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.

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.

The Complex Web of Paid Family and Medical Leave Laws

Several states have now enacted laws mandating that employers provide paid family and medical leave (FML). These laws generally apply to employers in or out-of-state with 1 or more employees working in that state. It is important for Wisconsin employers to carefully manage their leave policies when they have employees in other states.

States that have adopted mandatory paid family and medical leave laws are: Massachusetts, Washington D.C., California, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The leave benefits available under these laws vary from state to state, so employers need to do their research – or rely on experienced employment law advisors.

For example, in Massachusetts, employers must pay into an FML fund with a .75% tax on the wages of any employee working in Massachusetts. Some employers, depending on the number of workers they employ, may deduct a portion or all of this amount from the employee’s wages. Starting in 2021, employees will be entitled to up to a total 26 weeks of paid family and medical leave per year for life events such as the birth or adoption of a child (12 weeks), a serious medical condition (20 weeks), a family member’s serious medical condition (12 weeks), or to care for a family member injured while in military service (26 weeks). While the employer must allow the employee to take the leave, the financial benefits are administered by the state’s Department of Family and Medical Leave. Employees apply for a claim and, if approved, receive their weekly benefit from the state. The maximum benefit an employee can receive is $850/week.

In Washington D.C., employers must pay a .62% payroll tax into the state’s FML fund, and employees apply for and receive their benefits from DC’s Department of Employment Services. Starting July 1, 2020, DC employees will be entitled to up to 8 weeks of parental leave, 6 weeks leave to care for a sick family member, and 2 weeks leave for personal medical leave. The maximum benefit is $1000/week.

In addition to paid FML laws, over 20 states, cities, and counties have enacted paid sick leave laws. These laws also vary as to how much leave must be given to employees, how that leave must be tracked and carried over, and how the paid sick leave intersects with other leaves, like FML.

Wisconsin employers who employ workers in other states must take these various leave laws into account. It is a complex task. Carefully crafted policies and procedures can help you navigate these unchartered waters without creating an administrative nightmare for your HR team.

The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready to assist and advise if you have questions related to family and medical leave matters in Wisconsin or other states. 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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