‘Tis the Season

This year has taught us lessons we could not have imagined a year ago: lessons on time management, work-life integration, and overcoming professional and personal hurdles. Even in the best of times, the end of the calendar year can be extremely busy for many organizations. For individuals, this time of year also brings hectic schedules and other stressors, both emotional and financial. Additional challenges presented by the pandemic, social unrest, and the recent contentious election will likely make December 2020 a uniquely difficult time.

As we head into this month, we encourage you to take a step back and think about what you expect from your teams, and what you can offer them in return.

  • As more organizations continue with a remote work force, it becomes easy to assume someone is available and checking in at all hours of the day. Learn to respect employees’ off-hours by honoring their boundaries and implementing strategies that allow them to disengage and focus on other aspects of their busy lives:
    • Empower employees to honor their own boundaries by committing to not working during their off hours.
    • Set clear expectations for employees and supervisors about work hours and non-work hours and encourage all to respect these times.
      Encourage employees to use their “out of office” messages in email or voice mail during non-working hours.
    • Consider whether your emails to staff who are on vacation need to be sent immediately. Does the email involve an issue that can wait until they return to work? Even if you don’t expect them to respond to you at that time, sending a message during non-working hours can have a negative effect on employees trying to disengage.
    • Use the Delay Delivery option on email. This tool allows you to draft a message while it is fresh in your mind but delays an employee’s receipt of that email until they resume work hours.
    • Make sure your non-exempt employees and their managers understand that all work time – even checking and responding to quick emails at night – is work time that must be tracked and compensated.
  • Think about other ways you can support your employees individually and collectively at this time:
    • If your benefits plan comes with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), now is a good time to share the information again with employees to remind them of the services that are available to them. If employees do not have access to an EAP, consider partnering with local non-profit agencies that may be able to provide different resources and support. For example, United Way 2-1-1 is a national hotline that connects people with resources in their own communities and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
    • Does your organizational have a culture that encourages mental and physical wellness? Consider organizing a challenge to incentivize self-care or arrange for group exercise times.
    • Coordinate fun group activities such as cookie recipe exchanges, secret gift exchanges, or donations to a non-profit your organization supports.
  • Show support for your employees in tangible and intangible ways:
    • If your organization has a budget for it, consider sending a “Thank you for getting us through 2020” gift, gift card, or bonus with a personal message written to each employee.
    • Surprise employees with an extra half day off one afternoon; encourage them to take the time to do something nice for themselves.
    • Check in with your employees individually; ask them “Are you OK?” and mean it. Listen to their concerns.

By necessity, you spend most workdays focused on the needs of your organization, clients, and other stakeholders. This month, we encourage you to take some time to focus on your employees, one of your most important assets. It’s been a hard year for so many. Let’s grant each other some grace to finish out the year strong, and together we can welcome 2021 with renewed strength.

Employee Holiday Travel during COVID-19

Traditionally, November and December are months when employees take more time off to travel and/or spend time with family and friends for holidays. This year, employers and employees need to consider the health risks involved in traveling and group gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reality is that employees’ increased exposure to COVID-19 can present risks to co-workers, customers, and the overall reputation of an organization.

We encourage employers to review current policies regarding time off during the holidays to see if they reflect current practices and current COVID risk mitigation measures. As with any issue related to the pandemic, employees and employers should adhere to current guidance provided by the CDC, as well as local and state guidelines in their home area and in any areas they may visit. The CDC website has valuable information related to Travel During the COVID-19 Pandemic, as well as a page specifically related to Holiday Travel. Although employers cannot dictate whether or not an employee travels during non-work time, employers are well-advised to share this information with employees so they fully appreciate the risks involved with travel and gatherings.

In the event that employees are exposed to or test positive for COVID-19 during the holiday season, employers should consult this helpful resource provided by PHMDC.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about protecting your workforce 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.

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.

