Safer at Home Extended – Preparing for Your “New Normal”

In the wake of Governor Evers’ extension of Wisconsin’s Safer at Home Order until May 26th, we are all eager to return to our normal ways, but what will our normal be after the quarantines lapse? What can we learn from this experience? What do we want to carry forward as part of our “new normal,” both personally and in the workplace?

Many people have discovered that they enjoy the flexible work schedule and wellness habits that they can incorporate while working at home. People have enjoyed sleeping in (minus the COVID-19 related dreams), eating healthier, taking walks in the afternoon, spending more quality time with the kids, working during their most productive time of their day, and implementing other work/life balance habits that were difficult to attain in the past. Some organizations are facing very dark days, reducing staff and pay, and anticipating future challenges. In the face of it all, however, organization leaders have expressed pride in the innovation, collaboration, resiliency, and flexibility of their teams over the past few weeks.

What can we learn from this? What can we adopt and incorporate to improve work performance, relationships and overall job satisfaction? Ask yourself and your team members what went well during this time and how you can continue to support new-found innovation, creativity, engagement, collaboration, and resiliency. Use this challenging experience as an opportunity to capture the best parts of your organization’s new normal and strategize now to prevent your organization from falling back into old, bad habits.

In addition, take some time to review your emergency and business continuity plans, handbook policies and procedures, and benefit plans to ensure that your organization is better prepared to manage future catastrophic events. You may want to consider some of the following:

  • Implement an employee assistance plan, including free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems including work-life stressors, family issues, financial concerns, relationship problems, addiction concerns, etc.
  • Implement a financial literacy and advisory program for your team to improve financial literacy, planning and security.
  • Establish an internal Emergency Action Plan and communicate it to staff on a regular basis. Consider testing the plan with impromptu drills.
  • Integrate flexible work schedules and virtual work opportunities that can minimize commute times, reduce transmission of infection, encourage healthy habits, and enable team members to spend more time with family. Expand leave policies to include care for close friends and non-traditional family members.
  • Expand bereavement leave policies to include loved ones beyond immediate family members. Consider providing more than a few days to grieve or plan a funeral.
  • Modify the way you coach and manage employees’ performance to move away from micromanaging to a results-based methodology.
  • Move to a (more) paperless work environment to support virtual team members and improve organizational preparedness during unexpected disruptions or workplace closings.
  • Review and enhance IT security to protect the information of your team members, organization, and clients/customers.

The legal and HR team at Lake Effect is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace and will continue to provide our clients with updates as they are available. Check out our COVID-19 resource page for all of our pandemic-related 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.

Summary of WI Act 185 – COVID-19 Relief Package

On Friday April 15, 2020, Governor Evers signed into law Act 185, a comprehensive COVID-19 relief package. Key provisions for employers include the following:

  • Waiver of 1-week waiting period for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits: One week waiting period for UI benefits will not apply with respect to benefit years that begin after March 12, 2020 and before February 7, 2021. (Section 38: 108.04). The federal government will provide funding for this benefit.
    • Recall that, under the CARES Act, the federal government expanded the maximum UI benefits period from 26 weeks to 39 weeks and provided an additional $600/week in UI benefits. For a good summary, see https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uiben/caresact/.
  • COVID-Related UI claims charged to WI’s balancing account, not employer’s account: The Department of Workforce Development shall, when processing initial claims for UI benefits, determine whether a claim is related to the public health emergency declared on March 12, 2020 by Executive Order 72. If a claim is so related, the benefits shall be charged to the fund’s balancing account, rather than to the employer’s own account. (Section 50: 108.07). That state’s share of any benefits paid on a public health emergency-related claim shall also be charged to the fund’s balancing account, rather than the employer’s account. (Section 51: 108.14). This means that COVID-related claims will not adversely affect an employer’s UI tax rate.
  • Temporary removal of requirement to provide copy of employee’s personnel file: During public health emergency, employer is not required to provide copy of personnel records within 7 working days after request; nor is employer required to provide opportunity for inspection of personnel records. (Section 35: 103.13 (2m))
  • Presumption of Workers Compensation injury for first responders contracting COVID-19: Injury to first responder found to be caused by COVID-19 will presumed to be caused by the person’s employment for purposes of workers’ compensation benefits (can be rebutted by specific evidence that injury was caused by exposure outside of work). (Section 33: 102.03).
  • WEDC to Develop Plan to Support Major Industries: No later than June 30, 2020, the WEDC shall submit to the legislature and governor a report that includes a plan for providing support to the major industries in the state that have been adversely affected by COVID-19 public health emergency, including tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, forest products, construction, retail and services. (Section 105: (26m))

The legal and HR team at Lake Effect is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace and will continue to provide our clients with updates as they are available. Check out our COVID-19 resource page for all of our pandemic-related 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.

