As the number of reported cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise, many employers are left wondering, “What do I do now?” Below we have outlined the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) that our clients are asking as well as Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for Employers. Please keep in mind that different or additional facts can impact how the situation should be handled.
ADP Legislative Update — Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) — Part 1
ADP Legislative Update — Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) — Part 2
DOL Clarifies Exemptions to Coronavirus Paid Leave Laws
Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) Employee Rights Model Notice
Families First Coronavirus Response Act —Questions and Answers
Maine CDC COVID-19 Facet Sheet
New Hampshire COVID-19 Fact Sheet (English/Spanish)
Responding to an Employee’s Positive Coronavirus Test
Rhode Island COVID-19 Workplace Fact Sheet
States Update Employee Leave Requirements for Coronavirus
Understanding the Historic $2 Trillion Stimulus Package
ADP Resources and Toolkit
Department of Labor (DOL) Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Questions and Answers
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Hilb Group – Paycheck Protection Program
Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employer Paid Leave Requirements
New York Guidance on COVID-19: Quarantine Leave Law
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): Safety and Health Topics: COVID-19
U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary
World Health Organization (WHO): Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public
HRK COVID-19 Web Series
Join us for our webinar series on responding to COVID-19. In this series we will discuss the challenges that businesses have increasingly been facing over the past few weeks and will continue to face. Our aim with this series is to answer the myriad of questions our clients have been asking, as well as, give you some insight on how to effectively lead and manage during this crisis.
Click on the link below to register!
COVID-19: Webinar Series
Download the following presentations to share with your company and employees.
March 24, 2020 – Effectively Managing Furloughs, Layoffs and Reduction in Hours
March 25, 2020 – The Importance of Leadership During Crisis Management
March 26, 2020 – The New Reality of the Workplace
March 27, 2020 – The Importance of Virtual Socialization
March 30, 2020 – The Impact on Disability and Medical Carriers
March 31, 2020 – The Alphabet Soup of Leave Management During a Pandemic
April 1, 2020 – How to Work From Home and Be Productive
April 2, 2020 – How Employee Assistance Programs Can Help Your Employees During Crisis
April 3, 2020 – What We Know Today and COVID-19
Maintaining a Safe Working Environment
Keeping your employees informed can be done through different forms of media. A member of the management team should be appointed to provide updates as needed. We suggest updating internal communication tools such as flyers and employee portals on your website and emails. Using these communication tools effectively should allow you to provide updates to employees on the work-site, working remotely, and on leave of absence.
Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) has published Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 to ensure they are providing a safe work environment for employees. Employers should:
- Educate employees on how to maintain a safe work environment*
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
- Designate a point person to stay on top of developments, manage the communication process, and receive and address employee concerns
- Consider relevant laws and regulations before implementing changes to policies or employment conditions
*CDC website has COVID-19 printable fact sheets, handouts and posters in multiple languages.
- Shortness of Breath
Some cases of Coronavirus can be more severe, and individuals may experience more serious lower-respiratory tract illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia. For the elderly, infants and those with weakened immune systems, Coronavirus can be even more dangerous.
Question: What do we do if an employee is coughing and sniffling and appears sick? Can we send them home?
- Who will be trained to take the temperatures?
- How will you protect the employee’s private medical information, in adherence to HIPAA guidelines?
- Will hourly employees be paid while waiting to have their temperature taken?
Question: If we learn an employee tests positive for COVID-19 what are our obligations as an organization?
If an employee is just feeling sick and goes home, they may not get tested for COVID-19 and simply self-treat at home. If they do get tested and are proven to have the COVID-19 virus, then they most likely will be in quarantine. For COVID-19, the period of quarantine is 14 days from the last date of exposure, because 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses.
Once you become aware of a workplace hazard you are required to remedy the hazard. If an employee tests positive for COVID-19 you will need to quickly take some important steps:
- Send the diagnosed employee home immediately if you have not done so already.
- Contact your local Department of Public Health to report the diagnosis and request their guidance on next steps.
