Top 10 Commonly Asked Questions This Week in Response to COVID-19 and Impacts to Your Workforce

To our clients and friends,

We have received a number of questions this week and as each business has unique challenges there are at least two commonalities.  One, the concern for employees and secondly, protecting employee benefits.  Below is a list of the ten most commonly asked questions this week.

We want to assure you that your advisors at SevenHills Cleveland Benefit Partners will continue to be accessible to you for all of your Employee Benefits, Human Resources, and Retirement Plan needs.  We are here to support you through times like these, so please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have.

Top 10 Commonly Asked Questions This Week in Response to COVID19 and Impacts to your Workforce

 

  1. If I have to temporarily lay off employees what happens to their medical benefits?
    • If the reasons for the layoff are related to COVID-19, most insurers are okay simply continuing the coverage for employees that are laid off, especially if you plan to bring them back ASAP. **
    • Additionally if you have to do a layoff or furlough due to COVID-19;
    • Your employees will be eligible for MN Unemployment Benefits under the Emergency Executive Order 20-05.
    • Families First Coronavirus Act would not apply to your business.

 

2. An employee thinks they have COVID 19 now.  What should I do?

 

3.  What benefits do my employees have if they get COVID 19?

    • Short Term Disability*
    • Health Plan. In general coverage for COVID19 services will be rated the same as other services. **
    • Emergency Paid Sick Leave (effective 4/2/2020).
    • Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (effective 4/2/2020).
    • Possibly Unemployment Insurance if a quarantine or isolation issue has been ordered.

 

4. I think I have been exposed but I have no symptoms. What should I do?

    • Follow CDC guidelines
    • Assess who else has been exposed.
    • Allow the exposed person to work from home if possible.
    • Short Term Disability benefits will not apply until the person gets sick.

 

5. An employee returned from non-business travel (Spring Break), however has no symptoms.  Can I require that employee to stay home/go home?

    • Follow CDC guidelines for quarantine.
    • Current testing is not feasible due to the strain on the healthcare system. Do not seek testing.

 

6. Can I require an employee that is showing symptoms stay home/go home?

    • Yes and allow them to work from home if possible.

 

7. Daycare or school closed and employees must care for their children. What are my options?

    • Emergency Paid Sick Leave (effective 4/2/2020).
    • Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (effective 4/2/2020).
    • Allow employees to work from home if possible.
    • Modify work shifts to accommodate employees if possible.

 

8. An employee or family member has an at risk condition that requires them to be quarantined

    • This is and ADA condition where reasonable accommodation is necessary (for example; Work from home). If work from home is not possible they may be eligible for MN Unemployment or Families First Coronavirus Response Act Provisions.

 

9. What is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and does it apply to my organization?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Families First Act”) was signed into law by President Trump March 18, 2020 and will be effective April 2, 2020 with an expiration date of December 31, 2020. This Law provides two (2) leaves and applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

  1. Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLA”)
  2. Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”).

Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act

Effective April 2, 2020 employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees can be provided with the right to take up to 12 weeks of public health emergency leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

Ten of these twelve weeks are be paid at a rate of no less than two-thirds of the employee’s usual rate of pay. (FMLA leave for all other purposes remains unpaid.) The first two weeks will be paid by Paid Sick Leave above.

To be eligible for paid leave, employees must have been on the employer’s payroll for 30 days and may use emergency FMLA leave for the following reasons:

  • To adhere to a requirement or recommendation to quarantine due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus;
  • To care for a family member who is adhering to a requirement or recommendation to quarantine due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus; and
  • To care for a child of an employee if the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the childcare provider is unavailable, due to the coronavirus.

The first two weeks of leave may be unpaid; the employee may choose to substitute accrued paid time off or other medical or sick leave during this period, but an employer cannot require an employee to do so. After the first two weeks of unpaid leave, employers must continue paid FMLA leave at a rate of no less than two-thirds of the employee’s usual rate of pay.

As with traditional FMLA leave, this leave is job-protected and an employer must return the employee to the same or equivalent position upon their return to work. This new law outlines an exception for employers with less than 25 employees if the employee’s job no longer exists due to the coronavirus pandemic, which requires employers to make reasonable efforts to restore the employee to an equivalent position over a one-year period.

The Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations exempting: (1) certain health care providers and emergency responders from taking leave under the bill; and (2) small business with fewer than 50 employees from the requirements of the bill if it would jeopardize the viability of the business. *However, until such regulation is actually enacted, there is no exemption and employers should consult with an attorney if they are unsure if they need to comply.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

Effective April 2, 2020 employers with fewer than 500 employees will be required to provide full-time employees with 2 weeks (80 hours) of paid sick leave for the following reasons:

  • To self-isolate because of a diagnosis of COVID-19, or to comply with a recommendation or order to quarantine due to exposure or exhibition of symptoms;
  • To obtain a medical diagnosis or care if the employee is experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus;
  • To care for a family member who is self-isolating due to a diagnosis of coronavirus, experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and needs to obtain medical diagnosis or care, or quarantining due to exposure or exhibition of symptoms; or
  • To care for a child whose school has closed, or childcare provider is unavailable, due to the coronavirus.

Employers must compensate employees for any paid sick time they take at their regular rates of pay (unless the leave is being used to care for a family member or child, in which case the employee is only entitled to two-thirds of his or her regular rate of pay). The sick leave is available for immediate use by employees, regardless of length of employment.

Additionally, part-time employees are entitled to the number of hours of paid sick time equal to the number of hours they work, on average, over a 2-week period.

Employers who already provide paid leave to employees on the day before the law is enacted must provide this paid leave in addition to any paid leave already provided-and may not change their paid leave policies on or after the date of enactment to avoid compliance. Finally, employers cannot require employees to utilize other paid leave before using the paid leave provided by this bill.

Tax credits for employers

A series of refundable tax credits are for employers providing paid emergency sick leave or paid FMLA. The credits are as follows:

    • A refundable tax credit for employers equal to 100% of qualified family leave wages required to be paid that are paid by an employer for each calendar quarter. The tax credit is allowed against the tax imposed the employer portion of Social Security taxes. The amount of qualified family leave wages taken into account for each employee is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 for all calendar quarters. If the credit exceeds the employer’s total liability for Social Security taxes for all employees for any calendar quarter, the excess credit is refundable to the employer.
    • A refundable tax credit for employers equal to 100 % of qualified paid sick leave wages that are paid by an employer for each calendar quarter. The tax credit is allowed against the tax imposed by the employer portion of Social Security taxes (6.2% of wages).

Prepared by: Larry Grudzien Attorney at Law (708) 717-9638 larry@larrygrudzien.com

 

10. I heard there were some changes to MN Unemployment.  What are those changes?

Minnesota Unemployment Benefits

On March 16, 2020, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued Emergency Executive Order 20-05, effectively immediately, suspending “strict compliance” with the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance Law until December 31, 2020. Applicants are eligible for unemployment benefits if:

    • A determination has been made by health authorities or by a healthcare professional that the presence of the applicant in the workplace would jeopardize the health of others, whether or not the applicant has actually contracted a communicable disease;
    • A quarantine or isolation order has been issued to the applicant;
    • There is a recommendation from health authorities or by a health care professional that the applicant should self-isolate or self-quarantine due to elevated risk from COVID-19 due to being immunocompromised;
    • The applicant has been instructed by their employer not to come to the employer’s place of business due to an outbreak of a communicable disease; or
    • The applicant has received a notification from a school district, daycare, or other childcare provider that either classes are canceled or the applicant’s ordinary childcare is unavailable, provided that the applicant made reasonable effort to obtain other childcare and requested time off or other accommodation from the employer and no reasonable accommodation was available.

In addition:

    • The unpaid waiting week is suspended (it will be paid “as quickly as possible).
    • Recipients of unemployment do not need to actively seek suitable employment that puts their health or safety at risk, or that of others. Workers that have been laid off temporarily may meet this requirement by staying in contact with their employer.
    • Unemployment benefits paid as a result of COVID-19 will not be used in computing the future unemployment tax rate of a taxpaying employer.
    • The five-week benefit limitation is waived for business owners.

The executive order is in effect during the peacetime emergency declared in Executive Order 20-01.

Prepared by: Gregory L. Peters Attorney at Law 952.921.4607 gpeters@prkalaw.com

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