Updated CDC and OSHA Guidance Regarding Employees with COVID-19 at Worksite

Two government agencies recently released updated “interim guidance” for employers responding to COVID-19 in the workplace. This is important information for employers in essential and critical businesses who still have active workplaces. On April 8, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control provided new guidance on treatment of workers with suspected or confirmed exposure to COVID-19. On April 10, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released new guidance recording cases of COVID-19.

New CDC Guidance:

  • The CDC advises that “critical infrastructure workers” may continue working following exposure to COVID-19, provided they are asymptomatic and additional precautions are taken.
  • Critical infrastructure workers include workers in food and agriculture, critical manufacturing, information technology, transportation, energy, government facilities, janitorial staff, law enforcement, 911 center employees, hazardous materials responders, and Fusion center employees.
  • Potential exposures are defined as being a household contact or being within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.  The contact must have been within 48 hours before individual became symptomatic.

Additional precautions that an employer should take include:

  • Pre-screening employees by taking temperature and assessing symptoms before shifts begin.  Ideally, this should be done before a worker enters the worksite.
  • Asking an employee to self-monitor both during and between shifts, following the employer’s occupational health program.
  • Requiring exposed employees to wear a mask at work for 14 days after exposure. Employers can provide masks or employees can wear their own.
  • Requiring all employees to abide by the 6-foot social distancing rule during shifts, as permissible. Employees should not share equipment that must be placed near their mouths or noses.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting all workspaces on a frequent and regular basis, and increasing air exchanges in rooms.
  • If an employee becomes symptomatic at work, they should be sent home immediately.  Employers should track all other employees who had contact with the ill employee in the 48 hours before becoming symptomatic.  Any employee who was within 6 feet of the ill employee should be considered to be exposed to COVID-19. Keep in mind that employee privacy protections still apply.

New OSHA Guidance:

  • If an employer can identify that an employee contracted COVID-19 through worksite exposure, the employer must record that injury in OSHA logs as a “work-related illness.”  COVID-19 is considered a recordable illness and employers must record cases of COVID-19 if the following are true:
    • The employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19;
    • The illness is considered to be work-related; and
    • An illness is considered to be work-related, “if an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness. Work-relatedness is presumed for injuries and illnesses resulting from events or exposures occurring in the work environment,” unless an exception is met.
    • The illness involves one or more of the recording criteria, including medical treatment beyond first aid or days away from work.
  • However, because it may be difficult for employers to determine if an employee with COVID-19 contracted COVID-19 at work, OSHA will not enforce its record-keeping requirements on employers to make “work-relatedness” determinations, except when there is objective evidence that the exposure was work-related and that evidence is reasonably available to the employer.
    • Note: this exception applies only to employers outside of the healthcare industry, first responder organizations and correctional facilities.

The legal and HR team at Lake Effect is closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace and will continue to provide our clients with updates as they are available. Check out our COVID-19 resource page for all of our pandemic-related 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.

DOL Issues Temporary Rule Regarding Paid Leaves Available Under FFCRA

On April 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division posted a Rule (to be final when published on 4/6/20) issuing regulations under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). The regulations provide further clarity as to how the leave provisions of the Expanded Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“EFMLEA”) and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (“EPSLA”) will be implemented. Key provisions include:

Comprehensive Legislative Proposals to Address COVID-19 Impact

On April1, 2020, Governor Evers announced a second package of legislative proposals to support Wisconsin businesses and citizens who continue to confront unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. This second proposed package is intended to supplement the Governor’s first piece of proposed legislation which included additional funding for public health and healthcare professionals, a waiver of the customary one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance, and other assistance for Wisconsin organizations, residents and communities.

Department of Labor Issues Additional Guidance on FFCRA

On Saturday, March 28, 2020, the Department of Labor released additional guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), related specifically to the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA). We summarized key provisions offering new guidance.

CARES Act Signed Into Law

On March 28, 2020, President Trump signed into law the ‘‘Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act’’’ or the ‘‘CARES Act.’’ The Act is part of a continuing effort to help businesses and American workers confronting the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Key provisions of the Act are included here.

Tips for Employers: FFCRA Payroll Issues

Every day, we meet as a group on Microsoft Teams to collaborate on client issues, discuss and assess the latest developments, share legal and HR research we have conducted. At the end of each meeting, we share quick tips that we have gained throughout the prior 24 hours.

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

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