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


Rethink Work-from-Home Employee Perks

Working from home has become a new normal for many employers and employees. With that being said, it may be time to rethink employee perks that expand flexibility and customize work schedules. Read this blog post to learn more.


As working from home stretches into the summer and beyond at many companies, some firms are adopting interesting, innovative incentives to maintain engagement and productivity among telecommuting employees.

Most common among such perks is the expanded flexibility for personal time off and customized work schedules. But many employers consider those options to be table stakes and are raising the ante. Perks related to food and drink, camaraderie, dress code and new technology are being introduced as HR rethinks and adjusts company culture.

"Pre-COVID, working from home was considered a top employee perk," said Cheryl Fields Tyler, CEO of San Francisco Bay-area firm Blue Beyond Consulting. "Now, it's practically considered an entitlement. And with executives [seeing] how effective their home-working employees have been during this situation, it's likely to stick around even after the recovery."

At her firm, "our teamwork has really stepped up. People are supporting each other more and finding new ways to handle responsibilities to get through this, which will be the lasting benefit of this 'change'."

At IBM, CEO Arvind Krishna created and shared a special eight-point pledge that went viral as a model for other C-suites to follow, putting a "human touch" on his entire workforce.

"With employees and companies making such strides in work-from-home execution, there's going to be a massive rethinking of just how you build culture," Fields Tyler said.

Informality Catches On

Many companies are creating clever ways to connect remote employees during and after the workday ends, usually with fun in mind.

Tampa HR consultant Michelle May Griffin, SHRM-CP, has clients who have created a virtual coffee klatsch once or twice a week, designed with an impromptu gathering-in-the-breakroom feel. "Supervisors aren't invited," she said. "Staff can come and go. It's very informal. People can eat lunch or have a cup of coffee and just talk about anything they wish."

At Centurion, a health care company based in Vienna, Va., HR created a voluntary lunch-time video meeting for employees on Zoom to talk about things other than work, said Jennifer Tyrrell, SHRM-SCP, senior director of HR. ‎

"We did one that was called 'Get Up and Move' based on fitness videos so employees could be active, but that didn't draw a huge crowd," she joked. "Others had better participation, such as 'Just Social: Brown Bag Lunch Buddies' for remote workers to take a break and have virtual lunch to catch up with co-workers, and end-of-day Friday happy hours, including one where we played Pictionary."

Griffin shared another story of a small client. On one Friday afternoon, HR reached out to all employees and took drink orders. It then set up a virtual happy hour on Zoom where employees used their drinks—that the company personally delivered to their homes—to toast another great week.

"The company did a good job, packing them in baskets with other goodies," Griffin said.

As for food, some larger companies are offering stipends for daily lunch pickups or delivery, which has become an unanticipated expense for remote employees "now that they aren't able to take advantage of full cafeterias at work every day," said Chris Hoyt, president of CareerXroads, a membership-based talent community of more than 150 companies.

Zoom Fatigue

Virtual meetings have become so common at most companies that "there is more and more talk of blocking out meetings on multiple days each week to reduce stress and prevent 'Zoom fatigue,'" Hoyt said. "For some, there are entire days where either no meetings are called, or at least none that involve a video log-in. That's a well-being perk."

As for home offices, tech equipment stipends can make work and life easier. Hoyt said one organization gave its remote employees full access to a virtual ergonomic assessment that could help determine what equipment they would need to work most productively and funded those purchases.

At Iona, a social services group in Washington, D.C., employees were provided with office furniture and computer technology delivered to their homes, with set up-help provided, said Stacey Berk, a managing consultant with Expand HR Consulting in Maryland. "They bent over backwards to help their employees," she said.

At some companies, encouragement to take a summer vacation is a well-received perk. "Having spent so much time over the past few months working from home, [employees] are pivoting to summer rentals in remote places instead of theme parks or family reunions," Berk said. "Some employers are allowing staff to extend that time away if they split their work time, and may offer to pay for Wi-Fi connections, additional temporary office resources and supermarket gift cards for these types of vacations so that they can productively work in this capacity."

