The new COVID-19 reality means that more employees around the world are now working from home. Some companies are transitioning to a permanent remote working model; others are looking at adjusting schedules so that a smaller number of employees are in the office at any time. As more employees work remotely, companies must grapple with

On June 5, 2020, President Trump signed the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act into law. The Flexibility Act amends the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) in several important ways, including by giving borrowers more time to spend loan funds and still obtain forgiveness, increasing the amount of non-payroll costs that may be forgiven, and creating two new “safe harbors” that allow borrowers to achieve full forgiveness despite reductions in employee headcount or wages.

Congress enacted the PPP provisions largely to allow small businesses to meet their payroll obligations and avoid layoffs during the pandemic. To encourage businesses to keep their workforces and payrolls intact, the CARES Act provides that employers who do not reduce headcount or wages and salaries during certain measurement periods may qualify for forgiveness of their PPP balances. However, under the CARES Act as originally enacted, forgiveness is reduced or eliminated if employers lay off workers or reduce their wages.

One of the new “safe harbors” allows employers who have been unable to operate at the same level of business activity as a result of compliance with COVID-19 related federal safety guidelines and closure orders to obtain full forgiveness even though they have reduced employee headcount. But if employers can fit within the Flexibility Act’s new safe harbor, is it really “safe” for them to do so? We offer insight below.
Continue Reading Is it Safe to Rely on the PPP Flexibility Act Safe Harbor for Reduced Activity Levels?

Across the country, minimum wage rates will increase July 1 in several counties, cities and states. A few jurisdictions have postponed their scheduled increases in light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, but most jurisdictions have not, and employers will need to implement the higher minimums by month’s end. Below we summarize for you the upcoming increases.

California

The Bay Area cities of Hayward and San Carlos voted to delay their local minimum wage increases until January 1, 2021. Other jurisdictions are considering delays, but for now, local minimum wages will increase in the following jurisdictions effective July 1, 2020.


Continue Reading Minimum Wage Increases in July 2020: Are You Prepared?

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

On May 20, 2020, Chicago passed the “COVID-19 Anti-Retaliation Ordinance,” making it illegal for employers with employees in the City of Chicago to retaliate against employees who stay home: to follow public health orders related to COVID-19, to quarantine because of COVID-19 symptoms, or to care for an individual ill with COVID-19. Enacted as an amendment to Chicago’s Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave Ordinance, the Anti-Retaliation Ordinance prohibits employers from terminating, demoting, or taking other adverse action against employees who are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19.

What do I need to know?

Under the Ordinance, an employer cannot terminate, demote, or take any other adverse action against an employee for obeying an order issued by Mayor Lightfoot, Governor Pritzker, or the Chicago Department of Public Health (or, in the case of subsections (2) through (4) below, a treating healthcare provider) requiring the employee to:

  1. Stay at home to minimize the transmission of COVID-19;
  2. Remain at home while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or while being sick with COVID-19;
  3. Obey a quarantine order issued to the employee (to keep an employee who has come into contact with an infected person separate from others);
  4. Obey an isolation order issued to the employee (to separate an employee with COVID-19 from others); or
  5. Obey an order issued by the Commissioner of Health regarding the duties of hospitals and other congregate facilities.

In addition, an employer cannot take adverse action against an employee for caring for an individual subject to subsections (1) through (3) above.

The Ordinance became effective on May 20, 2020, and will expire (unless City Council intervenes) when the Commissioner of Public Health makes a written determination “that the threat to public health posed by COVID-19 has diminished to the point that [the] ordinance can safely be repealed.”


Continue Reading Chicago Employers: Allow Your Employees to Obey COVID-19 Public Health Orders, or Else

Are you ready to protect employees at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 as you reopen? That’s a question the CDC asks in its recently-released guidance for employers considering reopening. And the EEOC recently issued three new Q&As in the “Return to Work” section of its technical assistance guidance for COVID-19, instructing employers on managing “high risk” employees in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The below Q&A provides direction for employers regarding “high risk” employees returning to the workplace and reasonable accommodations to help keep those employees safer at work.

What is my employee required to do to request a reasonable accommodation if the employee has a medical condition the CDC says could put the employee at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19?

The employee (or the employee’s representative, such as the employee’s doctor) must let you know the employee (i) needs a work accommodation (ii) for a reason related to the medical condition. The request can be made in conversation or writing, and does not need to use the term “reasonable accommodation” or even reference the ADA. Therefore, to ensure you don’t unintentionally run afoul of the ADA by missing a request for a reasonable accommodation, we recommend you review every communication from an employee (or employee’s representative) stating that the employee has a medical condition requiring a change at work as one that may require a reasonable accommodation. It is also important to train managers to be aware of these requests and to immediately inform HR if an employee mentions needing a change at work because of a medical condition.


Continue Reading From Safer-at-Home to Safer-at-Work: the EEOC Issues Guidance to Help Reopening Employers Manage “High Risk” Employees

As Companies develop their reopening playbook, we know that many are considering instituting temperature screening procedures either as a precaution or because local Orders may require it. Here’s the *tl;dr* on temp checks (it’s okay if you need to look that up . . . some of us did too):

Temperature checks

We’re excited to announce a new article authored by Jim Baker that was published in the Summer 2019 issue of the Benefits Law Journal.

In this article, Jim covers how the dramatic increase in the number of workers who are classified as independent contractors is changing how employers and workers interact, specifically the implications on