16 Mar 2020

COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus)

To all clients:

As you all are aware, this current situation is impacting our workplaces regardless of size or industry.  PLEASE KEEP IN MIND this situation is fluid and is changing every hour.  Given the Governor’s recommendations as well as the many School District closures, it is important to review each scenario on a case-by-case basis.  While we are attempting to provide you the latest information, there are still many questions left unanswered.   There is a lot of information here from general employee communication to CAL-OSHA guidelines and training recommendations up to and include the pending legislation H. R. 6201.  The MANDATED 14 DAY PAID SICK TIME HAS NOT YET PASSED THE SENATE.

EMPLOYEE COMMUNICATION/ HEALTH AND HYGIENE

  • Stay home if you are feeling sick,
  • Wash hands (minimum of 20 seconds) and/or use 60% alcohol hand sanitizer
  • Cover your mouth/nose when you cough or sneeze
  • When possible stay at least (6) feet away from each other
  • Notify the Company if you feel you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 symptoms or have traveled to an affected area
  • Avoid unnecessary travel or large gatherings

Other recommendations and/or training topics for employees are as follows:

  • Cleaning touch points:
    • It is recommended that all touch points are cleaned/sanitized every couple of hours.  This cleaning should also be documented on a log sheet.
  • Monitoring/Employee Health:
    • Remind employees that if they are sick to stay home
    • Monitor health/signs of illness- send employee home if needed
    • Remind employees to wash hands frequently
  • Meetings/Travel
    • Minimize unnecessary travel and meetings (hold meetings via conference call or video)
    • Minimize visits to the office by public (non-employees)
    • Begin discussing options for Telecommuting (work from home options, if possible)

SAFETY/CAL-OSHA

Employers Not Covered by the ATD Standard

*for employers categorized as nursing facilities, residential care, etc. please refer to the ATD Standard

Cal/OSHA recommends employers not covered by the ATD Standard follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020.

These guidelines include infection prevention measures which include:

  • Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home
  • Sending employees with acute respiratory illness symptoms home immediately
  • Providing information and training to employees on:
    • Cough and sneeze etiquette
    • Hand hygiene
    • Avoiding close contact with sick persons
    • Avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
    • Avoiding sharing personal items with co-workers (i.e. dishes, cups, utensils, towels)
    • Providing tissues, no-touch disposal trash cans and hand sanitizer for use by employees
  • Performing routine environmental cleaning of shared workplace equipment and furniture (disinfection beyond routine cleaning is not recommended)
  • Advising employees to check CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices prior to travel

CONTINGENCY PLANNING

The CDC guidelines also contain recommendations for creating an infectious disease outbreak response plan to be followed in the event of an outbreak. These response plans include one or more of the following:

  • Allowing flexible worksites, telecommuting and flexible work hours to increase physical distance among employees
  • Using other methods of minimizing exposure between employees, and between employees and the public
  • Postponing or canceling large work-related meetings or events

EDD/ Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)  

Visit Coronavirus 2019 FAQs (www.edd.ca.govfor answers to specific questions you may have about COVID-19 and what programs and benefits may be available to you.

The EDD provides a variety of support services to individuals affected by COVID-19 in California. For faster and more convenient access to those services, we encourage the use of our online options.

Workers

Sick or Quarantined

If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week.

The Governor’s Executive Order waives the one-week unpaid waiting period, so you can collect DI benefits for the first week you are out of work. If you are eligible, the EDD processes and issues payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim.

For guidance on the disease, visit the California Department of Public Health website.

Caregiving

If you’re unable to work because you are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. PFL provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50-$1,300 a week. If you are eligible, the EDD processes and issues payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim.

School Closures

If your child’s school is closed, and you have to miss work to be there for them, you may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance benefits. Eligibility considerations include if you have no other care options and if you are unable to continue working your normal hours remotely. File an Unemployment Insurance claim and our EDD representatives will decide if you are eligible.