Wellness Well-Done

Berk sees a trend where clients are providing wellness "relief" to their workers by having group stress-relieving exercises, guest virtual speakers or even comic relief, such as themed summer dress-up days. Hoyt agrees that wellness has become an emerging front for many HR leaders.

"Some have been pushing for the ability to incorporate ideas and strategies for years and now are realizing that the pandemic [is the final catalyst] to get initiatives off the ground and running," he said.

"Some company fitness centers are offering virtual workouts much like commercial gyms do," Hoyt added. "A few employers' in-house trainers are getting creative with programs for people who may not have equipment at home but can do workouts with whatever equipment they might have around."

Personalized mental-health care program offerings also are gaining popularity, Hoyt said, such as LyraHealth and Headspace. Both focus on mindfulness and meditation for stress, anxiety, sleep, attention and fitness and enable participants to track their progress. Other popular programs include MeQuilibrium, a well-being and performance platform that helps employees identify and manage stress; and Sleepio, a digital sleep-improvement program featuring cognitive behavioral therapy techniques.

Gifted and Talented

At BHI Insurance in Newark, Del., which boasts 28 employees, HR Director Maria Clyde, SHRM-SCP, offered everyone a list of electronics to choose from as a thank-you gift for adapting well to working from home. She budgeted $40 to $60 per gift.

"We thought that was fitting since everyone who is working remotely is looking to make their lives (and their kids' lives) easier," Clyde said. "I've also seen companies providing headphones and streaming services like Netflix or Disney+ for the kids. People are getting really creative!"

Charitably conscious, Hoyt said some companies are matching or double-matching employee donations to local organizations or for anything related to front-line workers and PPE creation and distribution.

Other benefits that companies can define as perks, Berk said, are a relaxed summer dress standard and the ability to work outdoors, which shows up as an employee's background in virtual meetings. "By not having to wear a blouse or dress shirt, think of the money employees are saving in dry cleaning because they can dress casually," she said. "It's not a lot of savings, but it helps."

Giving employees a greater voice can be considered a perk for some employees. Organizations that previously conducted one employee survey a year—or even every couple of years—are now conducting them more frequently, Berk said. "This gives employees more of a chance to be heard and to have a voice in some policy decision-making, which is one perk you cannot put a price tag on."

Tyrrell said Centurion has conducted more employee surveys recently and found that 90 percent of employees expressed confidence in how the C-suite has been dealing with the crisis, while at-home distractions ranked second lowest among employee challenges.

Many companies are creating incentives for work-from-home employees to voluntarily return to the office. Campus Advantage, an owner and manager of off-campus university student housing, has 70 employees assigned to its Austin, Texas, headquarters.

"Many workers are still afraid to come back," said Angela L. Shaw, SHRM-SCP, vice president of HR. "Our office has a mojo committee that creates fun office events, and we've offered those in the office breakfasts, Taco Tuesdays and yoga classes. On average, we'll have about five employees come in. The others are happy to continue working from home."

Perks on the Chopping Block

Many companies are planning for the next wave of the coronavirus, one that is expected to hit them hard financially during the second half of 2020 and beyond, Berk said. Traditional employee perks likely will be impacted, at least for the short term.

"Expect perks like traditional staff-wide wellness benefits, such as gym memberships, discount programs and celebratory gatherings, will be cut or eliminated and replaced with more modest offerings," Berk said. "Companies are quickly adjusting forecasting and budgeting for the coming year based on the realities of the pandemic. The reimagined office layout and sanitation will be at the forefront for HR and executives, and you could see companies reducing employee benefits, eliminating increases, bonuses, education stipends and executive perks. With the post-pandemic workforce, they have to account for a big in-office sanitation budget and potential reduced profits."

SOURCE: Bergeron, P. (01 July 2020) "Rethink Work-from-Home Employee Perks" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/rethink-work-from-home-employee-perks.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


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


How to prevent employees from taking advantage of unlimited PTO

Attracting and retaining is becoming more difficult. Because of this companies are now offering competitive benefits to bring that talent to their company. Companies have added unlimited paid time off, along with work from home policies to their benefits offering. Read this blog post to learn how to prevent employees from taking advantage of new benefits being put in place.


In the quest to attract and retain top talent, more companies are offering competitive benefits including unlimited paid time off and generous work from home policies. But what if you have workers who abuse the policy?

To prevent workers from taking advantage, it’s critical that companies set proper guidelines, says Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO and founder of Squarefoot, a commercial real estate company, which offers its staff unlimited personal time off. At his company, people were utilizing the policy from “all ends of the spectrum,” which led him to reassess how they monitored and encouraged time off.

“The war for talent is so strong right now, and when an employee is looking to make a decision, you don’t want to disqualify yourself because you don’t offer this benefit,” he says. “But people don’t use the amount of vacation days intended. You get some people who underutilize and over utilize. The bad spoils the good, and that's not the intent of unlimited policy.”

Unlimited paid time off is becoming a more popular benefit, especially in the tech space. According to Indeed, 65% of companies mentioned “unlimited PTO” in their job postings, and companies like General Electric and Kronos offer the benefit to employees.

While the standard time off has typically been two to four weeks, 55% of employees do not use all of their paid time off, according to the U.S. Travel Association. To level the playing field among his employees, Wasserstrum says he established guidelines that made unlimited PTO flexible, but still within reason.

“There are top performers who work a lot, and you don't want them to burn out. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who take advantage of policy,” he says. “We frame it as flexible and not unlimited. The intent is for everyone to use it as time away from the office — it helps you refresh — so we encourage you to take anywhere from two to four weeks.”

Paid time off has a multitude of benefits, including increased employee morale and a better sense of work-life balance. And today’s workforce is in desperate need of time away from the office. According to Deloitte, 77% of employees say they have experienced burnout, and 70% say their employer does not do enough to prevent or mitigate work stress.

“Work-life balance looks very different now than it used to,” Wasserstrum says. “If I'm on vacation 20 years ago, you really can't get in touch with me. Now, everyone is 24/7 on, so you have to set the boundaries as an employer.”

In addition to more paid time off, more people are also reaping the benefits of remote work. According to a Gallup poll, 43% of the workforce works remotely some or all of the time, but employers like IBM, Aetna and Yahoo have pulled back on those policies and required workers to be on site instead, according to the Society of Human Resource Managers.

"[Managers] may have realized how blind and invisible remote workers are and they don't know what's going on at the remote location — what work that person is doing or what distractions they may have to deal with,” Judith Olson, a distance-work expert and professor at the University of California Irvine, told SHRM.

With more employees weighing the benefits of workplace policies, time off is still the top benefit employees look for. Metlife found 72% named unlimited paid time off as their most desired benefit, ahead of wellness plans and retirement programs.

While it may put companies at an advantage, PTO and other flexible work policies are just one part of the overall picture of a company’s workplace culture, Wasserstrum says.

“If you're winning people based on benefits, they're coming to you for the wrong reasons,” he says. “But every company looks and feels different from the inside and has a company culture that shouldn’t be one size fits all. This works for us and the work-life balance experience we want people to have.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (17 Decemeber 2019) "How to prevent employees from taking advantage of unlimited PTO" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/how-to-prevent-employees-from-taking-advantage-of-unlimited-pto


4 pitfalls of paid leave and how clients can avoid them

Employers are using paid leave options to help boost their employee benefits packages in efforts to better attract and retain talent. Read the following blog post from Employee Benefit Advisor for 4 common pitfalls of paid leave and how employers can avoid them.


PaidLeave.5.2.19.pngSmart employers are boosting their benefits packages with paid family leave — the most coveted work perk among all generations. In today’s low unemployment environment, paid leave benefits can be a huge differentiator in attracting and retaining talent.

But some employers are getting themselves into trouble in the process, facing accusations of gender discrimination or improper use of leave.

Here are four potential pitfalls of paid leave, and how employers can avoid them.

1. Be careful what you call “maternity leave.”

Employers have long been granting leave for new moms in the form of disability coverage. In fact, the top cause of short term disability is pregnancy. Disability insurance usually grants new moms six to eight weeks of paid leave to recover from childbirth.

