might put a little bit more of an emphasis on training and development where [interns] are really focused on the learning and development piece and not so much on a personal project," Soltys said.

"From a change management perspective, we've presented the case to our senior leaders to say, 'If we have to go down this path from a virtual-work standpoint, the main question is, can this work be done virtually?' I think a lot of managers are not comfortable with the notion of interns doing the work virtually because [interns] are so new to the organization."

SAS, a computer software company outside of Raleigh, N.C., has a seven-figure investment in its internship program, said Kayla Woitkowski, a university recruiter leader for SAS who spoke on the NACE panel. Her employer is "making sure that any internship that does go virtual … the students have valuable work" to perform.

She has found, based on phone conversations with other employers, that organizations are taking one of three stances toward internships in light of COVID-19:

  1. Turning their internship program into a virtual one, ensuring that any work interns have been hired to perform can be done remotely.
  2. Canceling internships.
  3. Pushing back start dates.

As organizations wrestle with what to do with their internship programs, it's important that they keep in contact with the students they selected, said David Ong, panel moderator and senior director of corporate recruiting at Maximus. The Washington, D.C.-based company is a health and human services provider for state, federal and local governments.

The organization met with all interns and program associates as a group to assure them that they would keep them up-to-date on the program's status.

"It is also just a chance to keep them engaged," Ong said. "A lot of these students have [other] options."

Online tools can be an internship program's friend, according to Renato Profico, CEO of Doodle, a Zurich-based online scheduling tool.

"They can translate culture into a digital setting to make interns and new hires feel included," said Profico, who has personally invited every employee to a 15-minute virtual coffee meeting over the next few weeks. "These little things are important at a time when employee engagement and retention could dip significantly."

Apprenticeships

Changes prompted by COVID-19 will likely cause companies to be more pragmatic in how they view the role of apprenticeships, said Jennifer Carlson. She is the co-founder and executive director of Apprenti, which operates in 12 states as a fully paid technology apprenticeship program for minorities, veterans and women.

"COVID-19 is going to force companies to be more deliberate and probably see apprenticeships as an equitable pipeline, equivalent with all their talent acquisition pipelines," Carlson said. "Not all jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, for example, require a college degree.

"You can take people from nontraditional [areas] and train them and create a second pipeline [for talent] using apprenticeships."

One such example is the Youth Technology Apprenticeship Camp (YTAC) in Charlotte, N.C., a major technology workforce site in the U.S. Last year, for example, home-improvement company Lowe's announced the creation of a 2,000-employee global tech hub in Charlotte.

The demand for employees with tech skills "is off the charts for these companies," said Tariq Scott Bokhari, Charlotte city councilman and founder of the Carolina Fintech Hub. The Fintech Hub created YTAC and partnered with the city of Charlotte, the Charlotte Executive Leadership Council, the Bank of America Foundation and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Apprentices are high-school seniors who earn a credential after completing the four-week program. Those performing above a certain threshold are guaranteed acceptance into the local Workforce Investment Network training program. After successfully completing six months of training, participants are guaranteed a job as a full stack developer with a starting salary of $55,000.

The pandemic prompted a format change to the apprenticeship: It will be entirely virtual. Participants meet in small virtual breakout groups to work on their project, participate in labs, hackathons and livestream competitions and attend virtual training.

Bokhari thinks the altered format will continue in some way after the pandemic is over. With the virtual setup, overhead costs are lower, so more students can be accommodated. It also mirrors what he thinks will be the new reality for work.

"I think things will change forever after this, but it will probably be some mixture of physical and virtual [format]. We want this experience … to mimic the real-life workforce environment. I think the real-life workforce environment is going to change."

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (13 April 2020) "COVID-19 Changes Internships, Apprenticeships" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/Pages/COVID19-Causes-Changes-to-Internships-Apprenticeships.aspx


Remote Work Policies Should Now Stress Flexibility

While employers are in the midst of distributing guidelines for employees working remotely, it's important for management to also outline policies and procedures for working remotely. Read this blog post to learn more.


Organizations are implementing remote-work arrangements for their employees due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak—many for the first time—and need to be able to outline expectations and guidelines for working outside the office.

