Maintaining a Respectful Workplace Post-COVID

While some organizations have been on site through the pandemic, others have returned in recent months. Many others are planning a more robust employee return to office in the coming weeks. As more employees return to work in the office, employers may need to reestablish and remind employees about expectations of workplace conduct to foster and maintain a respectful workplace.

While employees have been working virtually, it is likely that their work clothes have become more casual, morning routines have become less regimented, and communications with coworkers have become more informal as they connected from their homes. Employers may want to review, revise, and remind employees about dress code and attendance policies. Further, employers should grant grace during the return, as employees navigate at-home responsibilities, commute times, new health and safety changes to their work environment, and their own well-being.

While the return may be welcome for some, others may struggle. Employees may experience micro-rejections and awkward moments deciding whether to hug, shake hands, or maintain social distancing with coworkers and others. Office banter may become more casual now that video calls introduced us to our coworkers’ personal lives outside the workplace. At the same time, in-person interactions may be stilted after months of virtual exchanges. This is the time for managers – and coworkers – to refine their empathic leadership and listening skills to understand the needs of others, and be sensitive to their feelings and thoughts.

There may also be times employees become upset with one another, feel hurt, over-share, delve into personal information (including vaccination status and health conditions), or even pass judgment on mask wearing or vaccination status. At its worst, there is a risk that these interactions may be perceived as harassment or discrimination. Consider scheduling your annual respectful workplace training to remind employees of appropriate workplace conduct to prevent harassment and discrimination. Keep in mind that the EEOC recommends employers provide such training on an annual basis, in person, and provided by an experienced trainer.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about empathic leadership and respectful workplace training. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

HR Reporting Updates

There have been two important employer reporting updates for Human Resource practitioners.

First, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced an extension of the deadline for submission of 2019 and 2020 EEO-1 Component 1 Data Collection to Monday, August 23, 2021. Please see Lake Effect’s prior blog on EEO-1 reporting requirements for more information.

Second, the Social Security Administration announced that it is discontinuing Employer Correction Request Notices (EDCOR), also known as “Social Security No Match Letters.” Their stated rationale for this change is “to focus on making it a better, easier, more convenient experience for employers to report wages electronically.” Please see Lake Effect’s prior blog on Social Security No Match Letters for more information.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about employer reporting requirements. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please watch our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

President Biden Signs Law Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday

On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed into law Juneteenth National Independence Day, making June 19 the 12th federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States in 1865, almost three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1862.

Most federal employees will observe the holiday on Friday, June 18 this year, and many local and state governments have followed suit. While private employers are not required to recognize federal holidays, the passage of the Juneteenth law is an opportunity to review your employee handbook leave policies generally and your holiday schedule specifically. Employers have several options for designing a holiday schedule that aligns with their strategic goals, workplace culture, DEI initiatives, and customer or client needs.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about your workplace culture, leave policies, and employee handbooks. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

DOL Withdraws Final Rule on Independent Contractor Status under FLSA

On May 5, 2021, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced a new final rule withdrawing the “Independent Contractor Status Under the Fair Labor Standards Act” final rule (Independent Contractor Rule) that had been published on January 7, 2021, to take effect on March 8, 2021. Of note, the DOL is not issuing new federal guidance on independent contractor status with this new rule. The DOL indicated that the January 2021 rule “is inconsistent with the FLSA’s text and purpose, and would have a confusing and disruptive effect on workers and businesses alike. . . .” The new Rule will be published on May 6, 2021.

Employers should keep in mind that many states, including Wisconsin, have adopted their own tests for independent contractor status. These state laws can vary widely from state-to-state, and even within a state, depending upon the issue being addressed (i.e., unemployment eligibility, wage and hour, tax liability). Lake Effect continues to monitor federal and state laws and guidance relating to independent contractor status, and we will keep you apprised of developments in this area.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about independent contractors, FLSA, and labor laws. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

EEO-1 Reporting Requirements Resume

On April 26, 2021, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced the reopening of the 2019 and 2020 EEO-1 Component 1 Data Collection.

As a reminder, all private sector employers with 100 or more employees, and all federal contractors with 50 or more employees meeting certain criteria must annually submit demographic workforce data, including data by race/ethnicity, sex, and job categories on the EEO-1 Component 1 report. The EEOC stayed collection of the 2019 data due to the pandemic. The deadline for submitting both the 2019 and 2020 EEO-1 Component 1 data is Monday, July 19, 2021.