Because this coverage applies to the medical condition of recovering from childbirth, it shouldn’t be lumped in with bonding leave.

Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says leave granted for new moms for bonding must also be extended to new dads, so separating disability leave from bonding leave is crucial to avoiding gender discrimination.

2. Don’t make gender assumptions.

The amount of bonding time for new parents after birth, adoption or fostering must be granted equally for men and women. Companies that don’t provide the same amount of paid leave for men and women may find themselves in a discrimination lawsuit.

It’s not just the time away from work that matters, but also the return-to-work support provided. If new moms are granted temporary or modified work schedules to ease the transition back to work, new dads must also have access to this.

Some companies may choose to differentiate the amount of leave and return-to-work support for primary or secondary caregivers. That’s compliant as long as assumptions aren’t made on which gender is the primary or secondary caregiver.

The best way to avoid potential gender discrimination pitfalls is to keep all parental bonding and related return-to-work policies gender neutral.

3. Avoid assuming the length of disability.

Be careful about assuming the length of time a new mom is disabled, or recovering medically, after birth. Typical coverage policies allot six to eight weeks of recovery for a normal pregnancy, so assuming a new mom may be out for 10 weeks might be overestimating the medical recovery time, and under-representing the bonding time, which must be gender neutral.

4. Keep up with federal, state and local laws.

Mandated leave laws are ever-evolving, so employers should consistently cross-check their policies with state and local laws. For instance, do local paid leave laws treat adoption the same as birth? Are multistate employers compliant? What if an employee lives in one state but works in another: Which state’s leave policies take precedence?

Partnering with a paid leave service provider can mitigate the risk of improperly administering leave. Paid leave experts can help answer questions, review guidelines and provide information regarding job-protecting medical or family leave.

They can also help flag potential pitfalls, ensuring leave requests from all areas of your company are managed uniformly and in accordance with state and federal laws, including the EEOC.

SOURCE: Bennett, A. (12 September 2019) "4 pitfalls of paid leave and how clients can avoid them" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/list/4-pitfalls-of-paid-leave-and-how-clients-can-avoid-them


Changes are coming to paid leave. Here’s what employers should know

Many states and local governments are enacting their own paid leave policies, making it difficult for employers to navigate employee paid leave. Read this blog post for what employers should know about the coming changes for paid leave.


A growing number of states and local governments are enacting their own paid leave policies. These new changes can be difficult for employers to navigate if they don’t understand the changes that are happening.

Adding to the confusion among employers, paid sick leave and paid family leave are often used interchangeably, when in fact there are some important distinctions. Paid sick leave is for a shorter time frame than paid family leave and allows eligible employees to care for their own or a family member’s health or preventative care. Paid family leave is more extensive and allows eligible employees to care for their own or a family member’s serious health condition, bond with a new child or to relieve family pressures when someone is called to military service.

The best-known type of employee leave is job-protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, where employees can request to take family medical leave for their own or a loved one’s illness, or for military caregiver leave. However, leave under FMLA is unpaid, and in most cases, employees may use available PTO or paid leave time in conjunction with family medical leave.

Rules vary by state, which makes it more difficult for multi-state employers to comply. The following is an overview of some new and changing state and local paid leave laws.

Paid sick leave

The states that currently have paid sick leave laws in place are Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. There are also numerous local and city laws coming into effect across the country.

In New Jersey, the Paid Sick Leave Act was enacted late last year. It applies to all New Jersey businesses regardless of size; however, public employees, per diem healthcare employees and construction workers employed pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement are exempt. As of February 26, New Jersey employees could begin using accrued leave time, and employees who started after the law was enacted are eligible to begin using accrued leave 120 days after their hire dates.

Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid leave for personal or family needs as of March.

Under Vermont’s paid sick leave law, this January, the number of paid sick leave hours employees may accrue rose from 24 to 40 hours per year.

In San Antonio, a local paid sick leave ordinance passed last year, but it may not take effect this August. The ordinance mirrors one passed in Austin that has been derailed by legal challenges from the state. Employers in these cities should watch these, closely.

Paid family leave

The five states that currently have paid family leave policies are California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington and the District of Columbia.

