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.

Guidance Regarding Executive Order’s Payroll Tax Deferral

In early August, President Trump signed an Executive Memorandum directing the Secretary of the Treasury to defer the payment of payroll taxes from September 1 until December 31, 2020 for employees earning less than $4,000 per pay period (or $104,000 per year). Late in the day on August 28, 2020, the Treasury Department and IRS released guidance on the issue.

Employers may opt to temporarily stop deducting eligible employees’ payroll tax payments, from September 1 until December 31, 2020. The deferred payroll tax payments represent employees’ shares of Social Security taxes, in the amount of 6.2% of wages. Only Congress can change or forgive tax liability. If Congress does not enact legislation to forgive the deferred tax liability, employers would have to make these payroll tax payments or collect them from employees during the period January 1 to April 30, 2021 (“payback period”).

This payroll deferral presents potential challenges for both employees and employers. Unless the employer pays the employees’ portion of the tax payments that are owed, employees would pay the deferred tax payments along with their customary payroll tax payments in the first few months of 2021. This would result in double payment (12.4% of wages) during the payback period. While many employees may welcome the short-term cash gain in 2020, others fear the double financial hit in 2021. Employers share the concern this may be too financially burdensome for employees. Another potential issue for employers would be handling repayment for employees who are no longer employed, whether through termination, layoff, or resignation. Tax deferrals may also decrease Social Security funding. Given the first September payrolls start tomorrow, it is unlikely that any payroll systems are equipped to handle this change.

We encourage employers to tread carefully on this issue. Before implementing the tax deferral, employers should consult with their HR departments to assess employee interest and with their accountants to assess the tax risks. After that, communication with employees is critical to apprise them of any changes and the impact on their pay both now and in 2021.

Lake Effect HR & Law will continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19 relief. 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.

Engaging & Retaining Employees, While Navigating FFCRA & FLSA

Five months after quickly transitioning to a “temporary” virtual workplace, many employees are still working at home. They are also managing caregiving and work responsibilities, as well as their own physical and emotional wellbeing. Employers are now struggling with how to adapt short-term fixes into sustainable, longer- term solutions that will engage and retain a virtual workforce.

In the face of this challenge, consider incorporating the following practices into your workplace culture to support your employees’ wellbeing and fulfill your organization’s mission and strategic initiatives.

  • Maintain flexible scheduling. As home and work priorities shift, employees may be more productive and focused during non-traditional business hours or blocks of time during the day, including evenings and weekends. When team members work different hours, encourage them to communicate and be transparent about their schedules. This will promote a productive workflow and strengthen working relationships.
  • Continue virtual work. If your team has proven they can be successful working virtually, continue to provide this flexibility. This may give those employees who need or want to work from another location an opportunity to spend the summer at their cabin, rent a VRBO, or stay with out-of-town family or friends for an extended time.
  • Welcome the interruptions. Intentionally or inadvertently, we have met (or heard in the background) our coworkers’ furry friends, kids, family, and roommates. We’ve had an opportunity to visit our coworkers’ homes through the lens of our computer cameras during video conferences. Rather than begrudging the interruption, welcome this opportunity to get to know one other as individuals, not just coworkers.
  • Encourage employees to collaborate on pod learning and/or caregiving responsibilities. As many school districts have decided on some version of virtual learning, employees may want the opportunity to work together to create pod learning or shared childcare. Connecting employees in this manner may provide them an opportunity to work alternate days or times. In addition, consider converting unused conference rooms to temporary classrooms or playrooms, just be sure to check with your worker’s compensation carrier.
  • Promote wellness benefits and other wellbeing resources. Work closely with your benefits broker, understand your current organization’s wellness benefits, and educate your employees on these offerings. During your annual renewal, consider additional, lower cost, but high health reward benefits to better support the wellness needs of your staff. These benefits may include an employee assistance plan (EAP) or subscription services to wellness apps, online yoga classes, coffee clubs, or other services that support wellness activities for your entire employee population, even those who do not participate in your health, dental, and vision plans. Focus as well on virtual activities your employees can engage in together, such as company-wide or departmental fitness or step per day goals.
  • Encourage use of paid time off. We might not be planning our once-in-a-lifetime vacation this year, but there are many adventures awaiting us locally. Remind employees of their PTO balance and encourage them to take time to recharge, this may include helping them efficiently tackle their work tasks so they can enjoy the time away. Add some fun and promote their time away by sharing pictures of their adventures on an internal shared site.
  • Support your wellness/social committee. A wellness committee is usually made up of a group of employees that are passionate about wellness and engaging their coworkers in some office fun. This group may be able to plan virtual celebrations, arrange for group wellness activities, or delivery company branded gifts to employees’ homes, like customized face masks and small hand sanitizers! Include gift certificates to encourage employees to support local restaurants and shops.
  • Review processes and procedures. Update processes and procedures to be more efficient and relevant in your current work environment. Review expense reimbursement procedures to determine if you should start reimbursing for employees’ virtual expenses, such as cell phone, internet, hotspot, or office supplies/equipment.
  • Evaluate leaders’ job duties and responsibilities. In addition to leading people, leaders have their own job responsibilities and deadlines to meet. Provide leaders more time to lead during these uncertain times by transferring job duties that may provide others a growth opportunity. You may find that after updating processes and procedures to be more efficient, employees may have more capacity and would welcome to learn a new skill.
  • Continue coaching and development efforts. Employees want and need frequent feedback and recognition, especially during times of change and uncertainty. Consider adapting your process to better suit your current workplace situation to ensure supervisors are frequently communicating with direct reports. Encourage managers to check in with their teams to find out how they are doing, if they need additional resources, and to remove any roadblocks.
  • Keep calm and communicate. The COVID-storm has not passed yet, keep communicating frequently with your employees. Now, more than ever, employees want to know how COVID-related changes are impacting the organization and themselves. Discuss with employees the direction of the organization, how they can support the organization’s initiatives, and when they achieve their goals.
  • Be true to your organization’s mission. When considering how to adapt your workplace, remember your guiding star – your organization’s mission, vision, values, and strategic plan.

