GUIDANCE AND UPDATES FOR EMPLOYERS DURING THE CORONAVIRUS EMERGENCY

 

As information becomes available related to the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak, Worksite is committed to providing our clients with information to help you manage your operations during this challenging time.  Below find relevant UPDATES, some GENERAL ADVICE and FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

 

UPDATES

3/20/2020:

Under a new executive order, governor Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that licensed restaurants and food establishments must “suspend on-premises food consumption for customers.” Owners may keep kitchens open for takeout and delivery.

Gyms and fitness centers are also to be closed under the new order.

Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties have been ordered to close all movie theatres, concert houses, auditoriums, playhouses, bowling alleys, arcades, gymnasiums, fitness studios, and beaches.

3/19/2020:

Yesterday evening, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act became law. This new law will go into effect no later than April 2, 2020 and applies to all employers with 500 employees or less. Below are some of the key points that we feel may impact your business:

Amendments to Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (FMLA)

  • Eligible employees are those who have been employed for at least 30 calendar days by the employer with respect to whom leave is requested.
  • Employers will be required to offer 12 weeks of paid family leave for employees who have been employed for at least 30 days with a minor child in the event of the closure of the child’s school or place of care. The first 10 days are unpaid, but the employee can overlap this with the 10 days of paid sick leave.
  • The paid leave benefit can be no more than $200 per day and an aggregate amount of $10,000. The paid family leave credit offsets 100% of employer costs for providing mandated paid family leave.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

Employers will provide paid sick time if the employee is unable to work (or telework) due to:

  • The employee being quarantined or isolated by the order of federal or state authority.
  • The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine.
  • The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to the order as described above.
  • The employee is caring for a child if the school or place of care of the child has been closed or the childcare provider of the child is unavailable.
  • Full-time employees will be entitled to up to 80 hours of paid sick leave.
  • Part-time employees will be entitled to their average number of hours worked over a two-week period.
  • Employers must offer two weeks (10 days) of paid sick leave for COVID-19-related reasons. If the sick leave is for an employee who is sick or seeking a diagnosis, the benefit must replace all the employee’s wages up to a maximum benefit of $511 per day.
  • If an employee is caring for another individual who is sick, the benefit must replace at least two-thirds of the employee’s wages up to a maximum benefit of $200 per day.
  • The paid sick leave credit offsets 100% of employer costs for providing mandated paid sick leave. The credit also offsets, uncapped, the employer contribution for health insurance premiums for the employee for the period of leave.
  • The credit also offsets, uncapped, the employer contribution for health insurance premiums for the employee for the period of leave.
  • Self-employed individuals will be provided refundable income tax credits in an amount of what self-employed workers would have received if they had been an employee receiving paid leave benefits pursuant to the mandates. For any given day that a self-employed worker could not work, they can claim a “rough justice” tax credit in the amount of their average daily self-employment income for the year.

This law will be in effect until December 31, 2020. Please contact HR@WorksiteEmployee.com with any questions you may have.

Visit https://www.worksiteemployee.com/hr6201/ for additional information regarding the legislation including testing and tax credits.

3/17/2020:

Florida created the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program to provide $50,000 loans with no interest for a year to small business owners in Florida that have experienced economic damage as a result of COVID-19.  More information can be found at www.FloridaDisasterLoan.org

3/17/2020:

Governor Ron DeSantis announced that restaurants in Florida will stay open with some limitations in response to COVID-19. Restaurants will continue to operate at fifty-percent capacity to allow for the recommended six-foot separation between groups to support social distancing. He also encouraged Floridians to utilize take out and delivery services, while requiring restaurants to screen employees and prohibit entry for any employees displaying symptoms of the illness. Governor DeSantis also announced that bars and nightclubs in Florida will be suspended for thirty days beginning at 5:00 p.m. today.

 

FLORIDA SMALL BUSINESS EMERGENCY BRIDGE LOAN PROGRAM

The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program is currently available to small business owners located in all Florida counties statewide that experienced economic damage as a result of COVID-19. For more information or to apply for a loan under this program, visit these websites:

https://www.sba.gov/
https://floridadisasterloan.org/

 

GENERAL ADVICE

We know you are concerned about the well-being of your employees and they may be anxious and fearful about contracting the virus and losing pay for time off. Along with notifying your employees about what precautions you are taking and how employees can stop the spread of germs in the workplace, the following tips may help reduce employee fears.

