State Employment Laws to Consider with Remote Workers

Employers across the country – from small nonprofits to multi-national corporations – are grappling with whether and how to maintain a remote workforce with employees in multiple states. There are distinct advantages to allowing employees to work from their home, wherever that may be, and opening the applicant pool to a remote workforce. (See our previous blog on how to sustain company culture with a remote workforce.)

When evaluating remote employment plans, it is critical for employers to review the state and local laws that apply to workers outside of Wisconsin. Many of those laws apply even if an employer has only one part-time employee working in the remote location. Below are some of the important legal issues to consider:

  • Paid Sick Leave. States and municipalities across the country have enacted mandatory paid sick leave laws, most of which apply to all employees working in the particular state, county, or city. An employer’s PTO policy generally will comply with the paid sick leave law if the PTO provides a specified minimum level of benefits. However, employers should review the specifics of any relevant paid sick leave laws, including the laws’ required notices to employees. Those notices may need to be included in a handbook and/or with paystubs.
  • Paid Family and Medical Leave. At least nine states and the District of Columbia have also enacted mandatory paid family and medical leave laws that apply to all part-time and full-time employees working in the state or district. The leave programs differ in the amount of leave that must be provided, benefits, eligibility requirements, required notices, and how the programs are funded. Employers should review these laws if applicable and ensure their leave policies comply.
  • Employee agreements. State laws vary dramatically as to the enforceability of non-competition and non-solicitation agreements. Most states require these agreements to include limitations on their geographic scope and length of restriction. Some states also require employers to give the employee something, such as a bonus or promotion, in exchange for signing a non-compete or non-solicitation agreement while others require specific language be included in these agreements. Some states prohibit all non-competes (D.C. is currently considering such legislation) while some prohibit non-competes with employees who are paid below a specified wage threshold. To reduce the risk of an employee agreement being struck down by a court, it is important to review the applicable state laws and incorporate all requirements.
  • Pay history and criminal background checks. When recruiting nationwide, employers should ensure they are complying with the growing number of laws limiting or prohibiting inquiries into an applicant’s pay history or criminal background. These laws were largely enacted to create more opportunities for women and people of color. They also reflect HR best practices. Inquiring into pay history and/or criminal background may unnecessarily limit the applicant pool and hinder efforts to create a more inclusive workplace culture.
  • Anti-harassment training. At least six states, including Illinois, require employers to provide anti-harassment training to employees and supervisors working in their state. Other states encourage, but do not require, anti-harassment training. Even if not legally required or encouraged, we recommend employers provide anti-harassment training at least every other year.
  • Business Expenses. As more employees are working from home, employers should review their business expense policies for compliance with the laws of the state in which employees work. For example, California and Illinois have specific laws on what business expenses must be reimbursed by an employer.
  • Drug testing. Drug testing laws vary from states such as Minnesota, with strict policy and process requirements to states such as Wisconsin where the laws are more lenient. Employers who require drug tests also should take into consideration whether the recreational and/or medicinal use of marijuana has been legalized in the state where the employee works. Over 30 states and municipalities have legalized marijuana in some form.
  • General employment laws. Each state has enacted its own general employment laws covering, for example, minimum wage, other wage and hour requirements, workplace safety, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and anti-discrimination. Employers should review these laws and ensure their employee handbook, policies, trainings, and practices are in compliance.

Lake Effect is here to answer your state and federal employment law and HR questions related to a remote workforce. 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 Issues Timely Wage and Hour Rule and Guidance

***Update, January 27, 2021***

UPDATED BY EXECUTIVE ORDER – CLICK HERE FOR UPDATED INFORMATION

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Over the last few weeks, the Department of Labor (DOL) has been busy ticking items off its to-do list. We have seen action on everything from tip pooling to employee notices to travel time.

Tip Pooling and Tip Credits
In October, 2019, Lake Effect blogged on the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed new Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations on tip pooling, tip credit, and payments to tipped employees. The DOL published the Final Rule on December 22, 2020, implementing most of the changes to tip pooling and tip payments that were proposed in 2019. See also a helpful summary and FAQ provided by the DOL. The Final Rule is effective March 1, 2021.

This new rule will be helpful for restaurant, bar, and hospitality employers making plans to expand or resume operations in the coming months. Many hospitality employers have implemented – or may now consider implementing – tip pools to supplement employee compensation, improve morale, and incentivize all workers to maximize performance. In short, tip pooling can be a useful tool to enhance employee recruitment and retention.