Generally, remote-work policies cover eligibility, working expectations, legal considerations and technology issues, but, during these extraordinary circumstances, flexibility is paramount.

We're undergoing one of the biggest changes in history in how people work, said Brian Kropp, chief of research in the HR practice at Gartner, a research and advisory firm in Arlington, Va. "We have a set of people who have never worked from home who are now doing it full time. We also have a set of managers who have never managed people working from home. Under these circumstances, the policies shouldn't be thought of as managing productivity, but more a set of guidelines and norms for people managing and working in a brand-new way."

Kropp said that employers should design their remote-work policies around outcomes, not workflows and processes. "The idea is that employees are expected to accomplish their goals, but how they do it and when they do it is flexible."

Just applying a traditional telecommuting policy to all workers during this unprecedented situation will lead to problems, Kropp said. "Look at your current policy and see what makes sense in this situation, and, if you're not sure, lean toward flexibility and trust as opposed to measuring and monitoring your employees. If employees are not given flexibility, it will be harder for them in their personal lives and they will feel that they are not trusted, which will come back to bite the organization when we come out of this."

Gregory Abrams, an attorney in the Chicago office of Faegre Drinker, said that being flexible with remote workers right now is not only good management practice but necessary, considering the quickly changing legal landscape.

"Clear policies are always advisable, but employers must be ready to adjust quickly as circumstances change," he said, noting that new Department of Labor guidelines could affect remote work. "Policies should clarify that expectations are subject to change quickly and unexpectedly given the current climate."

With flexibility as a guide, there are certain core elements of working from home that should be addressed in a written policy.

Define Eligibility and Duration

First, companies should define whom the policy covers and when it applies, as some workers may still be required to be at the worksite and others may not be able to work remotely. Employers may want to clarify whether the policy is only in effect during the coronavirus-related shutdown.

Kropp advised employers not to promise a definitive date to return to the office or termination of the telework policy due to general uncertainty about the duration of COVID-19.

A remote-work policy should include a clause that it may be discontinued at will and at any time.

Working Expectations

Experts agreed that evaluation of remote workers' performance should focus on work output and completion of objectives rather than on time-based performance.

"There are managers that think their employees are sitting at home watching TV all day instead of in front of their laptop working," Kropp said. "The mistake that these managers make is that they are confusing a remote-work policy with a performance management problem. The same employee who sits in front of the TV all day instead of working was probably already not working to his full potential in the office. That employee is not engaged, or the manager is not effectively providing direction."

An appropriate level of communication between employees and their managers should be spelled out in the policy, including expectations of availability, responsiveness and what modes of communication are to be used.

"When you're not meeting with team members in person, creating processes for collaboration and communication are key," said Rebecca Corliss, vice president of marketing for Owl Labs, a Boston-based telecommunications company. "Consider what types of communication tools work best in situations like manager one-on-ones, team all-hands meetings or employee learning and development activities."

Kropp said that, traditionally, there has been an expectation that video calls and meetings from home would be professional and "office-like." Companies are realizing that can be difficult with what's going on now, he added. "A lot of workers are parents with kids at home or taking care of an older parent. A kid will show up crying during one of your WebEx calls. It's going to happen, so companies are relaxing the constraints around what 'professional' and 'office-like' means. Obviously, you can't walk around in your underwear during a video call, but 'appropriate' rather than 'office-like' is a better way to show understanding of the struggles everyone is experiencing."

Legal Issues to Grant

Remote workers are entitled to the same legal protections that in-office workers have, Corliss said. "Working remotely can present some added challenges that need to be addressed to ensure your company is legally compliant," she noted.

One of the most obvious compliance areas to address with remote employees is recording the hours of workers not exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Employers must ensure that hourly employees know "the number of hours they are expected to work, what they should do if they need to work outside of scheduled work hours, how to report time, and how to communicate about unanticipated overtime," Abrams said. "There are legions of cases where nonexempt employees allege that they worked off the clock while at home, and you can see a similar scenario playing out during this crisis."

The policy should be clear that all nonexempt telecommuting employees are required to accurately record all hours worked using the employer's time-keeping system. Hours worked in excess of those scheduled per day and per workweek should require the advance approval of a supervisor. But even if employees are instructed not to work more than 40 hours a week, they still must be paid overtime if they do.

"Set up a process to report hours for hourly remote workers," Corliss said. "To avoid high overtime costs, select times that employees should and shouldn't be working. With clear guidelines, they won't be able to work outside of these hours unless they have permission from their manager. This makes it easier to avoid employees accidentally working more hours than intended."

Abrams added that states have various laws about meal breaks, rest breaks, and how many consecutive hours one can work, and remote work policies need to be mindful of those as well. There could also be Americans with Disabilities Act issues, he said, if accommodations need to be made for remote workers.

Employers are also responsible for remote workers' health and safety. Some companies prefer or require an employee's remote work environment to be approved prior to working remotely.

Injuries sustained by an employee in a home office location and in conjunction with his or her regular work duties are normally covered by a company's workers' compensation policy. Remote employees are responsible for notifying the employer of such injuries as soon as possible.

Technology and Supplies

Remote workers need the right tools to complete their work. Employers need to be clear about what equipment and resources they will provide, whether laptops and videoconferencing tools or payments for office supplies, phone calls, shipping and home-office modifications.

Who pays for home technology is up to the company, but a policy should set expectations to make sure everyone is on the same page, Kropp said. "Both employees and employers must agree on what each is expected to deliver. For example, some companies will pay for high-quality home Wi-Fi, and others are expecting that the worker already have it at home."

For many employees, a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection might not be enough, Corliss said. "You'll also need policies and tools in place for remote team collaboration and communication, like live chat, synchronous screencast recording, live video conferencing and more to ensure technology doesn't get in the way of an effective and meaningful work relationship. Slack and Google Hangouts can act as a virtual water cooler, where employees can discuss the status of a project but also debrief on TV shows, share GIFs and bond over their favorite music."

Companies also should specify the level of tech support they will offer to remote workers and outline what remote employees should do when having technical difficulties.

Employers need to pay extra attention to securing the technology their remote workforce is using. The COVID-19 pandemic is providing plenty of new opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit unsecured technology systems, overworked information technology (IT) staff and panicked employees who are new to working from home.

"In the course of developing communications to employees, examine existing policies closely, such as confidentiality, information security, business continuity, BYOD," said Joseph Lazzarotti, an attorney in the Morristown, N.J., office of Jackson Lewis. "If companies have specific requests, for example if they don't want employees working on public Wi-Fi, then that should be stated in the policy."

SOURCE: Maurer, R. (02 April 2020) "Remote Work Policies Should Now Stress Flexibility" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Remote-Work-Policies-Should-Now-Stress-Flexibility.aspx


Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief Bill with Paid-Leave Mandate

As the COVID-19 pandemic cases increase, employees are stuck choosing between staying home to avoid spreading the illness and working for a paycheck to pay their household bills. Due to the effect that the spread of coronavirus has created, the U.S. Senate has approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


The U.S. Senate approved the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in a 90-8 vote on March 18, and President Donald Trump signed it into law a few hours later. The bill will provide free screening, paid leave and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for people affected by COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill late on March 13. After several days of negotiation, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced that negotiators had reached a deal with the White House to pass the bill. "We cannot slow the coronavirus outbreak when workers are stuck with the terrible choice between staying home to avoid spreading illness and the paycheck their family can't afford to lose," Pelosi said.

Republican senators were concerned that the bill might hurt small businesses, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said lawmakers are working on another bill that would include relief for small businesses. McConnell said he would not adjourn the Senate until the third COVID-19 economic stimulus package is passed, CNN reported.

Trump declared a national emergency March 13, which frees up billions of dollars to fund public health and removes restrictions on hospitals to treat more patients. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (H.R. 6201) will provide:

  • Free coronavirus testing.
  • Paid emergency leave.
  • Enhanced unemployment insurance.
  • Additional funding for nutritional programs.
  • Protections for health care workers and employees responsible for cleaning at-risk places.
  • Additional federal funds for Medicaid.

We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on the news.

Paid Family Leave

As originally drafted, H.R. 6201 would have temporarily provided workers with two-thirds of their wages for up to 12 weeks of qualifying family and medical leave for a broad range of COVID-19-related reasons. The revised version of the bill will only provide such leave when employees can't work because their minor child's school or child care service is closed due to a public health emergency. Workers who have been on the payroll for at least 30 calendar days will be eligible for paid family leave benefits, which will be capped at $200 a day (or $10,000 total) and expire at the end of the year.

(Littler)

Paid Sick Leave

Under the bill, many employers will have to provide 80 hours of paid-sick-leave benefits for several reasons, including if the employee has been ordered by the government to quarantine or isolate or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19. Employees could also use paid sick leave when they have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis, if they are caring for someone who is in quarantine or isolation, or their child's school or child care service is closed because of the public health emergency. Paid-sick-leave benefits will be immediately available when the law takes effect and capped at $511 a day for a worker's own care and $200 a day when the employee is caring for someone else. This benefit will also expire at the end of 2020.

(CNN)

Large and Small Business Exceptions

Private businesses with at least 500 employees are not covered by the bill. "I don't support U.S. taxpayer money subsidizing corporations to provide benefits to workers that they should already be providing," Pelosi said on Twitter. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also said that "big companies can afford these things."

Covered employers that are required to offer emergency FMLA or paid sick leave will be eligible for refundable tax credits. Employers with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption from providing paid family and medical leave and paid sick leave if it "would jeopardize the viability of the business." Gig-workers and other self-employed workers will be eligible for a tax credit to cover the benefits.

(The Washington Post)

Lawmakers Previously Approved $8.3 Billion Emergency Bill

Another emergency spending package to fight coronavirus rapidly worked its way through Congress, and President Donald Trump signed it into law March 6. The measure will provide funds to develop a vaccine, provide protective and laboratory equipment to workers who need it, and aid locations hit with the virus.

(SHRM Online)

Coronavirus Prompts Employers to Review Sick Leave Policies

Do employees have the right to take time off if they are concerned about contracting coronavirus? Can employers send sick workers home? Should employees be paid for missed work time? HR and other business leaders are likely considering these questions and more as COVID-19 makes its way through the United States. "We believe employers would be wise to review their paid-time-off practices immediately," said Francis Alvarez, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in White Plains, N.Y. "Employers are likely to face unique circumstances that were not anticipated when they prepared their attendance and leave policies."

(SHRM Online) 

Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (18 March 2020) "Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief Bill with Paid-Leave Mandate" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/Senate-to-Vote-Soon-on-Coronavirus-Paid-Leave-Mandate.aspx


Early-Career Employees Face the Pandemic

Although working remotely can sound enticing, it can also create an over-abundance of stress for those who are not prepared. Many employees have had to deal with events that affect the workplace, but many of the younger generation employees have not had to deal with a situation like what the coronavirus has brought into businesses across the nation. Read this blog post to learn more about helping employees face the coronavirus pandemic.


Last week, before we understood the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, I spoke with several Millennials. During our discussions, we very quickly transitioned from plans for classes and graduation to what-if questions about the coronavirus pandemic.

More than the questions, though, the body language of the Millennials struck me. It screamed, "Help me get through this—all of it!"

Most of the conversations ended with "I feel so much better now that I talked to you."

Truthfully, I didn't say a lot because I didn't know many of the answers. However, I offered a listening ear, and it made the young adults feel heard and enabled them to share their thoughts, fears and concerns.

I realized at this moment that the power of listening is real, especially during times of uncertainty and crisis. Upon reflection, I wondered what made the Millennials feel safe enough to be vulnerable in front of me, and I realized they saw me as a trusted source.

We have to remember that although we're focused on delivering results, working remotely, managing our family responsibilities and practicing social distancing, as more-experienced workers, we've been doing this (i.e., dealing with uncertainty) a lot longer than early-career employees.

A lot of us have lived and, more importantly, worked during difficult, uncertain times, such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, an economic recession, corporate layoffs, and the list goes on.

Each time we faced uncertainty, our tolerance for ambiguity improved, and we were reminded that we can get through this, albeit sometimes with scars.

The coronavirus outbreak may be the most significant uncertainty early-career employees have yet faced at work.

As a result, it is essential that organizations, and especially managers of early-career employees, do the following:

  1. Give employees a chance to vent. Listen more than you talk.
  2. Encourage them to ask questions.
  3. But when you don't know the answer to a question, admit that you don't know.
  4. Share concrete yet simple suggestions to encourage employees (e.g., practice self-care, turn off the news occasionally, go outside for fresh air).
  5. Ask for their input if you feel like that's the natural course of the conversation, but remember that sometimes, asking for ideas creates stress.
  6. Set clear expectations about work deadlines. If you can reduce uncertainty at work, it will help employees navigate other responsibilities.
  7. Communicate the amount of time you expect them to be online, and let them know when it's OK to get offline.
  8. Create fun, daily challenges (e.g., ask your team to share pictures from their favorite vacation spots).
  9. Continue meeting with employees one-on-one virtually, if possible. While it's helpful to have team meetings to ensure that projects and tasks are moving forward, during times of uncertainty, spending time with each of your employees is crucial.
  10. Encourage your employees to follow a routine.

Lastly, although it may sound cliché, remind employees that we will get through this—and remind them more than once.

SOURCE: Sutton, K. (23 March 2020) "Early-Career Employees Face the Pandemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Early-Career-Employees-Face-the-Pandemic.aspx


4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic

While the spread of the coronavirus continuously increases, employees are urged to stay at home if they feel any symptoms that could be related to the virus. As employers begin to risk lost productivity due to sick leave, they may be tempted to adopt inflexible standards. Continue reading this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


Government officials are urging sick workers to stay home and employers to have flexible leave policies during the coronavirus pandemic. Don't let business pressures and reliance on past practices lead you to make bad decisions about attendance and leave policies during the public health emergency. Here are four mistakes employment law attorneys said businesses should avoid.

1. Being Inflexible

Many employers are understandably worried about the business impact of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. They might be tempted to adopt inflexible sick time or general attendance policies to keep people coming to the workplace in an effort to maximize productivity, said Marissa Mastroianni, an attorney with Cole Schotz in Hackensack, N.J. "But it's a mistake to adopt an inflexible policy that would pressure a sick worker to come to the office," she noted.

Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, employers have a duty to protect employees against known hazards in the workplace. "If one does not already exist, develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that can help guide protective actions against COVID-19," OSHA said in its Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.

The guidance noted that workers might be absent because they are sick or caring for sick family members, need to care for children whose schools or day care centers are closed, have at-risk people at home, or are afraid to come to work because they think they'll be exposed to the virus.

"Don't make employees feel pressured to come in when they shouldn't," Mastroianni said. If employees feel sick or think they have been exposed, they should be told to stay home. "We don't want to wait until someone is actually diagnosed."

Under OSHA rules, employees who reasonably believe they are in imminent danger can't be fired for refusing to come to the worksite. But what if an employee just doesn't feel comfortable reporting to work?

"Be more flexible with existing policies," said Susan Kline, an attorney with Faegre Drinker in Indianapolis. Employers should also consider providing additional sick time for instances of actual illness. If someone can't work from home, decide if offering paid time off is possible.

Some employees may take advantage of a flexible leave policy, Mastroianni said, but the employer's potential for liability is significant if employees are required to report to the workplace when they should stay home.

The analysis could be very fact-specific, and employers may want to contact a lawyer before denying time off.

"For a lot of companies, it's a challenge," Kline said, "because they want to be supportive but also don't know how big this is going to get."

2. Applying Policies Inconsistently

"Employers may choose to relax certain procedures set forth in sick-leave policies under extenuating circumstances, such as the current outbreak," said Jason Habinsky, an attorney with Haynes and Boone in New York City. "However, it is critical that employers apply any such modifications uniformly in order to avoid any claims of discrimination or unfair treatment."

For example, if an employer chooses to excuse absences for or to advance paid time off or vacation time to employees as a result of a COVID-19-related illness, the employer must be certain to do the same for all employees who are absent under similar circumstances.

"This requires employers to ensure that all decision-makers are aware of any temporary or permanent modifications to sick-leave policies to maintain consistency," Habinsky said.

3. Ignoring Leave Laws

All sick-leave policies must comply with applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws, and these laws may require employers to provide leave for COVID-19-related absences. Although employers may be required to provide leave, they should note that many laws allow employees to decide when to use it.