- Identify any and all employees who may have been directly exposed to the diagnosed employee (keep the employees’ identity undisclosed) and have those employees self-quarantine for 14 days.
- According to the CDC COVID-19 is thought to mainly be spread from person-to-person however it may also be spread by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching one’s mouth, nose, or possibly eyes. To reduce this risk, you will want to clean & disinfect the workplace thoroughly. It is recommended to use a cleaning company with HAZMAT experience as personal protective equipment should be used during the cleaning process. You may also want to consider closing your workplace for 14 days and requiring employees to telecommute to limit the possibility of additional exposure.
Paid Time Off/Leaves of Absence
Question: We are telling people to exhaust their Paid Time Off (PTO) banks, but what about if folks have no more leave and need it? How do we grant this?
- Family and Medical Leave (FMLA): The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has issued Q&As on the federal Family and Medical Leave Act in the context of COVID-19 and other public health emergencies. Under the FMLA, covered employers must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons. This may include the fly in cases where complications arise. Employees on FMLA leave are entitled to the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms as before they took leave. The Q&As include the following key points, among others:
- The FMLA provides leave for an employee’s serious health condition or to care for a family member’s serious health condition.
- The FMLA does not provide leave for avoiding the workplace out of fear of contracting a disease.
- The FMLA does not provide leave for employees caring for dependents who have been dismissed from school or childcare, unless the child had a “serious illness” and the employee was caring for that child.
- Employers requiring a doctor’s note should consider that healthcare resources may be overwhelmed during a pandemic, making it difficult for employees to obtain appointments or verification that they are no longer contagious.
- State Leave Programs: Many states and localities also have employee leave laws that could apply in a situation where the employee or their family member contracts COVID-19. Some of these laws require employees to be given paid time off, while other laws require unpaid leave. Employers should become familiar with the laws in their jurisdiction to ensure that they are compliant. Some employees may wish to stay home from work out of fear of becoming ill. Whether employers must accommodate these requests will depend on whether there is evidence that the employee may be at risk of contracting the disease. A refusal to work may violate an employer’s attendance policy, but employers should consult with either HR Knowledge or legal counsel prior to disciplining such an employee. A number of states, such as California and Colorado, have recently issued guidance on the coronavirus as it relates to paid sick leave and other leave programs. We anticipate that other states will follow suit and begin to provide guidance in these uncharted waters,
- Americans with Disabilities (ADA): In general, most employees will not be eligible for leave under the ADA. This is due to the fact that most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus is a transitory condition. However if the pandemic seems likely to result in serious and long-lasting health consequences for individuals, according to local, state, or federal health officials, ADA-covered employers may have sufficient objective information to reasonably conclude that employees will face a direct threat if they contract COVID-19. Only then may ADA-covered employers make disability-related inquiries or require medical examinations of asymptomatic employees to determine which employees are at a higher risk of complications.
- Worker’s Compensation (WC): This depends. If an employee is a health care worker or first responder, they might be eligible for Worker’s Compensation. However, for other employees, the answer is not so straight forward. Workers’ Compensation is a “no-fault system”, meaning that an employee claiming a work-related injury does not need to prove negligence on the part of the employer. Instead, the employee need only prove that the injury occurred at work. Where this becomes fuzzy is the COVID-19 is a virus not an “injury”. For it to be covered under WC the employee would need to establish that the virus was an “occupational disease” meaning that it arose out of employment; and currently there is no specific legislation addressing if employees seeking workers’ compensation benefits for a coronavirus infection would have enough medical evidence to support the claim. This will be an evolving issue, and we believe that we will see more legislation from states in the near future.
Question: Do you have a letter that we can distribute to our employees about the Coronavirus, stating that we are aware of the situation and actively preparing?
- “[Company name] is actively monitoring these fast-moving developments and will take all necessary steps to protect employees”
- Add information that has been provided by the CDC such as coughing and sneezing into tissues and throwing them away, washing hands frequently for 20 seconds (the length of time it takes to sing happy birthday twice) and ensuring that work spaces are clean/cleaned such as wiping surfaces with disinfectant wipes. You can also provide links to the CDC website and the WHO website, as well as general best practice guidelines on how to reduce transmission within an office environment
- Include guidance around what to do if an employee feels unwell. For example, if your business has established a policy that all employees who feel unwell are to stay at home, you should specify this information as well.