New York, Washington and D.C. all have updates coming to their existing legislation, and Massachusetts will launch a new paid family program for employers in that state. In New York, the state’s paid family leave program went into effect in 2018 and included up to eight weeks of paid family leave for covered employees. This year, the paid leave time jumps to 10 weeks. Payroll deductions to fund the program also increased.

Washington’s paid family leave program will begin on January 1, 2020, but withholding for the program started on January 1 of this year. The program will include 12 weeks of paid family leave, 12 weeks of paid medical leave. If employees face multiple events in a year, they may be receive up to 16 weeks, and up to 18 weeks if they experience complications during pregnancy.

The paid family leave program in Massachusetts launches on January 1, 2021, with up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a family member or new child, 20 weeks of paid leave for personal medical issues and 26 weeks of leave for an emergency related to a family member’s military deployment. Payroll deductions for the program start on July 1.

The Paid Leave Act of Washington, D.C. will launch next year with eight weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child, six weeks of leave to care for an ill family member with a serious health condition and two weeks of medical leave to care for one’s own serious health condition. On July 1, the district will begin collecting taxes from employers, and paid leave benefits will be administered as of July 1, 2020.

Challenging times ahead

An employer must comply with all state and local sick and family leave laws, and ignorance of a law is not a defense. Employers must navigate different state guidelines and requirements for eligibility no matter how complex, including multi-state employers and companies with employees working remotely in different jurisdictions.

These state paid leave programs are funded by taxes, but employers must cover the costs of managing the work of employees who are out on leave. While generous paid leave policies can help employers attract talent, they simply don’t make sense for all companies. For example, it can be difficult for low-margin businesses to manage their workforces effectively when employees can take an extended paid leave.

Not only must employers ensure compliance with state and local rules, but they also must make sure that their sick time, family and parental leave policies are non-discriminatory and consistent with federal laws and regulations. That’s a lot to administer.

Employers should expect to see the changes in paid sick leave and family leave laws to continue. In the meantime, companies should make sure they have the people and internal processes in place right now to track these changes and ensure compliance across the board.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Johnson, D. (2 May 2019) "Changes are coming to paid leave. Here’s what employers should know" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/what-employers-need-to-know-about-changing-paid-leave-laws?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


How employees really feel about asking for time off during the holidays

A new study reveals that 51 percent of employees feel uneasy about asking to use their vacation days during the holidays. Continue reading this blog post to learn more.


Are employers checking their PTO list? They may want to check it twice, according to new data, workers may be leaving vacation days on the table during the holidays because they feel uncomfortable asking for time off.

More than half of employees (51%) feel uneasy about asking to use their paid time off during the holidays, according to a new survey of more than 2,000 employees from management and technology consulting firm, West Monroe Partners. This discomfort was even more prevalent in smaller companies with smaller staffs, where employees work more closely with their managers and colleagues.

Michael Hughes, managing director at West Monroe Partners, says part of the reason employees are so nervous about asking for time off is the expectation that they have to be available 24/7. An employee may also be concerned they will appear to be slacking if aren’t in the office with many companies being short staffed to begin with, he says.

“With the war for talent, people are being asked to do more and more because either they’re shorthanded or can’t find people,” Hughes says.

Nearly two-thirds of employees working in the banking sector felt uncomfortable asking to use their PTO, according to the survey. Although Monroe Partners did not specifically review why this might be the case for banking, Hughes says he thinks that, like other service industries, bank employees often have to work during the holidays to attend to customers.

Banks were hit hard during the 2007 economic recession, he adds, and some have been cautious about beefing their workforce — forcing current employees to carry heavy workloads. But, he adds, this is fairly common across many industries.

“I think it’s something that impacts industries across the board,” he says. “[But] just based on the study banking is one that sticks out.”

West Monroe Partners recommends companies close the office on days other than just federal holidays and accommodate for remote working or flexible scheduling.

Training managers to fairly process PTO requests may also be necessary, the report notes. Managers can do a better job of having open conversations with employees around PTO and job satisfaction.

