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Benefits & Compensation

On July 20, 2020, the Wage and Hour Division of the US Department of Labor (DOL) published additional COVID-19 guidance in the form of a Q&A addressing Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) issues arising when employers and employees return to work.

A few days before, on July 17, the DOL published streamlined optional-use forms for employer and employee notification and certification obligations under the FMLA and separately asked the public to comment on the FMLA and its regulations in a Request for Information (RFI). The additional guidance and forms should help employers navigate FMLA leave and employee wage and hour issues during COVID-19. And employers now have the opportunity to share their thoughts on the FMLA and its implementing regulations with the DOL. We provide more insight into the DOL’s recent activity below.


Continue Reading New Q&As, New Streamlined Forms, and an RFI: the Department of Labor Publishes More COVID-19 Guidance and Seeks Public Comment on the FMLA

Employers in the US are more than a little fearful of COVID-19 related class and collective action lawsuits coming their way, and with good reason. Since shelter-in-place orders were imposed in March, US employers have faced class action lawsuits for a variety of COVID-19 related reasons, including the alleged failure to implement proper workplace safety measures or provide appropriate paid sick leave. To keep workers safe from contracting the virus at work, many employers have allowed employees to continue to work from home indefinitely, which likely decreases the odds that an employer will be sued in class action litigation for failing to provide appropriate PPE in the workplace. However, managing employees working from home can create other issues worthy of class-action litigation, including reimbursing those employees for work-related expenses.

What can employers do to ensure they meet reimbursement requirements to steer clear of expense reimbursement class action lawsuits in the US? Go through the four considerations, below.

  1. Know the rules that apply in your jurisdiction

Several jurisdictions have specific rules regarding employee expense reimbursements, so you’ll need to check your local law. In California, an employer must reimburse an employee for all “necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence or discharge of his or her duties.” Cal. Lab. Code § 2802. Similarly, Illinois requires reimbursement of all “necessary expenditures or losses” an employee incurs within the scope of employment that are “directly related to services performed for the employer,” unless the employer has a written reimbursement expense policy and the employee fails to comply with that policy. 820 ILCS 115/9.5. And in the District of Columbia, employers must pay the cost of purchasing and maintaining any tools that the employer requires to perform the employer’s business. D.C. Mun. Reg. tit. 7, § 910.1. If you have operations in several jurisdictions, make sure that you know and follow each applicable jurisdiction’s rules.

In addition, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) may apply. Though the FLSA does not require employers to reimburse their employees, under the FLSA “kickback” rule, employees cannot be required to directly pay business-related expenses or reimburse their employer for such expenses if doing so would cause the employee’s wage rate to fall below the required minimum wage or overtime compensation thresholds. See 29 C.F.R. § 531.35. Remote workers typically earn well-above the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour), so employers don’t need to be as concerned about business expenses causing those employees’ wages to dip below the federal minimum wage. However, employers should be on the lookout for these situations, which require more attention:

  • Where employees are subject to overtime for working more than 40 hours in a workweek;
  • Where a particular pay threshold (whether under federal or state law) must be met for the employee to meet an exemption from overtime (in which case the employee will become nonexempt and must be paid overtime for any work over 40 hours in a workweek); or
  • Where state or local minimum wages are higher (such as Chicago’s $14 per hour or California’s $12 per hour), making it more likely that an employee’s payment of business-related expenses would cause their wages to dip below the minimum wage.

A violation of the FLSA occurs in any workweek in which the cost of the business-related expenses borne by the employee cuts into the minimum or overtime wages required to be paid to the employee. Therefore, employers can more easily run afoul of the FLSA in these scenarios, especially if the business-related expenses paid in any given workweek happen to be hefty.


Continue Reading Want to Avoid Employee Reimbursement Class Actions for Remote Work? Take These Four Steps

On June 19, 2020, the IRS released Notice 2020-50 (the Notice) which provides additional guidance on tax-favored distributions from retirement plans and expanded plan loan relief under the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” (the CARES Act).