The new tip credit and tip pooling regulations include the following:

  • No tips for managers, supervisors, or employers: The regulations expressly prohibit employers from keeping employees’ tips and likewise prohibit managers and supervisors from sharing any employee tips, regardless of whether the employer takes a tip credit and regardless of the type of tip pool implemented. Employers who retain pooled tips or share them with managers or supervisors will be subject to civil penalties under the new regulations.
    • Relying on the FLSA duties test, a manager or supervisor is defined as any employee (1) whose primary duty is managing the enterprise or a customarily recognized department or subdivision of the enterprise; (2) who customarily and regularly directs the work of at least two or more other full-time employees or their equivalent; and (3) who has the authority to hire or fire other employees, or whose suggestions and recommendations as to the hiring or firing are given particular weight.” This also includes any workers “who own at least a bona fide 20 percent equity interest in the enterprise in which they are employed and who are actively engaged in its management.”
  • No 80/20 rule for tip credits: The regulations remove the long-standing 80/20 rule that required employers who take a tip credit (see our prior blog for an overview of tip credits) to carefully track the amount and timing of non-tipped work that employees perform. Under the new regulations, employers may take the tip credit regardless of the amount of non-tipped work an employee is performing provided the normally non-tipped work is performed “contemporaneously with” or “for a reasonable time immediately before or after” their normally tipped work duties.
  • Employers who take a tip credit are limited to a traditional tip pool: Employers who take a tip credit may create only a “traditional tip pool,” which is limited to employees who “customarily and regularly” receive tips.
  • Employers who do not take a tip credit have two tip pool options: Employers who do not take a tip credit now have two options for tip pooling. Employers may create a “traditional tip pool” and/or a “nontraditional tip pool,” which includes employees who do not regularly receive tips, such as cooks and dishwashers.
  • Record-keeping of tip credit and tip pool: Employers who take a tip credit or create tip pools must identify on their payroll records each employee who receives tips and maintain records of the weekly or monthly amount of tips received by employees, as reported by the employee to the employer. Employers can rely on employees’ information tracked on IRS Form 4070.
  • Timing of payment of tip pool tips: Employers must pay their employees the pooled tips no later than the date on which regular wages are paid to employees and, for credit card based tips, “as soon as practicable after the regular payday.” This further supports the requirement that employers must not retain tips.

Electronic Posting of Required Labor Law Posters
Acknowledging that telework will likely continue for the foreseeable future in many workplaces, the DOL provided new guidance regarding labor law posters. In a field assistance bulletin issued on December 29, 2020, the DOL confirmed that employers can satisfy applicable employee notice obligations by providing required labor law postings to employees on the internet or an intranet. Employers also must display hard copies of the posters in the actual workplace for applicants and employees who are unable to telework.

Compensation for Personal Activity Travel Time
Again acknowledging the continuation of telework, the DOL issued a wage and hour opinion letter on December 31, 2020 addressing the issue of travel time to/from work and home when an employee works part of the day remotely and part of the day in the worksite, and engages in personal activities during their travel time. The DOL reiterated that a non-exempt employee does not need to be paid for time the employee is off duty and is not working, nor for commuting time. The DOL also reinforced that the continuous workday doctrine would not apply to the fact patterns presented by the employer because, during the travel time for personal activities, the employee was clearly off duty, could use their time for their own purposes, and could choose when they would resume work at home or at the worksite. Likewise, the employee’s commuting time to and from work, during which time the employee performed no work duties, was not compensable commuting time.

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For additional information and discussion of DOL rule making, rules, and guidance, please see Lake Effect’s prior blogs on wage and hour issues. We will continue to closely monitor all developments in this area and provide you with important updates.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about federal and state issues affecting employers. 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.

Lake Effect HR & Law is in business to maximize each client’s workplace potential with a commitment to kindness, true partnership, and exceptional service.

President Trump Signs COVID-19 Emergency Relief Bill

After an unexpected delay during which he strongly criticized the stimulus legislation passed by Congress on December 21, President Trump signed the $900 billion COVID-19 emergency relief bill into law on December 27, 2020. The new legislation aims to help individuals, businesses, and organizations across the country to offset the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key provisions of the Emergency Relief bill include:

  • Direct payments to individuals: provides a one-time payment of $600 to individuals earning up to $75,000 per year. Couples earning up to $150,000 per year will receive $1,200. Caregivers will receive an additional $600 for each dependent child.
  • Additional Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), and other small business support: provides additional funds for first and second PPP loans to eligible recipients, with dedicated funds for small and minority-owned  businesses, as well as additional small business and EIDL grants.
    • Most new provisions apply to PPP loans made before, on, or after date of enactment of current stimulus bill.
    • PPP loan eligibility is expanded to include housing cooperatives, news organizations and 501(c)(6) nonprofit organizations, but publicly traded companies are specifically excluded from new PPP loan eligibility.
    • Forgivable PPP loans may be used to cover operations expenses (e.g., software, cloud computing, accounting needs), property damage due to public disturbances, supplier costs, and PPE expenditures; employer-provided group insurance benefits are included in payroll costs (e.g., group life, disability, health, vision, dental insurance).
    • Certain organizations with fewer than 300 employees may receive a second PPP loan of up to $2 million. The 60/40 cost allocation between payroll and non-payroll costs for full forgiveness will continue to apply.
    • Eligible organizations must have experienced a 25% drop in gross receipts in 2020 compared to a comparable quarter in 2019.
    • The covered period (whether an employer elects an 8-week or 24-week period) for all PPP loans is extended through 3/31/21.
    • Deductions are allowed for otherwise deductible business expenses paid for with proceeds of a PPP loan that is forgiven.
    • Recipients of PPP loans under $150,000 may utilize a simplified forgiveness request process.
    • Organizations that receive both an EIDL grant and a PPP loan need not deduct forgiven amount of EIDL grant from the forgivable amount of their PPP loan.
    • SBA is authorized to award grants to eligible live venue operators, theaters, performing arts organizations, museums, motion picture theaters, etc. to be used for payroll costs, rent, utilities, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
    • Additional targeted EIDL grant funding is provided for low-income communities, and the covered period for Emergency EIDL grants is extended through 12/31/21.
  • Unemployment Assistance: provides for supplemental federal unemployment benefits and extends time periods for receiving unemployment benefits under state and federal pandemic programs.
    • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program will provide a supplement of $300 a week to all state and federal unemployment benefits recipients from 12/26/20 until 3/14/21.Because the legislation was not signed until 12/27/20, recipients may experience a one-week gap in benefits.
    • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is extended until 3/14/21, and recipients getting benefits as of that date may continue to do so through 4/5/21; maximum number of weeks of PUA benefits is increased from 39 to 50.
    • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program is extended until 3/14/21, and recipients getting benefits as of that date may continue to do so through 4/5/21; maximum number of weeks of PEUC benefits is increased from 13 to 24.
    • States must develop methods to address situations in which unemployment compensation recipients refuse to accept offers of suitable work without good cause, including a method for employers to notify the state when an individual refuses employment.
  • Employee Retention Credit extended, and eligibility expanded: extends Employee Retention Tax Credit under the CARES Act through 6/30/21.
    • Tax credit rate is increased from 50% to 70% of qualified wages, and the limit on per-employee creditable wages is increased from $10,000 per year to $10,000 per quarter.
    • Eligible criteria are expanded to include employers experiencing a 20% (vs. 50%) reduction in year-over-year gross receipts and employers receiving PPP loans.
  • Payroll tax credits for FFCRA leaves extended: guarantees that employers who continue to provide paid sick and family leaves in accordance with prior FFCRA requirements will continue to receive payroll tax credits through 3/31/21. Tax credits apply as if the corresponding employer mandates were extended through 3/31/21.Note that employers are no longer required to provide FFCRA paid leaves, but the continuing tax credits provide an incentive for them to do so.
    • Employers who want to take advantage of these tax credits must follow the FFCRA leave requirements set forth in the original Act.  See our prior blogs on this issue and consult with experienced HR and legal advisors to ensure FFCRA compliance and receipt of the tax credits.
  • Extension of deferred payroll taxes: extends the repayment deadline until 12/31/21 for employers who deferred withholding of employees’ share of social security taxes. Penalties and interest on deferred unpaid tax liability will not begin to accrue until 1/1/22.
  • Extension of time for distribution of CARES Act funds: extends for one year, or until 12/31/21, the time for states and local governments to distribute Coronavirus Relief Funds previously allocated under the CARES Act.
  • Relief for transportation industry: provides funds to support transit industry including airlines, airline contractors, airports, state departments of transportation, Amtrak, and the motorcoach, school bus and ferry industries. In order to receive funds, airlines must recall involuntarily furloughed employees, provide backpay to returning employees, and guarantee minimum air transportation service.
  • COVID-19 vaccines, testing, tracing, and mitigation efforts: provides dedicated funds to procure and distribute vaccines and direct financial aid to states for testing, tracing, and COVID-19 mitigation programs, including grants designated for underserved communities; provides additional funds to support mental health, health care providers, COVID-19 research, and the Indian Health Service.
  • Emergency rental assistance: provides $25 billion for a federal emergency rental assistance program to be administered by state and local governments. Funds will be used to help eligible families struggling to pay rent, utilities, and other housing-related expenses. The CDC’s previous eviction moratorium is extended through 1/31/2021.
  • Broadband and telehealth: provides funds to increase broadband access for low-income families, tribal communities, and rural communities, and appropriates additional funding for telehealth programs.