Despite worker’s anxieties, employers should communicate the importance of taking time off during the holidays, Hughes says. It’s good for workers to get time to rest, he adds. If employees are unhappy in the office, it will likely trickle down to the customer experience.

“A lot of it is just personal health,” he says. “If you give people the opportunity to recharge, they’re going to be more productive when they’re happy.”

SOURCE: Hroncich, C. (7 December 2018) "How employees really feel about asking for time off during the holidays" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/how-employees-really-feel-about-asking-for-time-off-during-the-holidays?brief=00000152-14a7-d1cc-a5fa-7cffccf00000


It’s peak flu season. Here’s what employers should do now

Employers can expect to see an influx of coughing, sneezing, and germ passing at the office this time of year. Read this blog post to learn what proactive steps employers can take to keep the workplace healthy.


The U.S. is in the height of flu season, which means employers are likely to see an influx of employees coughing, sneezing and spreading germs in the office. Aside from passing a box of tissues, employers may be wondering what they are legally permitted to do when their workers get sick.

One benefit that is becoming increasingly relevant is paid sick leave. Several cities and states — including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Chicago and others — have paid sick leave laws on the books. But while many companies offer paid sick leave as a benefit, there is no federal paid sick leave law. Paid sick leave laws may remove some incentive for sick workers to report to work, making the illness less likely to spread to the rest of the workforce.

But paid sick leave laws do place limitations on employers. For example, companies cannot make taking a paid sick leave day contingent upon the employee finding someone to cover their shift. Depending on the law, employees don’t always need to give notice of their absence before their shift begins, which could make scheduling difficult. Some laws limit an employer’s ability to ask for a doctor’s note.

Employers do, however, have some latitude when it comes to requiring employees to stay home from work or sending them home if they show signs of illness. Employers just need to be careful not to cross any lines set by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or a state fair employment statute. This means steering clear of conducting medical examinations or making a disability-related inquiry.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers should avoid taking an employee’s temperature. This is considered a medical examination by an employer, which is generally prohibited except in limited circumstances.

They should also avoid asking employees to disclose whether they have a medical condition that could make them especially vulnerable to complications from influenza or other common illnesses. Doing so would likely violate the ADA or state laws, even if the employer is asking with the best of intentions. Employers also cannot require workers to get a flu shot, according to the EEOC.

Employees could have a disability that prevents them from taking the influenza vaccine, which could compel them to disclose an underlying medical condition to their employer to avoid taking the shot. Additionally, some employees may observe religious practices that would prevent them from taking the flu vaccines. Thus, requiring an employee to take a vaccine could lead to a violation of Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 in addition to the ADA.

Beyond these limitations, employers can take these proactive steps to keep the workplace healthy.

Ask employees if they are symptomatic. In determining who should go home or not report to work, employers may ask workers if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. This would not rise to the level of a medical exam or a disability-related inquiry, according to the EEOC.

Advise workers to go home. Employers can order an employee to go home if they are showing signs of the flu. The EEOC says that advising such workers to go home is not a disability-related action if the illness is like seasonal influenza.

Encourage workers to telecommute as an infection-control strategy. But keep in mind that the company could be establishing a precedent for telecommuting as a reasonable accommodation in other circumstances, such as for an employee recovering from major surgery who cannot come to the workplace.

Encourage flu shots. Employers may encourage — but not require — employees to get flu shots. For example, a company can invite a healthcare professional to the workplace to administer flu shots at a discounted rate or free.

Employers may require its employees to adopt certain infection-control strategies, such as regular hand washing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, proper tissue usage and disposal, and even wearing a mask.

The ADA, Title VII, state fair employment laws and paid sick leave statutes are also incredibly nuanced. Moreover, it’s important to balance the mandates of OSHA, which require employers to maintain a safe working environment. Before taking any significant actions, employers should consult with an employment attorney or HR professional for guidance.

SOURCE: Starkman, J.; Dominguez, R. (4 December 2018) "It’s peak flu season. Here’s what employers should do now" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/opinion/its-peak-flu-season-heres-what-employers-should-do-now?brief=00000152-14a5-d1cc-a5fa-7cff48fe0001


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