If you have questions about managing and engaging a virtual workforce, leave requests, or other FFCRA or FLSA related questions, the HR and legal team at Lake Effect can help.

We are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails from your Lake Effect team 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.

Employers Must Submit Form for Unemployment Benefits Relief by August 15, 2020

As a reminder, Wisconsin Act 185 mandated that unemployment benefits that are the result of COVID-19 may be charged against the state’s UI fund balance and not to the employer’s UI account.

Wisconsin employers must submit Form UCB-18823-E by August 15 to ensure that COVID-19 related unemployment benefits for employees’ initial claims filed between May 17 – June 30, 2020 are not charged to employers’ UI accounts. For initial claims filed after June 30th, this same form must be submitted within 30 days after the employee’s initial claim is filed.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is not requiring employers to submit the UCB-18823-E form to receive relief for employees filing initial unemployment benefits claims during the weeks of March 15 – May 16, 2020.

We are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails from your Lake Effect team 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.

President Trump Signs Executive Actions After Covid-19 Stimulus Talks Stall in Legislature

After COVID-19 stimulus talks broke down in the Legislature last week, President Trump signed four Executive Actions on Saturday, August 8, 2020. Those actions cover the following:

  • Unemployment: Congress previously authorized an additional $600 per week in federal unemployment compensation benefits for eligible workers, but that funding expired on July 31. This Executive Memorandum creates a new lost wages assistance program to continue until December 6, 2020, or until the federal Disaster Relief Program (DRF) is depleted to $25 billion, whichever occurs first. Under the new program, states may provide up to $400 per week in additional unemployment compensation benefits to workers who otherwise qualify for state benefits. In order to participate in the program, a state must agree to pay 25% ($100 per week for each eligible worker) of the additional benefits, and the federal government will pay the remaining 75% ($300). The federal government will fund the program, up to a maximum of $44 billion, out of its DRF. States may use remaining dollars previously allocated to them under the CARES Act or any other available state funding.

While aimed at providing relief to unemployed workers, the new program will likely create challenges. States already face budget shortfalls in the wake of the pandemic and will be hard-pressed to afford the new wage assistance costs. In addition, the program creates a new, separate program and will not be administered through the existing state unemployment program. Thus, it will require states to create a new administrative system, placing further demands on limited state resources. The details on administration and state funding have not yet been finalized.