Close Contact in the Workplace: Think 6-15-24-48

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The CDC has updated its definition of “close contact” and it is now referred to as the “6-15-24-48 analysis.” The updated guidance defines a “close contact” as someone who was:

  • within 6 feet of an infected person
  • for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more
  • over a 24-hour period
  • starting from two days (48 hours) before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

Employers who have employees experiencing COVID-related symptoms or who have tested positive for COVID should ask the employee to identify others with whom they were in close contact as described above. Note, the new definition now includes individuals with whom the employee was in contact for shorter periods of time that add up to 15 minutes or more within a 24 hour period. For example, this would cover contacts lasting five minutes at lunch, five minutes at the end of the workday, and 5 minutes the next morning.

As employers continue to monitor and respond to COVID-related situations in the workplace, they should update internal policies and procedures to match the current CDC guidelines, as well as guidance from their state or local public health departments or health orders.

As a reminder, these are the current CDC-designated symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about employer compliance 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.
Lake Effect HR & Law is in business to maximize each client’s workplace potential with a commitment to kindness, true partnership, and exceptional service.

OSHA Issues Guidance on Reporting Work-Related COVID-19 Hospitalizations and Deaths

On September 30, 2020, OSHA published new guidance on employers’ obligations to report employee in-patient hospitalizations and fatalities resulting from work-related cases of COVID-19.

Employers must report hospitalizations with 24 hours: In order to be reportable, an employee’s in-patient hospitalization due to COVID-19 must occur within 24 hours of exposure to the virus at work. If the hospitalization occurs later, it is not reportable. Furthermore, an employer’s duty to report is triggered when the employer knows both that the employee has been hospitalized and that the reason for the hospitalization was COVID-19 exposure at work within 24 hours prior to hospitalization. Once the employer knows both, it has 24 hours to report the hospitalization.

Employers must report fatalities within 8 hours: In order to be reportable, a fatality caused by COVID-19 must occur within 30 days of exposure to the virus in the workplace. If the death occurs later, it is not reportable. Furthermore, an employer’s duty to report arises when the employer knows both that the employee has died of COVID-19 and that the cause of death was work-related exposure to the virus within the prior 30 days.  Once the employer knows both, it has 8 hours to report the fatality.

Notably, the guidance does not specify how employers should decide whether or not a COVID-19 exposure was work-related for purposes of reporting hospitalizations or fatalities. Therefore, employers are left to follow prior OSHA guidance issued in May 2020 as to “whether it is more likely than not that exposure in the workplace played a causal role with respect to a particular case” of COVID-19.

An employer may report a work-related COVID-19 hospitalization or death in any of the following ways:

  • Calling the nearest OSHA office
  • Calling the OSHA 24-hour hotline at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742); or
  • Reporting online.

OSHA-covered employers must record all work-related confirmed cases of COVID-19.  See Lake Effect’s prior blog on this topic.

Lake Effect is here to answer your questions about OSHA reporting obligations relating to COVID-19. For a deeper dive into this issue, contact us at info@le-hrlaw.com or 1-844-333-5253. 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 the latest information.

Lake Effect is committed to helping your organization maximize its workplace potential, ensuring compliance while preserving your unique culture.

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.

Wisconsin Judge Reinstates Emergency Order Restricting Indoor Gatherings

Update 11/06/2020

The Governor’s Emergency Order #3, which limited indoor gatherings throughout Wisconsin, expired on November 6, 2020. On the same day, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that a lower court should have issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the Emergency Order.

Update 10/26/2020

The statewide indoor capacity restrictions in Emergency Order #3 are not enforceable, at least for now. On October 23, 2020, a Wisconsin court of appeals reinstated a temporary injunction blocking enforcement of the statewide restrictions. The court of appeals decision follows conflicting rulings from two district courts on whether Emergency Order #3 should be enforced pending the outcome of the lawsuits filed against Governor Evers’ administration.

This is a constantly evolving issue. Employers should ensure they are following the current state and local public health restrictions applicable to their organization. Summaries of the public health orders can be found here.


10/20/2020

On October 19, 2020, Barron County Circuit Judge James C. Babler reinstated Emergency Order #3, which limits indoor gatherings throughout Wisconsin to no more than 25% of the total occupancy limit for the room or building. DHS Secretary Andrea Palm’s Emergency Order #3, effective from October 8 until November 6, 2020, exempts schools, polling locations, political rallies, churches, and some businesses, such as grocery stores. On October 14, 2020, a Sawyer County district court had temporarily blocked the Order in response to a lawsuit from state Tavern League members, who argued that Secretary Palm did not have authority to pass the statewide limitations.