As noted in our prior alert, the CARES Act provides that during the period January 1, 2020 to December 30, 2020, “qualified individuals” may take coronavirus-related distributions of up to $100,000 from their eligible retirement plans. A qualifying coronavirus-related distribution is not subject to the 10% additional tax on early distributions that would otherwise normally apply to distributions made before an individual reaches age 59 ½. In addition, a coronavirus-related distribution can be included in income ratably over the three-year period commencing with the year of distribution and the individual taking the distribution has three years to repay the distribution to the plan, if they so choose, which has the effect of reversing the tax income tax consequences of the distribution.

In addition, the CARES Act provides that plans may implement relaxed rules for qualified individuals relating to retirement plan loan amounts and repayment terms. Specifically, plans may suspend loan repayments that are due from March 27 through December 31, 2020, and the dollar limit on loans made between March 27 and September 22, 2020, is increased from $50,000 to $100,000.


Continue Reading Additional Guidance for Coronavirus-Related Distributions and Loans

As companies begin to reopen, a new trend has emerged – the idea of permanently remote employees. During this 15-minute moderated discussion, we will explore cross-border issues and challenges US employers face with employees working remotely from locations outside their home countries.

Click here to view the video chat on demand.

On June 11 and June 17, 2020, the EEOC updated “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” its Q&A technical assistance guidance for COVID-19 related issues. The new guidance expands its previous guidance, answering additional questions on several topics, including COVID-19 antibody tests, “high risk” employees (which we blogged about here), accommodations for employee screenings, how to handle national origin discrimination, and whether an employer’s safety concerns permit the exclusion of pregnant or older people from the workplace. We have summarized the new Q&A below.

Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Exams

A.7. CDC said in its Interim Guidelines that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.” In light of this CDC guidance, under the ADA may an employer require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace?

No. An antibody test constitutes a medical examination under the ADA. In light of CDC’s Interim Guidelines that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace,” an antibody test at this time does not meet the ADA’s “job related and consistent with business necessity” standard for medical examinations or inquiries for current employees. Therefore, requiring antibody testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace is not allowed under the ADA. Please note that an antibody test is different from a test to determine if someone has an active case of COVID-19 (i.e., a viral test). The EEOC has already stated that COVID-19 viral tests are permissible under the ADA.

The EEOC will continue to closely monitor CDC’s recommendations, and could update this discussion in response to changes in CDC’s recommendations.


Continue Reading More on the Return to Work: the EEOC Issues New COVID-19 Related Guidance

Even though vacation plans may be hampered by face coverings and social distancing this summer, US employers are still likely to see requests for time off from employees who want to step away from sheltering-in-place and visit reopening regions. But while employers may agree that their employees should take a break from work, they shouldn’t agree to putting other employees or customers at higher risk of catching COVID-19 when a traveling employee returns.

What can US employers do-without crossing the line-to keep tabs on vacationing US employees? We address some common questions in the following Q&A.

Q.  Can I ask my employees about their travel plans when they request vacation time? Or can I ask them where they went when they return from vacation?

A.  Yes, you can ask employees requesting vacation time to disclose their travel plans (or ask employees where they traveled once they return). The key is to make sure the information you’re requesting is in accordance with business necessity and that you are asking for the information in a non-discriminatory manner.

Business necessity: Employers have a general duty under Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act to ensure that the workplace is free from recognizable hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. Keeping the workplace and employees free from cases of COVID-19 provides the business justification employers need to ask where employees are going during their time off. If your workforce is still working remotely, you have a business justification to make sure your employee travels with a company laptop or other necessary equipment should the employee become stranded or be required to quarantine upon return. Employees may want to know why you’re asking about their personal vacation plans; be prepared to explain why you’re asking.


Continue Reading What the Traveler Saw: Handling Employee Vacation Requests During COVID-19

With special thanks to our Australian colleagues Michael Michalandos and Carmel Foley for this post. 

This briefing contains a summary of everything an employer in Australian needs to know about the operation of the award system.