  • Payroll Tax Deferral: Congress previously deferred most employer payroll taxes for the remainder of 2020. This Executive Memorandum directs the Secretary of the Treasury to defer the payment of payroll taxes from September 1 until December 31, 2020 for employees earning less than $4,000 per pay period (or $104,000 per year). Notably, this is only a payroll tax deferral for employees, and those payments will have to made at a later date unless Congress directs otherwise. Payroll taxes partially fund Social Security and Medicare, and a permanent reduction in payroll taxes would lower funds available for those programs.
  • Student Loans: As part of an earlier stimulus effort, Congress suspended student loan payments until September 30, 2020. This Executive Memorandum directs the Secretary of Education to waive interest and defer payments on student loans held by the federal government until December 31, 2020. Notably, principal payments are not cancelled, only deferred until the end of the year. Presumably, those cumulative payments will be due on December 31, and then full interest and principal payments will restart in January 2021.
  • Evictions: The federal government previously ordered a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 crisis, but that order expired on July 24, 2020. This Executive Order directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of the CDC to consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions for failure to pay rent are reasonably necessary to prevent further spread of COVID-19. It further directs the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to identify available Federal funds to provide temporary financial assistance to renters and homeowners facing financial hardships caused by COVID-19. Notably, this Order does not by its own terms extend the prior moratorium or ban evictions.

President Trump’s unilateral Executive Actions will likely face legal challenges, as the U.S. Constitution delegates taxing and spending powers exclusively to Congress, not the Executive Branch. Lake Effect HR & Law will continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19 relief. 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.

FFCRA & FLSA Updated Guidance From The Department Of Labor

The Department of Labor (DOL) recently updated its COVID-19 guidance related to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This guidance from DOL addresses questions employers may confront as their communities face new public health orders and in-person school closures and delays.

FFCRA Guidance

As a reminder, employees may be eligible for up to 80 hours of leave under FFCRA’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and up to 12 weeks of leave under FFCRA’s Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA). See our FFCRA Overview for the particular requirements of each leave program.

Employers should also note that a district court in New York recently struck down several significant FFCRA regulations, including those EPSLA regulations related to employees on temporary layoff or furlough and the expansive scope of the healthcare provider exemption for both EPSLA and EFLMLEA leaves. The impact of the ruling is not clear at this point, and we expect more information in the near future. We will keep you posted in our blogs about any changes to FFCRA as a result of that legal process and other lawsuits that are currently pending. In the interim, employers should contact legal counsel before denying a FFCRA leave request.

DOL’s guidance on FFCRA includes almost 100 frequently asked questions about the leave programs. Three that are of particular significance relate to virtual school and returning employees:

  • Online Schools Are “Closed”
    • Under the guidance, a school that has moved to an online platform for instruction is “closed” for purposes of FFCRA. (Question #70) This means that employees may be eligible to take up to a total of 14 weeks of continuous or intermittent EPSLA and EFMLEA leave to care for a child whose school is operating virtually. Although not specifically addressed by DOL, this guidance would also apply to schools operating a hybrid model. Under the hybrid model, the school is “closed” on those days in which a student cannot attend the physical school but open on those days when in-person instruction is offered.
    • If the school offers an option for virtual or in-person instruction, the school is not “closed” and FFCRA leave is not available for caregivers who choose the virtual option.
    • Employees who used some of their leave in the spring or summer when schools were closed due to COVID-19 are entitled to use their remaining amount in the fall if they are otherwise eligible.
  • Requiring a Negative COVID-19 Test Before Returning to Work
    • According to DOL, employers may require that an employee test negative for COVID-19 before returning to work from FFCRA leave as long as this requirement applies to all employees. (Question #94)
    • However, requiring a negative test is not mandatory. Dane County employers should note that PHMDC now strongly recommends against requiring employees to test negative before returning to work. Instead, employers may rely on the CDC (or your local public health department) guidelines for monitoring symptoms over a period of time.
  • Employers May Not Discriminate Based on Use of or Eligibility for FFCRA Leave
    • Employers may not use an employee’s request for FFCRA leave, or an assumption that the employee will request leave, to make any employment decision, including whether to recall an employee from furlough. (Question #97)

FLSA Guidance

DOL added important clarifications for non-exempt and exempt employees in its updated FLSA guidance. The updates include:

  • Flexible Scheduling for Non-Exempt Employees
    • To allow “needed flexibility” during the pandemic, employers that allow their non-exempt employees to work remotely with flexible schedules do not need to count all of the time between the first and last work activity during the day as hours worked. Instead, employers only need to pay for those hours actually worked. (Question #15)
    • This flexibility allows “windowed work” for non-exempt employees. Windowed work is breaking up a workday into blocks – or windows – of business and personal time while working from home.
  • Changes to Exempt Employees’ Job Duties and/or Salaries
    • As long as employers continue to pay the required minimum weekly salary of $684, employers may temporarily require exempt employees to perform non-exempt job duties and may prospectively reduce exempt employees’ salaries due to economic reasons related to COVID-19. (Questions #16 and #19)
    • Note that exempt employees must be paid their full salary for any week during which they perform any work, with the exception of their first and last workweeks.

