Businesses and employees are in unprecedented circumstances. This checklist sets out some of the key issues faced by employers across the nation and the corresponding actions taken by the government thus far.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act ("Response Act") responds to the growing health and economic crisis with provisions for free testing, paid sick leave, and expanded unemployment benefits.
- Free Testing
The legislation seeks to make testing for the coronavirus free to the public (without having to use deductibles or copayments). It includes a variety of waivers in order for testing costs to be covered by either insurance or government programs.
- Paid Sick Leave
The bill establishes a federal emergency paid-leave benefits program to provide payments to some employees.
It requires employees with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks' worthof paid sick leave if employees are unable to work because they're subject to quarantine or isolation, are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, are caring for someone who is in quarantine or isolation and/or have children in schools that have closed.
Employers will receive tax credits and federal payroll tax relief to offset the costs of providing this paid leave.
- Unemployment Aid
The legislation boosts unemployment benefits, with nearly $1 billion in state grants to cover processing and paying unemployment insurance.
It also raises the amount of assistance to states with high unemployment for those who have exhausted benefits already.
Since employees may be required to work remotely to comply with new policies aimed at compliance with recent guidelines from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”), employers should take steps to prepare employees to work from home where possible.
- New policies may be required for in-person meetings versus conference calls and for continued attendance at industry conferences.
- The U.S. Department of Labor has confirmed in a March 2020 guidance that employers may either encourage or require employees to telework as an infection-control or prevention strategy. This includes imposing such arrangements based on current information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC"), state or local public health authorities.
- Where working from home is not possible, and employees are absent due to sickness, quarantine, or childcare needs, the employers will need to determine whether and for how long absent employees will continue to be paid.
In light of OSHA and CDC guidance, employers should require employees with symptoms of a contagious disease to stay at home and should not require a health care provider’s note to validate their illness or return to work.
- Employers should determine how best to communicate the message that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19. Employers do have a general duty to inform the workforce if an employee tests positive or is a probable COVID-19 case. However, the confidentiality and privacy requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act mean that steps should be taken to preserve the privacy of the impacted employee and not share their identity with other employees.