- Include any travel guidance if you have employees who travel for business
- If you are planning on providing employees with certain supplies, such as hand sanitizer, wipes, and tissues, you could add something like: “[Company name] will increase stocks of hand sanitizer and tissues, as well as provide wipes for employees to use to clean their work-space.”
- Ensure that employees will be regularly updated and be sure to follow through with keeping employees up to speed on any policy changes. Clearly communicate whom they are to speak to if they have questions or concerns.
In any communication to your employees, it is essential that you are clear on what is expected of them from the Company’s perspective. This includes any additional information regarding pay for employees who cannot work from home, addressing both exempt and non-exempt. You should also specify whether or not you will pay employees for the 14-day self-isolation/quarantine period, whether is its mandated or voluntary. You want to be clear in all communication, and we suggest that you establish one point person in your organization to be responsible for those communications. This should be someone who understands the compliance complexities, which are evolving and ever-changing.
Question: I looked through our handbook, and didn't see anything other than to stay at home when you are sick, should we be adding anything else in regard to an epidemic sickness like the coronavirus?
Furlough, Layoffs and Reduced Hours
Question: If a public health emergency is declared, and employees can't come into work, must we as the employer keep paying them?
Employers are required to pay an exempt employee’s full salary for a week in which they perform any work. Employers may require employees to use available accrued and unused paid leave time.
Employers should review their employment contracts and collective bargaining agreement as well as their particular state laws before making any decisions regarding their specific employees.
Given the far-reaching impact of COVID-19, employers should consider the big picture perspective when making decisions regarding paying or not paying your employees.
Question: Do you have advice for clients regarding workplace preparation in case of a shutdown (perhaps outside of Company control) due to COVID-19?
- Ensuring payroll is set so you don’t miss making your normal payroll
- Ensure your team knows whom to communicate with in the event that they are sick
- If the office is to close – who will communicate, how, and to whom?
- Can you put something into place to allow staff (some/all) to work from home to ensure business continuity and function?
- Perhaps preparing communication to clients/vendors in the event you need to close down or work a reduced schedule due to employees being remote, out due to illness, etc.
- In the event that a quarantine is needed for one or all of your employees, deciding whether you will pay them during the time that they are unable to work (if not able to work from home)
Another piece to consider is whether your company should have a policy in place that addresses communicable diseases in general. That policy can be used as a reference in the future if another situation like this one arises. That way, your company and employees will be prepared and know what is expected of them and what procedures to follow. Make sure any policies or processes implemented are the same for every employee regardless of role or position within the company.
Furlough: A furlough involves reducing the days or weeks that an employee may work. Employers generally can schedule non-exempt employees for fewer days or hours without liability. Employers do not need to pay non-exempt employees for time not worked. Exempt employees, however, must receive their entire salary for any workweek, in which that employee does any work, or the employer jeopardizes that employee’s exempt status. If an employer furloughs an exempt employee for an entire workweek, then no salary is owed for that full week and the employee’s status is not affected. Certain types of furloughs may involve changes to pay practices. For example, it may be possible for an employer to reduce an exempt employee’s salary and adjust schedules as a mechanism to address business disruption as long as the reduction/adjustment is for a substantial period of time, generally three months or more. Please note that state law may require specific periods for advance notice and may limit changes to particular types of pay. Research any relevant state labor laws or reach out to qualified HR or legal professionals before taking any action.
Short-Term Layoff: A layoff involves terminating employees. A layoff can be temporary or permanent. Depending on the size of the organization there are a number of challenges to consider before moving forward with a layoff. For example, employers may be obligated to observe specific notice periods under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) or related state mini-WARN Acts.