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of all provisions included in the Emergency Relief Bill. We encourage you to consult with your business and tax advisors about the Emergency Relief Bill and its impact on your organization and employees.

For additional and information and discussion of FFCRA and PPP loans, please see Lake Effect’s prior blogs on those topics. We will continue to closely monitor all developments in this area and provide you with important updates.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about federal and state pandemic relief packages affecting employers. 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.

Lake Effect HR & Law is in business to maximize each client’s workplace potential with a commitment to kindness, true partnership, and exceptional service.

Governor Evers Recommends Continued COVID Mitigation Efforts

On November 10, 2020, Governor Evers presented a public address and signed Executive Order #94, strongly advising that all residents and businesses continue following stringent COVID-mitigation efforts. While this order has no enforcement capability, it serves as a reminder to minimize interactions outside of households. For businesses, it provides no new restrictions, but it reiterates the importance of permitting employees to work from home wherever feasible and maintaining preventive measures in the workplace for employees and customers alike.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about protecting your employees and complying with state and local public health orders. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, including 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.

Employees Must Notify Their Employers of Positive COVID-19 Result

According to a November 4, 2020 blog post, Public Health Madison & Dane County (PHMDC) will no longer notify employers that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 unless the employee works for a school, or a childcare, healthcare, or congregate living facility. Instead, employees are responsible for notifying their employer if they tested positive, and working with their employer to identify other employees, customers, or clients who have been in close contact with the employee who tested positive. This is a significant shift in Dane County’s contact tracing due to the high number of positive tests in the community.

Dane County employers should follow guidance from PHMDC if an employee tests positive. Employers should then, to the best of their ability, notify other employees, customers, or clients who had close contact with the affected employee. As a reminder, see our prior blog for the new “6-15-24-48 analysis” in determining who has had “close contact.”

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about protecting your employees and complying with state and local public health orders. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, including 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.

UI Notice Required at Time of Separation of Employment

Beginning November 2, 2020, Wisconsin employers must notify employees at the time of separation from employment of the availability of Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. Notice of unemployment rights can be given to employees by email, text message, letter, or by providing the DWD printed poster in person or by mail.

The content of the notice should include when and how an employee can file for unemployment, unemployment resources, and UI contact information. The DWD provides suggested language to include in end of employment communications to employees, including the digital poster. We encourage employers to use the suggested language and the customizable digital poster. This poster needs to be posted at all times in your workplace or electronically in the case of remote workers.

Note that providing the notice does not necessarily mean that employees will meet the requirements of the Wisconsin UI eligibility laws and/or receive benefits.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about employee onboarding, offboarding, or compliance with applicable state and federal employment laws. We continue to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updated from federal, state, and local authorities. Please keep watching our 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.

Career Coaching Services

In response to continuing financial challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may be compelled to consider layoffs, furloughs, or terminations. Even when faced with such difficult decisions, employers can take steps to care for their workers and help them transition to new opportunities. Organizations might consider offering career coaching and outplacement advisory services to affected staff. These services provide support, help and guidance to workers as they initiate new job searches or contemplate career changes.

Lake Effect can be a valuable partner in these efforts. Our experienced HR advisors and coaches can assist by meeting individually with staff, reviewing their skills, interests, and goals, and rebuilding confidence to explore new opportunities. Lake Effect’s coaches can also help displaced employees develop or update a resume and cover letter, improve interview techniques, or apply the most effective job search methods best suited to the employees’ desired career path. By applying DiSC training to the tailored coaching, employees receive personalized insights that deepen their understanding of their own preferences and tendencies in the workplace. These personalized insights can help workers be more effective interviewers and strengthen future workplace interactions.

At Lake Effect, we are committed to helping organizations maximize their workplace potential with a commitment to kindness, true partnership, and exceptional service. During challenging times, this means supporting clients as they strive to boost morale, maintain a positive culture, and help current and former employees achieve success. Our career coaching and outplacement advisory services may provide one way to help outgoing employees secure a bright future.

Your partners at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready to answer your questions about career coaching and outplacement advisory services. Contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253.We are also closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on all aspects of the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails for important legal updates and HR best practices.

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.

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.

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

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