  • Communicate frequently. Giving periodic updates lets employees know the employer is staying on top of things and up to date on developments.
  • Provide information on what COVID-19 is. Knowledge is power, and employees may be feeling a bit powerless against the virus. Use information from the CDC, WHO and other local authorities.
  • Empathize and listen. No one is going to feel better by being told they are irrational, or by having their concerns ignored. Let employees know their concerns are normal and the employer wants to hear them.
  • Make it easy for sick or exposed employees to stay home. Some stringent absenteeism policies (such as no-fault point policies) might also discourage them from staying home. Do what you can to alleviate these fears by temporarily adjusting policies where possible.
  • Remind employees about available benefits. Remind employees they have access to free counseling resources available through Worksite’s Employee Assistance Program by calling 800-899-3926. This can help them cope with the stress they may be experiencing.
  • Be as generous as possible. Not every employee request can be honored but relaxing some normal practices and policies may do a lot to ease nerves.
  • Be creative. This may be the time to consider flexible scheduling, alternative workweeks, staggered shifts or rotating telecommuting weeks among staff to reduce the number of employees at the workplace at one time.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What if I have to close down my operation?

The following information is provided in the event you must make the tough decision to close down or reduce staff:

Layoffs

If you are experiencing a closure or work reduction that is not temporary, you should complete an Employee Separation Form and select “Layoff” due to position elimination or lack of work. This will terminate their employment.

If an employee has medical benefits through Worksite, those benefits will remain in effect through the end of the month in which they were terminated. If an employee is “rehired” within 30 days of their termination, benefits can be immediately reinstated. If they are “rehired” after 30 days of termination, they must wait to enroll in benefits based on your organization’s eligibility criteria (as if they were a new hire).

Leave of Absence

If your business closure or work reduction is expected to be temporary, and you hope to resume normal operations when restrictions are lifted, you can place employees in a “Leave of Absence” status while you await re-opening. The employee would not be actively working, but they are still considered employed. You can decide if you would like the Leave of Absence to be paid or unpaid.

If an employee has medical benefits through Worksite and is on an unpaid Leave of Absence, their benefit premiums will go into arrears while they do not receive pay. As the employer, you would be responsible for payment of premiums and can either

  1. Request payment directly from the employee while on leave, or
  2. Work out a payment schedule with the employee to catch up on the arrears when they return to work.

Worksite can assist clients with repayment of benefit premiums through payroll.

Unemployment

If your employees have lost their job or are experiencing reduced pay (as with a Leave of Absence), they may apply for unemployment benefits. Follow the links below for detailed information you can share with employees about how to apply for unemployment benefits.

DEO Connect – New Claim Instructions
DEO Reemployment Assistance COVID-19 FAQs

Communication Needed from Clients

If you are laying off or terminating an employee, follow normal separation procedures by completing a Separation Form and selecting the appropriate reason for separation. If you would like to place someone on a Leave of Absence, communicate with your Payroll Processor. Let them know who you would like to move to Leave of Absence status and the effective date for the status change. Stay in communication with your Payroll Processor and don’t forget to notify us when you are expecting the employee to return from leave.  Separation Forms and other forms can be found in the Resources section of our website: https://www.worksiteemployee.com/

Notifications to Employees

All employees with an inactive status will receive a letter from Worksite explaining that they will not have Workers’ Compensation coverage through Worksite until they regain Active status.

Are we required to continue to pay any employee if shut down?

Typically, if non-exempt, no.  You can require employees to use any PTO they may have available.   If exempt, salaried employees must be paid for any week in which they perform work.  You can require them to take a full week off unpaid, but they should not perform any work in that week.

If the shut down is due to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19, under the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which goes into effect no later than 4/2/20, employers with less than 500 employees would be required to pay sick leave to employees.

How will unemployment work during this period? Will employees be eligible for unemployment and will it be paid expeditiously?

We are waiting to understand exactly how unemployment claims related to COVID-19 may be managed and adjudicated.  Our third party vendor is working through the current information and will be providing updates as more information is available.  Per normal procedures, if someone has reduced hours, due to no fault of their own, they may be eligible for unemployment benefits and have a right to apply for benefits.

If we are forced to close and not running payroll, how will benefits, such as insurance, be impacted?

For clients in which Worksite pays the carrier, we will continue to pay the health insurance bill for our clients. If no payroll is being run, the employee portion will arrear to you, the client. In the event the employee does not return to work, the chance exists that you would have to cover the amount that arreared to you if there are no funds to collect from the employee.  We are monitoring changes to legislation and will pass along information as we receive it.

What should we tell our employees?

Providing employees with factual information from health officials and assuring employees that their health and safety is paramount can help to prepare and educate employees without causing panic.

How can we prevent the spread of germs at work?

As with most communicable diseases, common hygiene practices are the foundation for avoiding the spread of germs.

* Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Use a tissue and throw it away immediately or use your elbow or sleeve if you do not have a tissue.