Reducing Hours: An alternative to a furlough, which is a reduction of whole days or weeks, or a layoff could be reducing the daily hours of some employees or employee groups. Employers generally can schedule non-exempt employees for fewer days or hours without liability concerns. Employers do not need to pay non-exempt employees for time not worked. A few states may require compensation if an employee reports to work and is sent home, but otherwise time off for non-exempt employees’ does not need to be compensated.
Current Unemployment Claims
- Employees who are ordered to quarantine by a civil authority or medical professional.
- Employees unable to work due to reasonable risk of exposure or infection.
- Employees needs to care for a family member and does not intend to return to work or is not allowed to return to work.
Please note that each state administers a separate unemployment insurance program, but all states follow the same guidelines established by federal law. For more information regarding rules in your state, contact with your state’s unemployment insurance program.
Question: Do Employees need a medical note to apply for unemployment benefits related to the above three bullets?
Question: Our office will be closing for an extended period of time due to the stay-at-home guidance issued by Massachusetts; will our employees be able to collect unemployment?
Question: If I’m collecting unemployment benefits, do I need to look for other employment? I know this is usually a requirement while collecting.
Question: We are moving to a remote workforce; however, we have some non-exempt employees', how do we manage this?
Medical and Short-Term Disability Benefits
Question: If my employees are no longer working, are they still entitled to group health plan coverage?
If your plan is self-funded and you would like to waive applicable plan eligibility provisions, you should first make sure that any stop-loss coverage insurance carriers agree to cover claims relating to participants who would otherwise be ineligible for coverage because they are not actively at work.
Question: If we continue coverage during a temporary closing, how do employees pay their share of premiums?
- “Pre-pay” option: each employee pays the contributions that will be due during the leave before the leave begins, from his or her final pre-leave paycheck . This option may not be the sole option offered to employees on leave.
- “Pay-as-you-go” option: each employee pays his or her share of the cost of coverage in installments during the leave. You may specify that payments be made at the same frequency as your payroll (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly) or on the same schedule that premiums would be paid under COBRA (i.e., monthly). The contributions would be paid with after-tax dollars, unless the employee receives compensation (such as PTO) during the leave, in which case the deductions can be made pre-tax.
- “Catch-up” option: the employer advances payment of the employees’ share of the cost of coverage during the leave, which the employee will repay via payroll deduction when he or she returns to work.
As always, please contact your Benefit Advisor with questions. HR Knowledge will continue to closely monitor the situation, including the coronavirus relief bill currently being considered by the U.S. Senate, and update you as developments warrant.
HRK COVID-19 e-Alerts
e-Alert: COVID-19: Harvard Pilgrim’s Response to COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Support and Resources Provided by UnitedHealth in Response to COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Information from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts in Response to COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Disability Carriers Issue Guidance on COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Update for Tufts Health Plan Commercial and Direct Membersin Response to COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Medical Carriers Issue Guidance on COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Fallon Health: Important Information Regarding COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: AllWays Health Partners: Important Information Regarding COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: The Emergency Coronavirus Bill – Updated March 16 in Response to COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Massachusetts Governor Issues Multiple Executive Orders to Reduce COVID-19 Risk
e-Alert: COVID-19: The Families First Coronavirus Response Act – COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Closure of Nonessential Businesses in Massachusetts in Response to COVID-19
e-Alert: COVID-19: Enhancements Made to Telehealth Services to Boost COVID-19 Care
e-Alert: COVID-19: Congress Agrees to $2 Trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill
e-Alert: COVID-19: Department of Labor Issues Guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
e-Alert: COVID-19: Changes to Massachusetts Unemployment Benefits
e-Alert: COVID-19: Temporary Flexibility for Employers’ I-9 Compliance Rules
This content is provided with the understanding that HR Knowledge is not rendering legal advice. While every effort is made to provide current information, the law changes regularly and laws may vary depending on the state or municipality. The material is made available for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for legal advice or your professional judgment. You should review applicable laws in your jurisdiction and consult experienced counsel for legal advice. If you have any questions regarding this content, please contact HR Knowledge.