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


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


School and office closures are a logistical nightmare for working parents

While COVID-19 is affecting travel plans and workplaces, it's beginning to have school districts close down to reduce the spread of any germs to children. Although keeping the safety of children a priority, working parents are being faced with challenging situations regarding the care of their children while they are at work. Read this blog post to learn more.


Last weekend, Jannell Nolan woke up to dozens of texts: Elk Grove Unified School District had announced its decision to close all of its 67 Sacramento County schools in California for the next week after a student tested positive for coronavirus.

That sent all four of her kids — two elementary schoolers, a middle schooler and a high schooler — home for the foreseeable future and left her doing full-time childcare. Nolan works for the district, so she's staying home while her husband is working at a nearby Costco Wholesale.

“My kids have playdates planned for the rest of the week,” she said. “I’m not going to keep them locked up all week, I’ll lose my mind.”

It's not ideal, but at least the family has one parent who won’t have to negotiate work and childcare schedules.

In the U.S., having a stay-at-home parent is a luxury that’s proving even more beneficial as schools shutdown and offices send employees home. A majority of American mothers with children younger than 18 are employed and in more than 60% of married couples, both parents work, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With relatively little parental leave, fewer sick days and rigid schedules, working parents in the U.S. have a lot to juggle even when school is in session and everyone is healthy.

Coronavirus is adding new complications for that already stretched-thin demographic. Parents are scrambling to find childcare or figuring out how to be productive at home with kids around. Others are making tough choices between a paycheck and their families’ needs. Anxieties are even creeping up in places where the virus has not yet disrupted daily life.

“People are more stressed around the logistics than the actual disease,” said Elizabeth Gulliver, a mother of one and co-founder of Kunik, a membership-based community for working parents.

Alexa Mareschal, a Salt Lake City-based attorney, said she has “no idea” what she and her husband, who also has a full time job renovating homes, would do if her kids’ daycare is closed because of the virus. She finds it nearly impossible to be productive when working at home with her toddlers. “It’s kind of like trying to wrangle cats,” she said.

If widespread childcare and school closures come to Utah, Mareschal said she and her colleagues have discussed setting up a makeshift daycare for everyone’s kids, where the oldest ones would watch the younger ones. Other than that, she has no plan. “I’ll fly in my mom, I guess?” she said.

Like Mareschal, many working parents not yet affected by school or office closures are worrying about the feasibility of family quarantines. “The idea of being cooped up in my house trying to work with my kids running around for two weeks is not making me happy,” said Rachel Cherkis, a marketing manager for EY and mother of two, who already works remotely in the Miami area full-time. “There’s definitely not enough sound-proofing in my house.”

Brooklyn-based lawyer Colleen Carey Gulliver and her banker husband have started having conversations about what they’ll do if their three-year-old’s school closes. They may have to alternate days off work to watch their toddler. In the case that they both end up quarantined at home, she “might have to rely on TV more than you would like to get some actual time alone.”

In a way, these anxieties are for the privileged: Only 29% of the American workforce can do their jobs from home. To quarantine, most workers would have to take time off and many would forgo pay. Mendy Hughes, a single mother of four, has been working at a Walmart in Malvern, Arkansas, for the past decade and now makes a little more than $11 an hour. Not only is the 45-year-old cashier concerned about getting sick with the virus herself, she’s worried about what she’ll have to do if her kids, the youngest of whom is 10, had to stay home from school.

“I don’t know what I would do if they had to be on extended leave,” said Hughes, who is also a member of the Walmart watchdog organization United for Respect. “I’m a single parent so I really can’t afford to miss work.”

The U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries without federal paid sick leave. In light of the pandemic, President Donald Trump is expected to sign an order that would give some to hourly workers. Walmart this week also tweaked its own policy and now offers up to two weeks pay to employees who contract the virus or those who have to quarantine. These programs don’t necessarily cover the illness of a child or school closures.