Employers must also avoid forcing a sick employee to perform services while out on leave, Habinsky noted, as this may constitute interference or retaliation under certain leave laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In fact, employers must avoid taking any actions against employees that could be construed as retaliation in violation of the FMLA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and applicable state and local paid-sick-leave laws.

"This could include any form of discipline in response to an employee's use of sick time or request to use sick-leave time," Habinsky said. "Likewise, to the extent employees are performing services while working remotely from home, they must be paid for time worked in accordance with applicable federal and state wage laws consistent with their classification as exempt or nonexempt."

Laura Pasqualone, an attorney with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie in Phoenix, noted that many paid-sick-leave laws prohibit employers from requiring a doctor's note unless the absence is for at least three days. But requiring a medical certification at all could further burden emergency rooms and urgent care facilities and could expose employees to more germs, she said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged employers not to require employees to provide a doctor's note to verify their COVID-19-related illness or to return to work.

4. Failing to Actively Encourage Sick Workers to Stay Home

According to the CDC, employers should actively encourage sick employees to stay home by:

  • Telling employees to stay home if they have symptoms of acute respiratory illness, a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, or signs of a fever. Employees should be fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication before returning to work.
  • Urging employees to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick for any reason.
  • Ensuring that the company's sick-leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of the policies.
  • Making sure contractors and staffing agencies inform their employees about the importance of staying home when ill and urging business partners not to reprimand workers who need to take sick leave.
  • Not requiring employees with acute respiratory illness to provide a doctor's note to verify their illness or to return to work, since health care providers may be overwhelmed with requests.
  • Maintaining flexible policies that allow employees to stay home to care for a sick relative.

"Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual," the CDC said.

[Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.]

SOURCE: Nagele-Piazza, L. (18 March 2020) "4 Sick-Leave Practices to Avoid During the Coronavirus Pandemic" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/Pages/4-Sick-Leave-Practices-to-Avoid-During-the-Coronavirus-Pandemic.aspx


Employers Grapple with Teleworking Decisions, Fairness

With businesses closing daily due to the implications that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon them, many employers are still questioning whether their employees have the resources to successfully work remotely. Read this blog post from SHRM to learn more.


It seems that every hour, another company announces that its employees will work from home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus—although working remotely is not an option for everyone.

For example, roughly two-thirds of the 700 employees at the Community Healthcare Network need to be onsite to provide patient care. But what about the administrative staff who may be able to work from home? Should they be given the opportunity?

Kenneth Meyer, the chief human resources officer at the New York City-based network of 12 clinics, has been grappling with the question. "Will they have the resources they need to perform their jobs?" he wondered. He's not sure that the employees have the computers and Internet connections they'll need. "We're a nonprofit. We don't have computers and scanners just lying around," he added.

And there's another element to consider: Is it fair to let some employees work from home while others labor in an environment where they are more at risk of contracting the coronavirus? "Staff morale definitely enters that equation. It isn't the governing the factor, though," Meyer explained.

Deciding whether to let employees work from home amid the pandemic isn't easy for many firms. Health care providers and manufacturers require most people to be onsite to keep operations running. Yet even for companies where it is technically possible for employees to work remotely, there are other considerations that must be addressed. While such companies are often OK with some people working from home, they lack the systems and protocols to keep the business running smoothly when there is no one at the main office.

Last week, there was significant disagreement among senior executives at software maker Betterworks about whether to close the company's offices temporarily, according to Diane Strohfus, Betterworks' chief human resources officer. Some favored shuttering the offices, while others argued it wasn't necessary because the coronavirus situation was overblown.

"Opinions were all over the map, but we decided to err on the side of safety and caution," Strohfus said. The company decided to make the work-from-home policy mandatory so that people who really wanted to stay home didn't feel pressured to go to the office by those who chose to work there. She added that many of the employees at the Redwood City, Calif.-based company have infants and school-age children, so allowing people to work from home made sense when school and day care closings are happening all over the country.

"I told managers to expect more distractions," Strohfus said.

Strohfus added that even though it's technically easy for the company's employees to work from home, for a firm accustomed to personal interactions, there were still adjustments to be made. To improve communication, channels were added to Slack, a messaging platform used by Betterworks employees, and managers are organizing video meetings to keep employees connected.

"We encourage [videoconferencing]. People can feel your personality when they see your face," Strohfus explained.