Why this is important?

We have prepared this briefing because there has been a high incidence of employers in the information technology industry failing to have regard to the application of modern awards in their workforce or misunderstanding how these awards operate. In particular, many employers have issued employment contracts which do not identify the applicable award and do not contain provisions which comply with the award.

This may result in a potentially serious compliance issue which could cost the business a significant amount of money in terms of back-payments, penalties, and potential reputational damage.


What is an award?

Modern awards (or, simply, “awards”) are industrial instruments created by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) that set and regulate minimum terms and conditions of employment for certain employees in Australia. Currently, there are 122 awards and almost all businesses in Australia will employ award-covered employees. Awards operate in a similar way to legislation and their application can only be circumvented in very limited circumstances.

Who do awards cover?

Awards generally fall into one of two categories: “industry awards” or “occupational awards.” Some awards apply on both an industry and occupational basis, for example the Professional Employees Award 2010 (Professional Employees Award) which, for example, covers engineers on an occupational basis but also covers employers operating in the “information technology industry” (as defined) on an industry basis.


Continue Reading A Quick & Timely Guide to the Australian Award System

Not surprisingly, summer internships look a bit different this year. Some are cancelled outright, others cut short, and many are virtual. Amidst these changes, we know employers have more than a few questions . . .

Q. If my company is cancelling its planned summer internship, do we have to provide any cash compensation?

A. Not unless there is a contract in place to do so. Nonetheless, we’ve seen a number companies offer to pay a portion of the expected wages (and a few very generous employers have sought to pay the entire amount).

Q. And, if we want to pay our intern some amount for the lost opportunity, do we have to put them on the payroll?

A. Yes. The IRS takes the position that, from a tax perspective, paying any amount, in lieu of wages to a prospective employee who is never actually employed is nonetheless wage income subject to income tax withholding, social taxes, etc. Some employers are a little stumped by how they can set somebody up on the payroll just to make this one lonesome payment. But, it is doable. It requires some administrative tasks like getting the required federal and state withholding forms and setting the person up in the employer’s payroll system. For federal purposes, the required form is the Form W-4 that an employee fills out during onboarding for a new job, which form will require the employee to provide a social security number (or other taxpayer identification number) and other information needed for the payment to be properly reported on Form W-2 and withheld upon.


Continue Reading FAQs About Summer Internships During the Pandemic

The Department of Labor (DOL) issued final regulations establishing new safe harbors for the electronic delivery of required retirement plan disclosures under ERISA. As background, retirement plan administrators must deliver required disclosures using methods that are reasonably calculated to ensure actual receipt of documents by plan participants.

Under prior guidance from 2002, the DOL created

Due to the pandemic, employees in the US are working from home in unprecedented numbers. Some, particularly in tech, may be working from home through the end of the year, or even permanently! While working from home raises a myriad of issues (e.g., data privacy and security, health and safety, employee engagement, and more), this post focuses on expense reimbursements related to telecommuting. The trickiest areas are cell phones and internet given that employees are now working from home because they cannot go into the office, as opposed to perhaps at their convenience.

Reimbursement Obligations

There is no federal requirement to reimburse employees for business-related expenses. However, several states (including California, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana and New York) have legislation requiring reimbursement for necessary businesses expenses. For example, California Labor Code Section 2802(a) requires an employer to “indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties, or of his or her obedience to the directions of the employer….” Failing to reimburse employees can lead to class or collective actions and quickly become incredibly burdensome for employers. Under California law, an employer that does not reimburse employees risks a lawsuit where the damages will include not just the unreimbursed expenses but the attorney’s fees incurred by the employee seeking reimbursement. The employee can also ask the Labor Commissioner to cite the employer or anyone acting on the employer’s behalf under Labor Code Section 2802(d). Where the practice is widespread (or just alleged to be) the claims can be brought on a class-wide basis.


Continue Reading Reimbursement Refresher: Cell Phone and Internet Expenses Related to Telecommuting in the US