We are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails from your Lake Effect team 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.

WI Public Health Emergency and Statewide Mask Mandate

On July 30, 2020, Governor Evers released two Executive Orders: Executive Order #82 declares a Public Health Emergency through September 28, 2020; Emergency Order #1 mandates face coverings statewide starting August 1, 2020. Please also see Frequently Asked Questions to clarify the mask mandate.

Individuals ages 5 and older will be required to wear face coverings in all indoor or enclosed spaces, other than their private residences, and when others who are not members of the individual’s household or living unit are in the same room or enclosed space. The Order also encourages individuals to wear masks “in other settings, including outdoors when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing.” Emergency Order #1 provides the following clarifying definitions:

  • Enclosed space” is defined as “a confined space open to the public where individuals congregate, including but not limited to outdoor bars, outdoor restaurants, taxis, public transit, ride-share vehicles, and outdoor park structures.”
  • Face covering” is defined as “a piece of cloth or other material that is worn to cover the nose and mouth completely.” Further, the Order notes that “[a] ‘face covering’ includes but is not limited to a bandana, a cloth face mask, a disposable or paper mask, a neck gaiter, or a religious face covering. A ‘face covering’ does not include face shields, mesh masks, masks with holes or openings, or masks with vents.”
  • Physical distancing” is defined as “maintaining at least six feet of distance from other individuals who are not members of your household or living unit.”

Individuals do not need to wear face coverings:

  • at a private residence with only the members of their household or living unit;
  • outside when able to physically distance;
  • indoors when no one else is present in a room or enclosed space;
  • when eating or drinking;
  • when in a car alone or with members of their household or living unit;
  • when communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing, and communicating while wearing a mask is not possible;
  • while sleeping;
  • while swimming or being on duty as a lifeguard;
  • when giving a religious, political, media, educational, artistic, cultural, musical, or theatrical presentation for an audience, so long as there is at least 6 feet between the presenter and other individuals;
  • when working if wearing a face covering poses a safety risk, as determined by government safety guidelines or regulations;
  • when there is a need to temporarily remove a face covering to confirm identity, such as entering a bank, credit union, or other financial institution or when having to show that they match their identification card when buying alcohol;
  • when engaging in activities where federal or state law or regulations prohibit wearing a face covering.

Emergency Order #1 also notes exemptions from the mask mandate in the following circumstances:

  • children under the age of 2, but children between the ages of 2 and 5 are encouraged to wear face masks when physical distancing is not possible;
  • individuals who have trouble breathing;
  • individuals who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance;
  • individuals with medical conditions, intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, or other sensory sensitivities that prevent the individual from wearing
    a face covering. Of note, in such instances, individuals are not required to carry and provide documentation supporting such conditions and inability to wear a mask; and
  • incarcerated individuals.

Emergency Order #1 will be enforced by local and state officials, with violations possibly resulting in civil fines up to $200.
Please keep in mind that Dane County and other local mask mandates also remain in effect.
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 Updates FMLA Forms

On July 16th, the Department of Labor (DOL) updated Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms which employers may use to administer FMLA leaves within their organizations. The FMLA does not require the use of any specific form or format but using the forms can simplify leave administration and facilitate compliance for employers.

In the press release, the DOL announced that the forms collect the same information but are “simpler and easier to understand for employers, leave administrators, healthcare providers, and employees seeking leave.” Among the changes announced are boxes that can be checked instead of requiring written responses and electronic signature features. As the DOL stated, “[t]he changes reduce the amount of time it takes a healthcare provider to provide information, and help leave administrators review and communicate information to employees more directly and with greater clarity, reducing the likelihood of violations.”

The DOL also updated its guidance related to FMLA leave related to COVID-19. The two updates are:

  • Telemedicine visits are considered in-person visits for purposes of establishing a serious health condition (Guidance, Question #12)
  • Employers may require an employee returning from FMLA to get a COVID-19 test as long as all employees returning to the office are also required to get a test (Guidance, Question #13)

Note: The FMLA covers employers with 50 or more employees for at least the past 20 weeks. It also applies to public agencies, regardless of the number of employees, and to elementary and secondary schools, both public and private. The federal FMLA only applies to employees who have worked for a covered employer for a minimum of 12 months, although these 12 months do not need to be consecutive. Additionally, the employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer during the previous 12 months at a site where the employer has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. See the differences between federal and WI FMLA here. If you are unsure if you are an FMLA covered employer, please contact us as noted below.

Lake Effect is here to answer your FMLA questions and/or help administer this process within your organization. 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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