The latest filing updates and additional information regarding submission of EEO-1 Component 1 Data are available at EEOCdata.org/eeo1. Employers that have received the EEO-1 notification letter should follow the directives contained therein. Eligible employers that have not received the letter may contact the EEOC’s Filer Support Team at FilerSupport@eeocdata.org for assistance. If you have questions about the EEO-1 reporting process, please reach out to any of Lake Effect’s attorneys or HR professionals.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about employer reporting requirements. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please watch our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

CDC Updates Guidance for Vaccinated Persons

Today, April 27, 2021, the CDC issued updated guidance for fully vaccinated persons (2 weeks after last vaccine dose or 2 weeks after the J&J vaccine). Employers should use CDC’s guidance but may require stricter safety precautions for their workplace, if needed. Employers must also follow applicable local and state public health orders.
Per the guidance, fully vaccinated people can now:

  • Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Visit with unvaccinated people (including children) from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing
  • Participate in outdoor activities and recreation without a mask, except in certain crowded settings and venues
  • Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
  • Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
  • Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
  • Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
  • Refrain from routine screening testing if asymptomatic and feasible

Some precautions remain in place. For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:

  • Take precautions in indoor public settings like wearing a well-fitted mask
  • Wear masks that fit snuggly when visiting indoors with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or who have an unvaccinated household member who is at increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease
  • Wear well-fitted masks when visiting indoors with unvaccinated people from multiple households
  • Avoid indoor large-sized in-person gatherings
  • Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • Follow guidance issued by individual employers
  • Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about COVID-related workplace safety. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please watch our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Call to Action: New COBRA Notices Due Soon

On April 12, 2021, Lake Effect HR & Law posted a blog notifying our readers about new COBRA provisions under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). We encourage employers who are federal or state COBRA covered employers to take prompt action, as deadlines for notices are upon us.

  • Starting April 1, 2021, employers are required to send a new ARPA COBRA summary fact sheet and new required COBRA notice to covered employees and their dependents who have had qualifying events.
  • By May 31, 2021, employers are required to send a new ARPA COBRA summary fact sheet and new extended COBRA election notice to covered employees and their dependents who had certain qualifying events between October 1, 2019 and April 1, 2021.

Please see our prior blog for live links to the required ARPA COBRA summary fact sheet and new COBRA notices. As always, if you need assistance or advice on administering these new COBRA notices, please reach out to the HR professionals and attorneys at Lake Effect HR & Law. Please know that employers and plans may be subject to an excise tax under the IRS Code for failing to satisfy the new COBRA requirements. The tax may be as much as $100 per qualified beneficiary.

We continue to monitor developments and guidance relating to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and other legislative efforts to address the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will provide you with employment-related updates on these topics as they arise.

New COBRA Notice Requirements for Employers Under the American Rescue Plan Act

On April 7, 2021, the US Department of Labor published FAQs and model notices implementing the temporary COBRA premium assistance provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). Employers and other group health plan issuers are subject to new COBRA notice and other requirements.

What: Under the ARPA, “Assistance Eligible Individuals” may elect to continue employment-based group health plan coverage for up to 5 months – from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021 – without paying COBRA premiums. Employers or plan issuers must pay premiums on behalf of such individuals and will be reimbursed through a COBRA premium assistance tax credit.

Who: To be an “Assistance Eligible Individual” under the ARPA, an individual must meet all of the following requirements:

  • MUST have a COBRA qualifying event that is a reduction of hours or an involuntary termination of employment (NOT including a voluntary termination or a termination for gross misconduct);
  • MUST elect COBRA continuation coverage;
  • MUST NOT be eligible for Medicare; and
  • MUST NOT be eligible for coverage under any other group health plans, such as a plan sponsored by a new employer or a spouse’s employer.

When: COBRA premium assistance is available for periods of coverage from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021. Assistance will end earlier if an individual:

  • Reaches the end of their maximum 18-month COBRA continuation period; OR
  • Becomes eligible for Medicare or other group health plan coverage (including from a new employer).

Notice Requirements: Employers and other plan issuers must notify qualified beneficiaries about COBRA premium assistance and other rights as follows:

Additional Election Opportunities: The ARPA provides additional COBRA election opportunities under certain circumstances:

  • Group health plans may (but are not required to) offer Assistance Eligible Individuals the option to choose coverage different from that which they had at the time of the COBRA qualifying event, subject to certain restrictions and additional notice requirements.
  • If a family member of an Assistance Eligible Individual did not initially elect COBRA continuation at the time of a qualifying event, they have an additional opportunity to enroll with premium assistance. This will not extend the period of COBRA continuation coverage beyond the original maximum period.