* Clean your hands often. Wash hands vigorously for 20 seconds with soap and water or use alcohol-based sanitizers, rubbing hands until dry.

* Clean shared surfaces and equipment often with disinfectants.

*Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

* Stay home if you are sick and contact your health care provider.

Can I tell employees if a co-worker has tested positive for the coronavirus or other communicable diseases?

No. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) privacy rules restrict employers from sharing personal health information of an employee. Employers should inform employees that possible exposure has occurred in the workplace without disclosing any identifying information about the individual who tested positive.

Can I ask an employee if he or she has the coronavirus?

Due to the community spread of COVID-19, employers may now ask an employee if they are experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath), but should keep the inquiry limited to those symptoms.

What should we do if an employee discloses that they have been in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19?

According to CDC guidance, individuals who have had close contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19 should self-quarantine. Employers can require an employee who has been exposed to the virus to stay at home.

Can I require an employee to go home (or stay home) if he or she is sick?

Yes, employees who show signs of respiratory illness can be asked to leave the workplace and stay at home until they are symptom-free. Ask the employee to speak to their health care provider for guidance about treatment and when it would be advisable to return to work.

Can an employee refuse to report to work due to fear of contracting the coronavirus?

Under the Occupation Safety and Health Act (OSH Act), employees are only entitled to refuse to work if they believe they are in imminent danger.

Can we require a doctor’s note before allowing a sick employee to return to work?

If an employer applies the practice consistently, clearance from a health care provider to return to work can be required. However, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests employers remove such requirements during a health crisis as access to health care providers may be limited.

Should employees returning from business or personal travel be required to stay away from the office for 14 days?

Employees returning from countries that have a Level 3 Travel Health Notice from the CDC should stay home for a period of 14 days after returning to the United States.

Do I have to pay nonexempt employees who are sent home from work because they are sick?

Typically, employers do not have to pay nonexempt employees for hours not worked.  However, the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which goes into effect no later than 4/2/20, requires employers with less than 500 employees to pay sick leave if the employee meets any of the following criteria:

  • The employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
  • The employee is advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • The employee is caring for an individual (not limited to family members) subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • The employee is caring for their child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child’s care provider is unavailable due to public health emergency; or
  • The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

Do I have to pay exempt employees who are sent home from work because they are sick?

Typically, an exempt employee must be paid for partial-day absences but may have his or her salary reduced for full-day absences due to sickness if the employer offers a paid sick leave benefit and the employee has exhausted that leave or is not yet eligible for the leave. However, the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which goes into effect no later than 4/2/20, requires employers with less than 500 employees to pay sick leave if the employee meets any of the following criteria:

  • The employee is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
  • The employee is advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • The employee is caring for an individual (not limited to family members) subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.
  • The employee is caring for their child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child’s care provider is unavailable due to public health emergency; or
  • The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

Are absences due to the coronavirus covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? 

The coronavirus would likely qualify as a “serious health condition” under the FMLA, allowing an employee to take FMLA protected leave.  The new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which goes into effect no later than 4/2/20, requires employers with less than 500 employees to offer paid Emergency FMLA leave if the employee meets the following criteria:

  • The employee has worked for the employer for at least 30 days.
  • The employee experiences a “qualifying event” because that employee is unable to work or telework because the employee needs to care for the employee’s child (under 18 years of age) if the child’s school is closed, or the childcare provider is unavailable, due to a public health emergency.

The Secretary of Labor has the discretion to exempt healthcare providers and emergency responders from taking emergency leave, as well as businesses with fewer than 50 employees if the required leave would jeopardize the viability of the business.

Do we have to allow employees to work from home?

While not required, telecommuting may be a practical measure to reduce exposure of the virus in some work environments. Employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection during a pandemic.

Should we restrict employee travel?

Many employers are canceling all but the most essential business travel.

Can I take employees’ temperatures to ensure they don’t have a fever when reporting for work?

While this is not normally advisable due to concerns under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and employee relations issues, given the community spread of COVID-19, employers may take temperatures and ask if an employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.  Remember that an individual without an elevated temperature could still be ill, so this may provide a false sense of security.  Require employees with visible signs of respiratory illness to stay home.

Do I have to allow an employee to wear a face mask at work?

No. The CDC advises against wearing a face mask unless an individual is sick with symptoms of the virus or is taking care of someone with the virus at home or in a health care setting. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that people only need to wear masks if they are treating someone who is infected with the coronavirus. The WHO has also said that wearing masks may create a false sense of security among the general public. Doctors agree that the best defense against the coronavirus and influenza is simply washing your hands. Thus, the consensus is that there are more appropriate measures of defense than wearing a surgical mask or respirator.

Where can I find more information?

For additional information about COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov.