DOL Announces Proposed Rule on Independent Contractor Status under the FLSA

On September 22, 2020, the US Department of Labor proposed a new rule to clarify whether a worker will be classified as an independent contractor or an employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The proposed rule will be available for review and public comments for 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

The proposed rule adopts an “economic reality” test to determine a worker’s status. That test focuses on whether a worker is economically dependent upon an employer for work or is truly in business for themselves . Economic dependence is the ultimate inquiry. In applying this test, the two most important factors are:

  • Who exercises substantial control over key aspects of work performance? Where the worker sets their own schedule, selects projects, and retains the ability to work for an employer’s competitors, this factor will weigh in favor of independent contractor status. In contrast, where the employer sets the schedule, controls the workload, and requires the worker to perform work exclusively for that employer, this factor will weigh in favor of employee status.
  • Does the worker have an opportunity for profit or loss (i.e. an ability to affect their earnings by the exercise of their own management and initiative)? If the worker can earn more or lose profits based upon their own managerial skills or business acumen, for example by hiring helpers or choosing particular equipment or materials, this factor will weigh in favor of independent contract status. If the worker is unable to affect their earnings or is only able to do so by working more hours or working more efficiently, this factor will weigh in favor of employee status.

Other factors to be considered in assessing independent contractor vs. employee status under the FLSA include the amount of skill required for the work, the permanence of the working relationship between the parties, and whether the work performed by the individual is a component of the employer’s integrated production process for a good or service.

The DOL’s proposed rule emphasizes that the parties’ actual practice is key to the assessment of independent contractor status. What the parties state in a contract or what may be theoretically possible under a work arrangement is of little relevance if it differs from the reality of their working relationship.

Employers should keep in mind that many states have adopted their own tests for independent contractor status under their respective state wage and hour laws; these tests can differ from state-to-state. The tests may also vary based upon the state law issue being addressed, i.e. unemployment compensation eligibility, workers’ compensation coverage, employment tax liability, etc.

The issue of independent contractor versus employee status continues to challenge employers across all sectors throughout the U.S. We will continue to closely monitor the DOL’s proposed rule and other state-based developments in this area. In the meantime, it might be a good time to review your independent contractor agreements and work relationships within your organization. Your partners at Lake Effect HR & Law can help you ensure compliance while retaining the flexible and dynamic workforce that your organization needs. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Governor Evers Extends Statewide Mask Mandate and Public Health Emergency

On September 22, 2020 Governor Evers released two orders. Emergency Order #1 amends his earlier order to extend the statewide face mask mandate to November 21, 2020. This emergency order does not change the face mask requirements that were included in the previous mandate. Lake Effect’s summary of the requirements can be found here. Dane County and other local mask mandates also remain in effect. However, the Governor’s Emergency Order #1 supersedes any local order that is less restrictive.
Governor Evers also released Executive Order #90 declaring a public health emergency and designating the Department of Health Services as the lead agency to respond to the emergency. This order effectively extends the public health emergency previously declared in Executive Order #82.

The Lake Effect team will continue to monitor important COVID-related updates such as these from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching for blogs and emails from us for important legal updates and HR best practices. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

DOL Issues Revised FFCRA Regulations

On September 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division posted revised regulations to clarify certain rights and responsibilities under the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). DOL’s actions are in direct response to an August 2020 New York Federal District Court ruling that invalidated parts of prior FFCRA regulations. The revised regulations will become effective September 16, 2020, when they are published in the Federal Register.

Key portions of the revised regulations provide the following:

  • An employee is only entitled to Paid Sick Leave (“PSL”) and Expanded Family and Medical Leave (“EFML”) under FFCRA if the employer would otherwise have work available for that employee to perform. If there is no work available due to circumstances other than a qualifying reason for the leave, i.e. the employer has laid off or furloughed employees, or has temporarily or permanently closed the worksite, then an employee is not entitled to FFCRA leave. This “available work” requirement applies to all qualifying reasons for FFCRA leaves.
  • An employee must obtain employer approval to take intermittent FFCRA leave for any qualifying reason, regardless of whether the employee is teleworking or working on-site. Intermittent leave occurs when the employee takes leave in separate blocks of time due to a single qualifying reason. For an employee working on-site, many of the qualifying reasons for EPSL leave will not lend themselves to intermittent leave because they create a high risk of spreading the virus. Of note, the revised regulations clarify that the employer-approval requirement does not apply to employees who take FFCRA leave in full-day increments to care for children whose schools are operating on an alternate day (or other hybrid attendance) basis because such leave is not intermittent. In that scenario, where a school is physically closed to the employee’s child on particular days, each day of the school closure constitutes a separate reason for FFCRA leave. Thus, the employee may take leave due to the school closure until that qualifying reason ends (i.e. the school re-opens) and then take leave again when the new qualifying reason begins (i.e. the school closes again) – without the approval of the employer.
  • The definition of a “health care provider,” who may be exempted from FFCRA’s leave provisions, includes only those who meet the definition of that term under the FMLA regulations and those who are employed to provide diagnostic services, preventive services, treatment services, or other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provision of patient care.
  • Employees must provide required documentation to support FFCRA leaves to their employers as soon as practicable, but they need not provide it prior to taking PSL or EFML. Similarly, an employee must provide advance notice of EFML as soon as practicable. If the need for that leave is foreseeable, the employee should provide notice before taking the leave.

Your partners at Lake Effect HR & Law are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails for important legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

EEOC Updates Guidance on COVID-19 and the Workplace

On September 8, 2020, the EEOC updated its technical assistance document, What You Should Know about COVID-19 and the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws (“WYSK”). The updated document revises two pre-existing Q&As that address employer testing and employee requests for accommodation in advance of a return to work. It also incorporates information that previously appeared in other EEOC technical assistance documents, thus creating a single, more comprehensive, resource for COVID-19 related information.

With respect to employer-administered testing, the WYSK confirms that employers may take screening steps, including administering COVID-19 testing, to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because they could pose a direct threat to the health of others. Employer-administered testing consistent with current CDC or other public health authority guidelines will meet the ADA’s “business necessity” standard. However, employers should ensure that tests are considered accurate and reliable, based on evolving guidance from the FDA, CDC and other public health authorities. Requiring an antibody test before allowing an employee to re-enter the workplace is not allowed under the ADA. (WYSK A.6-A.7)

As to potential requests for accommodation, the WYSK specifies that employers can inform the workforce that employees with disabilities may request accommodations in advance of their return to work. If advance requests are received, employers may begin the interactive process. If an employee chooses not to request an accommodation in advance, the employer must still consider a later request and engage in the same interactive process. (WYSK D.8) Keep in mind that accommodations based on a disability pertain only to the employee, not to their family members.

The revised WYSK includes additional information that has been incorporated from other EEOC resources. Key provisions include:

  • Employers may ask all employees entering the physical workplace if they have been diagnosed with, have symptoms of, or have been tested for COVID-19. An employer may limit this questioning to certain employee(s) only if it has a reasonable belief based upon objective evidence that the employee(s) may have the disease. An employer is not generally permitted to ask these questions of employees who are teleworking. (WYSK A.8- A.9)
  • Employers may not ask employees coming into the physical workplace whether family members have COVID-19 or symptoms of COVID-19; this is prohibited under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”). However, employers may ask employees whether they have had contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with or had symptoms of COVID-19. An employee who refuses to answer such questions or submit to other health screenings prior to entering the physical workplace (without a rationale or request for an accommodation) may be denied entrance. (WYSK A.10-A.11)
  • If an employee works on-site and reports feeling ill or calls in sick, an employer may ask questions about their symptoms as part of workplace screening. An employer may also question employees about why they have been absent from work and/or where they have traveled recently, even if that travel was personal. (WYSK A.12-A.14)
  • The ADA’s confidentiality provisions do not prohibit a manager or co-worker who learns that an employee has COVID-19 or associated symptoms from reporting it to the relevant employer officials so that they can take steps consistent with guidance from CDC or other public health authorities. Employers should make every effort to limit the number of people who learn the identity of the employee and reinforce the confidential nature of that information. (WYSK B.5-B.6)
  • When an employee with a disability is teleworking, an employer is not necessarily required to provide them with the same reasonable accommodation as it would provide in the physical workplace. The employer and employee should discuss specific needs and explore whether a different accommodation might suffice in the home setting. An employer’s undue hardship considerations and/or access to accommodation equipment may change during prolonged teleworking periods. The EEOC encourages all parties to be creative and flexible in these situations. (WYSK D.14)
  • An employer that allows its workforce to telework to slow the spread of COVID-19 does not automatically have to grant requests for telework as a reasonable accommodation to every employee with a disability when employees are recalled to the physical workplace. If there is no disability-related limitation that requires teleworking, the employer does not need to provide continued telework as an accommodation. In addition, the fact that an employer may temporarily excuse performance of one or more essential functions during periods of telework does not mean that the employer has permanently changed the essential function of any job. The ADA never requires an employer to eliminate an essential function of a job as an accommodation for an individual with a disability. However, evidence that an employee with a disability is able to perform the essential functions of the job during periods of telework may be relevant to future requests for telework as a reasonable accommodation. (WYSK D.15-16)

All EEOC materials related to Covid-19 are available at www.eeoc.gov/coronavirus.