This summary of ARPA’s COBRA premium assistance provisions is not intended to provide an exhaustive analysis of the law, but your partners at Lake Effect are ready to help you navigate the new requirements. Employers should also work closely with their group health plan providers to ensure complete compliance with COBRA notice and coverage provisions.

We continue to monitor developments and guidance relating to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and other legislative efforts to address the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will provide you with employment-related updates on these topics as they arise.

Twelve Months Later: How Has Your Organization Evolved?

The past 12 months have been a time like no other, forcing organizations to pivot quickly to accommodate a new reality. Now is the time to review handbook policies and internal processes that may have been revised on the fly in response to changing circumstances.

You can start by reviewing the ways your organization has changed since the start of the pandemic in terms of policy and process changes:

  • Did employees’ transition to work remotely?
  • Will they continue to do so? Did they start or expand use of personal devices for business purposes?
  • Have schedules or reporting relationships changed to adapt to new circumstances?
  • Have employees performed remote work from other states? (If they intend to remain there, you may need to register for general business, payroll, and/or unemployment tax purposes in that state. You may also need to review your current benefits offerings, as well specific employment laws for that state or local area. See our blog on state employment laws to consider with remote employees.)
  • Has your brand or business model changed in response to the pandemic? Do you need to update position descriptions or organizational charts?

As you identify changes that have occurred and adjustments that will be necessary, review your employee handbook and update relevant policies to reflect your decisions(Note: We do not recommend changing the handbook for policies that are temporary in nature, such as allowing employees to work remotely only until worksites open again. Temporary policies can be freestanding.)

In addition, consider the impact that the past year had on your employees and your organization’s culture:

  • Some employees may have been working onsite throughout the pandemic. Others may be excited to return to the workplaceand still others may be cautious to returnThis can result in actual or potential conflicts between employees who may judge or simply not understand another’s perspective.
  • Some employees may be experiencing mental health issues resulting froisolation or other challenges encountered over the past year, while others are thrilled to be out of the house and back in the office.
  • Some employees may feel the stress of changing family routines and expectations, and they may need additional time to adapt or help family members adapt.
  • Some employees may be grieving the loss of a loved one during the pandemic, while others have experienced minimal personal impact.
  • Some employees may need more time than others to reacclimate to their commute and former schedule at a worksite.

As your employees and you address these difficult issues, you   can reaffirm a culture of inclusion, acceptance, and respect with effective planning, clear communication, flexibility, and empathy.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about how to handle these important workplace transitions and evolution, while maintaining your culture and supporting your mission and vision. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our blogs and emails for these important updates, as well as discussions of how compliance meets culture. To dive into these issues, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.

Learning To Build A Stronger Teams In A Virtual World

Their positive attitudes carry an edge of lighthearted humor that paints the HR field with a ‘can do’ attitude for tackling challenges and employment law changes.

Andrea Conrad, Numbers 4 Nonprofits Inc

Many of us are starting to think about what our workspaces will look like when we are able to return more consistently or completely to the workplace. These options include returning full time to the office, continuing to work remotely, or a blend of the two.  No matter which option your organization chooses for its new normal, leaders will need to focus time on retaining talent by nurturing workplace culture and offering professional development opportunities to team members.

As you nurture your workplace culture, consider surveying your team members to learn what helped them be successful in their work and connect with their coworkers while working remotely. When considering professional development, evaluate your current practices and how they can be adjusted to fit and support your new work environment. If your team members will be working virtually – fully or partly – consider how you can offer them virtual coaching and professional development. Employees have proven that they can work, grow, and learn successfully in a virtual world.

Life-long learning is important to all of us at Lake Effect, so we have adapted our in-person workshops to engage with a virtual audience. We love training in-person, but we have found that we also connect, engage, and share knowledge as effectively over Zoom or Microsoft Teams. We realize that Zoom fatigue is real, so we have shortened our workshops to 1-2 hour sessions. To continue to support our clients, partners, and their employees, we offer a variety of in-person and virtual workshops in the following areas:

  • Aligning Strategic Plan & HR
  • Coaching
  • Communication
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Crisis Management
  • Culture Building
  • Employee Development
  • Legal Compliance
  • HR Compliance
  • Management Training
  • Performance Management
  • Respectful Workplace
  • Team Engagement

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

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