Immediately following Judge Babler’s decision to uphold the statewide restrictions, Governor Evers issued a press release stating, “This critically important ruling will help us prevent the spread of this virus by restoring limits on public gatherings. This crisis is urgent.” See Lake Effect’s prior blog on Emergency Order #3.
As a reminder, employers must comply with any local public health orders such as those in Dane County that impose stricter requirements than those set forth in Emergency Order #3. See Lake Effect’s summary of local health orders.

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.

Review Employee Voting Rights As Elections Near

As we near the end of October, federal, state, and local elections are right around the corner. It is a good time for employers to review relevant policies and legal obligations towards employees who seek time off to vote or otherwise participate in the election process.

Under Wisconsin law, an employee who is entitled to vote in a public election must be given up to three (3) consecutive hours off work while the polls are open. An employee who plans to take time off to vote must notify their employer before election day, and the employer may designate the time of day for the absence (for example, at the start or end of a shift or work day). An employer need not pay an employee for time off to vote, but it may not penalize the employee in any way for taking that time off. Wis. Stat. §6.76.

An employee who wishes to participate in the election process as a registered poll worker has no similar right to time off work under Wisconsin law. However, employers may permit employees to take available paid or unpaid time off, such as vacation, paid time off, or community service time, for that purpose. Employers should take steps to ensure consistent treatment of all employees who request time off for election-related reasons.

In addition, employers should review any applicable collective bargaining agreements, handbooks, and internal policies that may provide greater rights than those set forth in Wisconsin’s voting rights statute.

Finally, employers should keep in mind that other states may impose different or additional requirements with regards to employee voting. A number of states, such as Illinois, require employers to provide paid time off for employees to vote. Other states have more stringent notice provisions. For example, New York requires employers to post a notice within 10 days of each election informing employees of their rights regarding voting time.

If you have questions about election-related issues as they impact your workforce inside or outside of Wisconsin, the team at Lake Effect HR & Law is happy to assist. Lake Effect continues to monitor important legal and HR developments, as well as COVID-related updates 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.

WI Emergency Order #3 – Statewide Limits on Indoor Public Gatherings

Indoor public gatherings are limited statewide starting on October 8, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. and ending on November 6, 2020 under Emergency Order #3. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary-designee Andrea Palm issued the order on October 6, 2020.

Emergency Order #3 restricts “public gatherings” to 25% or less of the established indoor capacity limit of a building or room. This applies to any business that is open to the public, including restaurants, retail stores, and office lobbies. If the building or room has no capacity limit (e.g., a home), public gatherings are limited to no more than 10 people. The order defines a “public gathering” as an “indoor event, convening, or collection of individuals, whether planned or spontaneous, that is open to the public and brings together people who are not part of the same household in a single room.”

The order places no restrictions on outdoor gatherings, such as outdoor seating areas at a restaurant or bar; on indoor spaces that are not open to the public, such as a manufacturing plant or an office building; or on invitation-only indoor gatherings.

Employers in counties or cities with their own local public health orders and guidance (such as Dane, Milwaukee, Outagamie, and Winnebago Counties) will need to determine the restrictions applicable to their organization. DHS’s Frequently Asked Questions clarifies that Emergency Order #3 supersedes the requirements in local orders that are less restrictive. Conversely, requirements in local orders that are more restrictive will continue to be enforced. For example, a restaurant in Dane County will be required to comply with the applicable restrictions in Dane County’s PHMDC Emergency Order #9 (see Lake Effect’s blogs on the PHMDC orders) and the 25% indoor capacity restriction in the new statewide Emergency Order #3.

Exempt from the order are:

  • Most childcare settings
  • Placements for children in out-of-home care, such as foster and group homes
  • 4K-12 schools
  • Institutions of higher education
  • Health care and public health operations
  • Human services operations
  • Public infrastructure operations
  • State and local government operations
  • Churches and other places of religious worship
  • Political rallies, demonstrations, and other speech protected by the First Amendment
  • State and federal facilities

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.

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

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