As predicted, on September 30, 2020, California Governor Newsom signed SB 973 into law. SB 973 requires private employers with 100 or more employees to report pay data to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing by March 31, 2021, and by March 31 each year thereafter, for specified job categories by gender, race, and
It is customary to read of employees claiming retaliation against their employer. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s recent decision in Bator v. District Council 4, Graphic Communications Conference represents the almost unheard of — employees claiming retaliation at the hands of their union instead.
In Bator, union members simply wanted …
Employers must pay for all hours they know or “have reason to believe” employees worked. But can employers simply rely on teleworking employees to report all of their hours worked, or must they instead investigate whether their employees have accurately reported their work time? With the huge increase in teleworking since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this question should be top-of-mind for employers.
On August 24, 2020, the US Department of Labor issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2020-5 (FAB) to clarify an employer’s obligations in determining whether teleworking employees have accurately reported their work time. In short, the employer is not required to comb through every cell phone or computer login record to look for unreported work time that the employer neither knew of nor had reason to believe had been worked. As long as the employer provides employees with reasonable time-reporting procedures and does not otherwise impede or discourage reporting, its failure to compensate employees for unreported and unknown hours of work is not an FLSA violation. The FAB and some key takeaways for employers are summarized below.
The latest wrinkle for employers managing employees in the time of COVID-19 relates to employee travel. Many employers are coming to us asking how to navigate the patchwork of US state and local quarantine restrictions and / or recommendations for persons who travel to hotspots and then have to quarantine when they return home.
Questions abound, including whether employers can just test employees for COVID-19 to avoid a 14-day quarantine period, and whether employers have to pay employees to follow a quarantine order when their employees voluntarily travel to a hotspot location. We provide background and answer those questions below.
Many schools across the US are not welcoming students back for full-time in-person learning in the fall. On August 5, 2020, after Chicago Public Schools announced it would begin the academic year remotely in September, New York City became the last remaining major school system in the country to even try to offer in-person classes this fall. Proposed plans for schools that aren’t fully reopening range from full remote learning to hybrid models, where students are in school only half a day or several days a week coupled with a remote learning component from home. Either way, employers are likely to find themselves inundated with requests from parents of school-age children for continued work from home arrangements or other work-schedule flexibility. In our Q&A below, we have highlighted issues employers may want to keep in mind as employees with school-age children try to navigate a school year with its own “novel” aspects.
1. Are employers legally obligated to provide any sort of leave for employees who have to stay home with their children if schools don’t fully reopen?
It depends. If the employer is a “covered employer” under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), employees may be eligible for paid leave under the FFCRA. The FFCRA was enacted to provide employees with COVID-19 related paid leave. Covered employers under the FFCRA (generally, private sector employers who have fewer than 500 employees at the time the leave request is made) are required to provide eligible employees with partially paid child care leave for certain COVID-19-related reasons, including if the child’s school, place of care or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
Does virtual learning count as a “closed or unavailable” school for purposes of the FFCRA? Though the DOL guidance and FFCRA regulations have not spoken directly on this topic, the DOL’s early Q&A guidance on the FFCRA indicates that a school is “closed” for purposes of EPSLA or EFMLEA leave when the “physical location where [the] child received instruction or care is now closed.” The focus on “physical location” signals that if the school building is closed to students and students are required to learn remotely, the school is “closed” for purposes of the FFCRA.
The FFCRA imposes two federal leave obligations on employers – the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and the Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA).
- Under the EPSLA:
- An eligible employee may take up to two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work or telework for reasons including to care for a child whose school, place of care or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19. Pay is capped at $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate.
- Under the EFMLEA:
- An eligible employee may take up to twelve weeks of “expanded” FMLA leave when unable to work or telework due to a need for leave to care for a child whose school, place of care or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
- The first two weeks of EFMLEA leave are unpaid. An eligible employee may use paid sick leave under the EPSLA or other accrued paid leave under the employer’s leave policies to receive pay for those two weeks.
- An eligible employee may take up to an additional 10 weeks of paid EFMLEA leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay, based on the number of hours the employee would be normally scheduled to work those days. Pay is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate.
In addition, state and local leave laws may apply, many of which either provide additional leave or state that providing care for a child whose school is closed or unavailable for COVID-19 reasons is a protected reason for an employee to take leave.
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.
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.
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.
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.