No matter the situation, much of the care-taking and household burdens would likely fall to women, further exacerbating gender inequality. A 2017 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that working mothers are more likely to take care of sick kids than working fathers. Among mothers surveyed, about 40% said they’re the ones who take care of a sick child, compared to 10% of fathers surveyed. Women with young children also do twice as much childcare as men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also do more cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This all contributes to the so-called “motherhood penalty,” which accounts for the bulk of the gender pay gap.

There may, however, be long-term benefits to this experiment, Gulliver, the Kunik co-founder said. She’s hopeful that this experience will change some of the harmful stereotypes around working parents that tend to hurt women.

“If you were not visibly pregnant at the office for all nine months of your pregnancy, a lot of people don’t even know that you’re a parent,” Gulliver said, explaining that’s the case for fathers, adoptive parents and step parents, among others. “Being forced to work from home and having kids pop up in the back of screens is going to show that you don’t necessarily need to hide that you have a kid.” This visibility could push employers to support the needs of employees with children.

Still employers can’t fix everything. Marketing manager Cherkis, who already telecommutes full time, said that despite the fact that her husband is the stay-at-home parent to their two kids, some things still fall to her.

“At the end of the day I’m mom, and sick kids want to be with mom,” Cherkis said. “That’s the truth of it."

SOURCE: Bloomberg News. (13 March 2020) "School and office closures are a logistical nightmare for working parents" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/articles/school-and-office-closures-are-a-logistical-nightmare-for-working-parents


Use It or Lose It: Are your employee's taking advantage of their PTO?

Are your workers taking advantage of their PTO? It is important for you employee's to de-stress and take a break to continue to be sucessful. Ensure your employees are taking the time off they need to keep a happy and healthy workfoce.

According to a Forbes article, only 25% of Americans take their paid vacation. The article also gives insight as to how not taking vacation can impact your overall effeciency in the workplace.

It’s not healthy to keep working without a break. Vacation recharges our internal batteries, gives us perspective on what we do and fuels creativity and energy.  Vacation also promotes creative thinking, expands our cultural horizons and sharpens cognition, especially if we can travel to another country. “Traveling shifts us from the solipsistic way we operate every day,” Joan Kane, a Manhattan psychologist, told me a when I did a story on vacations a few years ago. “It promotes a sense of well-being and gets you thinking in different ways. It can be life-altering.”

In the article The common workplace practice that’s costing employers billions by Cort Olsen, gives more understanding of why employees do not always take the time offered.

Having diligent, hardworking employees is every employer’s dream, but it can come at a cost. Studies have shown that employees who sacrifice their vacation time to maintain their work flow could be costing an employer more than it would to have one or two employees out of the office for a couple of weeks’ vacation time.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, employees who choose not to use their paid time off could potentially cost an employer close to $52.4 billion annually due to lost revenue, employee termination or resignation, and hiring and training replacements.

“When you look at a manager or someone in a leader capacity, we run into situations where managers don’t want to be out of the office or away from the team because they feel like they need to be available,” Sciortino says. “Some people who are not in a leadership position may be the only one who does a certain task, so they know if they are not there then the work is not going to get done.”

To combat this problem, employers need to train employees to be backups for other employees who are responsible for a specific task in the event that person is out of the office for a period of time, she says.

“From an employer’s perspective, we want our teams to take PTO, because turnover is costly,” Sciortino says. “You can lose employees because they are feeling burnt, and obviously rehiring and retraining people for positions frequently can be costly on their organization.”

Another costly issue employers face when employees do not use their vacation time is paying out that unused time. Claire Bissot, managing director for CBIZ, says she is against any employer that allows employees to be paid out for not using their vacation time at the end of the year.

Read the full article from Forbes.com here.

See the full article from Employee Benefit Adviser here.

Sources:

Adams, S. (2014, April 7). Only 25% of americans take their paid vacation [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/04/04/only-25-of-americans-take-their-paid-vacation/#ea0d8c22c5cf

Olsen, C. (2016, June 7). The common workplace practice that's costing employers billions [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/the-common-workplace-practice-thats-costing-employers-billions

 


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