Reduced Work Hours

If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria. Eligible individuals can receive benefits that range from $40-$450 per week.

The Governor’s Executive Order waives the one-week unpaid waiting period, so you can collect UI benefits for the first week you are out of work. If you are eligible, the EDD processes and issues payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim.

Self-Employed

The available benefits are insurance programs. To be eligible, either you or an employer had to make contributions in the past 5 to 18 months. It is possible these contributions were made at a prior job, or if you were misclassified as an independent contractor instead of an employee. We encourage you to apply for the benefit program that is most appropriate for your situation. Visit Self-Employed/Independent Contractor to learn more.

Employers

Workplace Health and Safety

For information on protecting workers from COVID-19, refer to the Cal/OSHA Guidance on Coronavirus.

Businesses and employers can visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for help with planning and responding to COVID-19.

Reduced Work Hours

Employers experiencing a slowdown in their businesses or services as a result of the coronavirus impact on the economy may apply for the UI Work Sharing Program. This program allows employers to seek an alternative to layoffs — retaining their trained employees by reducing their hours and wages that can be partially offset with UI benefits. Workers of employers who are approved to participate in the Work Sharing Program receive the percentage of their weekly UI benefit amount based on the percentage of hours and wages reduced, not to exceed 60 percent.

Visit Work Sharing Program to learn more about its benefits for employers and employees, and how to apply.

Potential Closure or Layoffs

Employers planning a closure or major layoffs as a result of the coronavirus can get help through the Rapid Response program. Rapid Response teams will meet with you to discuss your needs, help avert potential layoffs, and provide immediate on-site services to assist workers facing job losses. For more information, refer to the Rapid Response Services for Businesses Fact Sheet (DE 87144RRB) (PDF) or contact your local America’s Job Center of CaliforniaSM.

Tax Assistance

Employers experiencing a hardship as a result of COVID-19 may request up to a 60-day extension of time from the EDD to file their state payroll reports and/or deposit state payroll taxes without penalty or interest. A written request for extension must be received within 60 days from the original delinquent date of the payment or return.

For questions, employers may call the EDD Taxpayer Assistance Center.

  • Toll-free from the U.S. or Canada: 1-888-745-3886
  • Hearing impaired (TTY): 1-800-547-9565
  • Outside the U.S. or Canada: 1-916-464-3502

Resources

Employment Resources

Health Resources

H.R. 6201

It is reported that the Administration supports the bill, and the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the measure shortly. It is unclear whether the Senate will approve the House bill as passed, reject it, or make modifications to it, which the House would then have to re-approve. It is also likely that additional response measures, perhaps including additional tax provisions, or industry-specific relief provisions, may be considered in the near future, and the House has already indicated its intent to take up a “technical corrections” bill with respect to H.R. 6201 shortly.

It is important to note that this bill is not the final word on whether, when, or how laws may change; there are many moving parts, and changes (perhaps significant ones) may come as the Senate takes up its version of this legislation. The below is provided to update employers as to where matters stand at the time of publication.  Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act

This section of the bill provides employees of private employers with fewer than 500 employees with the right take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Eligible 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 an at-risk 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 a coronavirus.

The first two weeks of leave may be unpaid (an employee may choose to substitute accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or other medical or sick leave during this period, but an employer may not require an employee to do so).  After the 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 (assuming leave is necessary for one of the above purposes).

The Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations to (a) exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the list of those employees eligible for leave; and (b) to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees where the imposition of these requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.

As with traditional FMLA leave, this leave is job-protected, meaning an employer must return the employee to the same or equivalent position upon their return to work.  There is an exception to this requirement for employers with fewer than 25 employees if the employee’s position does not exist after FMLA leave due to an economic downturn or other operating conditions that affect employment caused by a public health emergency during the period of leave (subject to certain conditions, including reasonable attempts to return the employee to an equivalent position, and required efforts to contact a displaced employee for up to a year after they are displaced).