Companies don't have to let people work from home, said Tracy M. Billows, a partner in the Chicago office of law firm Seyfarth Shaw who specializes in labor issues. However, she added that if someone is pregnant or has a disability or medical condition that affects his or her immune system, companies must make some accommodations.

Billows said companies need to follow existing laws and coronavirus-specific directions from institutions like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when creating work-from-home policies amid the pandemic. Beyond that, companies need to account for their individual circumstances. Has an employee been infected? Is the company located in a virus hot spot where schools are closed? Does the work need to be done onsite? Companies must balance the safety and security of their workers with what the business needs to continue to operate, she explained.

"There are no one-size-fits-all answers," Billows said.

As the virus spread, Elyse Dickerson thought about how to treat the 10 hourly employees who work in her health care company's manufacturing facility and do not have sick leave. Last week, she told them she would pay them for two weeks if they were feeling ill or needed to care for a family member.

"If they don't get paid, they can't feed their families or pay their rent," said Dickerson, co-founder and chief executive officer of Fort Worth, Texas-based Eosera, a maker of ear care products. She told her other 10 employees that they could work from home but might be called in to help in the manufacturing facility if someone is out sick.

Dickerson doesn't know what the company will do if area schools close, although that won't be a problem for most of her employees. She said employees could bring their children to work if necessary. "I suppose we could put on a movie," she said.

And if an employee contracts the virus, she said the company would have the facility deep-cleaned within 24 hours. She has two months' worth of product in reserve in case there are any production delays.

"We already bleach down the facility every night," she said. "You could eat off the floors."

SOURCE: Agovino, T. (18 March 2020) "Employers Grapple with Teleworking Decisions, Fairness" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Employers-Grapple-with-Teleworking-Decisions-Fairness.aspx


Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?

While coronavirus (COVID-19) is disrupting the workplaces of many in various countries, it is imperative that the United States takes as many precautions as possible. Many workplaces have emergency plans into fruition for storms and unforeseen weather, but are there plans in place for a virus that is spreading quickly? Read this blog post to learn more.


This coronavirus (or COVID-19) has taken a more serious turn in the U.S. with warnings that it could very well impact how, when and where we work:

"Disruption to everyday life may be severe," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference. "Schools could be closed, mass public gatherings suspended, and businesses forced to have employees work remotely."

The global spread of the virus may be a moment that reveals whether employers are ready to respond rapidly to unexpected workplace changes. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local "business hours" and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, if it gets bad enough, many could indeed be asked, or request, to work remotely.

Are organizations ready? Chances are probably not. But even for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the inevitable post-crisis question: "Why don't we do this all the time?"

How do you prepare your organization to not only flexibly respond to this potential disruption, but also to use it as an opportunity to reimagine work broadly? Here are five steps to get started:

Acknowledge the possibility that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely.

Hoping and praying it doesn't happen, or simply ignoring it, is not a strategy. Neither is handing everyone a laptop and saying "Go work someplace else" on the day they expand wide-scale quarantines. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business-line leaders, IT, HR, communications and facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution, should circumstances require a rapid response.

Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected.

Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office, and 3) Not sure.

Challenge any potentially inaccurate default assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn't be done remotely. And for those in the "not sure" column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years, I've been told, "Administrative assistants can't work flexibly." And, for years, I've worked with teams of administrative assistants to prove that is not true. Yes, certain tasks they complete require physical presence, but those can be planned for. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work and benefit the business.

Audit available IT hardware and software, and close any gaps in access and adoption.

Assess the comfort level with specific applications, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Real-time mastery is not optimal and is inefficient. Identify devices owned by the organization that people could use and clarify acceptable "bring your own" phone and laptop options. Determine if there are any data-security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand.

Set up a communications protocol in advance.

This communications plan needs to outline: how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified — email, IM, Slack, etc.); how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.

Identify ways to measure performance that could inform broader change.

After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn't and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, "Why don't we do this all the time?" Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 25% and substitute video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization's sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.

Global health emergencies, like COVID-19, are scary, disruptive and confusing for everyone. And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there's a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be.

SOURCE: Williams Yost, C. (10 March 2020) "Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/viewpoint-whats-your-companys-emergency-remote-work-plan.aspx