Your partners at Lake Effect HR & Law are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails for important legal updates and HR best practices. The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to help. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Public Health Madison Dane County Issues Emergency Order #9

UPDATE

On September 1, 2020, PHMDC released Emergency Order #9 Amendment. The only change made to Emergency Order #9 was to allow for in-person instruction for students in any grade with a disability and/or with an IEP who may need to receive in-person instruction. This change is reflected in paragraph 4.d. on page 5 of the order.

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Prohibits In-Person Instruction for Grades 3-12

Effective Monday, August 24, 2020, public and private schools in Dane County may not hold in-person student instruction for students in third to twelfth grades under Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) Emergency Order #9. Schools may conduct kindergarten to second grade classes in-person with certain restrictions, including a requirement that the school also offer virtual learning options for its K-2 students. In order to open, schools must also adopt and distribute to staff PHMDC’s COVID response plan, which has not yet been posted.

Emergency Order #9 also modifies requirements applicable to child and youth care; expands the County’s face mask requirements; clarifies restrictions on religious groups; and changes the use of “bar” to “tavern,” as defined under Wisconsin statutes. The other requirements of PHMDC Emergency Order #8 remain unchanged.

School Closures

  • All school buildings and grounds – public and private – may open for in-person student instruction only for grades K-2. These schools must also offer a virtual option for students.
  • Although not included in the Emergency Order, PHMDC stated that it may consider reopening grades 3-5 for in-person instruction if Dane County sustains at or below a 14-day average of 39 cases per day for four consecutive weeks. For PHMDC to consider reopening grades 6-12 for in-person instruction, Dane County must sustain at or below a 14-day average of 19 cases per day for four consecutive weeks. PHMDC also noted that if there are more than 54 average cases per day over a two-week period, they would consider closing all schools to in-person instruction. We anticipate that PHMDC would provide orders when metrics permit reopening certain grades, or closing all grades.
  • Under revised requirements, all schools must:
    • Implement a hygiene policy and procedure (Section 4.d.i.), and a cleaning policy and procedure(Section 4.d.ii.)
      • PHMDC has not changed these policy requirements
    • Implement a written protective measure policy and procedure (Section 4.d.iii.) that includes several new requirements to ensure that:
      • When indoors and on buses, students age 5 and older and employees wear face masks and, to the greatest extent possible, maintain at least six feet distance from others.
      • Students and employees who cannot wear a face mask (based on the exceptions set forth in Section 2.c.) maintain at least six feet distancing from others when indoors and on buses.
      • Students and employees, to the greatest extent possible, maintain at least six feet distance from others when outside.
      • Student and employee groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of students stay with the same employees as much as possible. Mixing between groups must be restricted as much as possible.
      • While common areas (such as cafeterias and gyms) may be open, student groupings should be in distinct spaces within the common areas and not mix with one other.
    • Implement PHMDC’s action plan for COVID-19 cases
      • PHMDC will post this plan here when it is available
    • Document employee receipt, acknowledgment, or training on the cleaning, hygiene, and protective measure policies and the COVID action plan (Section 4.d.iv).
    • Post PHMDC’s workplace requirements poster in a location where it is easily viewed by all employees.
      • Employers can email this to all its employees if all or some of your school staff is working from home.

Modified Restrictions on Child and Youth Care

  • Groups or classrooms must be limited to 15 or fewer children regardless of the children’s ages.
    • Under previous orders, the limit was 25 children if they were all 13 years or older.
  • Organizations must also require children who are 5 years or older to maintain at least six feet apart to the greatest extent possible.

Expanded Face Coverings Requirements

  • A face covering is still required for all individuals age 5 or older. Children 2-5 years old are encouraged to wear a face covering. Note that PHMDC has clarified that children under the age of 2 should never wear a covering.
  • In addition to being required indoors, in line to enter a building, or in a vehicle with individuals outside of your home, face masks are now also required outdoors at a restaurant or tavern.
  • As a reminder, all organizations are required to post PHMDC’s “Face Covering” sign, or a similar sign, that is visible upon entering the property.
    • This posting requirement includes residential properties that have shared common indoor spaces, e.g. hallways, lobbies, mailrooms.
  • Recall that a face covering is defined as “a piece of cloth or other materials that is worn to cover the nose and mouth completely.” This may include a bandana, cloth face mask, a disposable or paper face mask, a neck gaiter, or a religious face covering. It does not include a face shield, mesh mask, a mask with holes or openings, or a mask with vents.

Religious Group Gatherings

  • PHMDC clarified that religious entities are exempt from mass gathering requirements only for religious services and practices.

Violations of this order are considered ordinance violations and are enforceable by any local law enforcement official.

The Lake Effect team will continue to monitor important updates such as these from Dane County and other counties across the state. Please keep watching for blogs and emails from us for important legal updates and HR best practices. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Lake Effect HR & Law, LLC
(844) 333-5253 (LAKE)
info@le-hrlaw.com

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