The bill takes effect no later than 15 days after the date of the bill’s enactment, and is applicable for the one-year period following enactment.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

This section provides that private employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide employees with two weeks of paid sick leave, paid at the employee’s regular rate, to quarantine or seek a diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus. Leave is paid at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate if taken to care for a family member for the same reasons or to care for a child whose school has closed, or childcare provider is unavailable, due to the coronavirus. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of leave, and part-time employees are entitled to the typical number of hours that they work in a typical two-week period.

The bill ensures employees who work under a multiemployer collective agreement and whose employers pay into a multiemployer plan are provided with leave.

The bill includes anti-retaliation protections, and generally provides for remedies in line with Fair Labor Standards Act penalties for failure to pay minimum wages.

Paid sick time under this section does not carry over from year to year, and these requirements of the bill expire on December 31, 2020.

Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act

Another section provides $1 billion in 2020 for emergency grants to states for activities related to processing and paying unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, under certain conditions.  Five hundred million is allocated to provide immediate additional funding to all states for staffing, technology, systems, and other administrative costs, so long as they meet the following basic requirements about ensuring access to earned benefits for eligible workers:

  • Require employers to provide notification of potential UI eligibility to laid-off workers
  • Ensure that workers have at least two ways (for example, online and phone) to apply for benefits
  • Notify applicants when an application is received and being processed and if the application cannot be processed, provide information to the applicant about how to ensure successful processing.

Another five hundred million would be reserved for emergency grants to states that experienced at least a 10 percent increase in unemployment. Those states would be eligible to receive an additional grant, in the same amount as the initial grant, to assist with costs related to the unemployment spike, and would also be required to take steps to temporarily ease eligibility requirements that are limiting access to UI during the COVID-19 outbreak, like work search requirements, required waiting periods, and requirements to increase employer UI taxes if they have high layoff rates.

Tax Credits for Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family and Medical Leave

The portion of the bill provides for a series of refundable tax credits for employers providing paid emergency slick leave or paid FMLA, including tax relief for self-employed individuals.  Specifically, the bill as passed by the House provides for:

  • A refundable tax credit for employers equal to 100 percent of qualified paid sick leave wages required to be paid by the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act that are paid by an employer for each calendar quarter.  The tax credit is allowed against the tax imposed by section 3111(a) of the Internal Revenue Code (the employer portion of Social Security taxes).
  • A refundable tax credit for self-employed individuals equal to 100 percent of a qualified sick leave equivalent amount for eligible self-employed individuals who must self-isolate, obtain a diagnosis, or comply with a self-isolation recommendation with respect to coronavirus.  For eligible self-employed individuals caring for a family member or for a child whose school or place of care has been closed due to coronavirus, the section provides a refundable tax credit equal to 67 percent of a qualified sick leave equivalent amount.
  • A refundable tax credit for employers equal to 100 percent of qualified family leave wages required to be paid by the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act that are paid by an employer for each calendar quarter.  The tax credit is allowed against the tax imposed by section 3111(a) (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 under section 3111(a) for all employees for any calendar quarter, the excess credit is refundable to the employer.
  • A refundable tax credit equal to 100 percent of a qualified family leave equivalent amount for eligible self-employed individuals. The credit is allowed against income taxes and is refundable. Eligible self-employed individuals are individuals who would be entitled to receive paid leave pursuant to the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act if the individual was the employee of an employer (i.e., not self-employed). The qualified family leave equivalent amount is capped at the lesser $200 per day or the average daily self-employment income for the taxable year per day.

The House bill leaves many questions unanswered, and technical corrections to the bill are expected to be proposed and considered shortly. For example, the enforcement mechanism against employers that are required to provide emergency FMLA leave but have less than 50 employees is not entirely clear. Nor is there any guidance as to how employers will be expected to apply these new federal requirements in states with existing state or local paid leave requirements. Congress may also provide additional direction to the Department of Labor or other agencies as to how they may address these issues via regulation.