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.

DOL Issues Revised FFCRA Regulations

On September 11, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division posted revised regulations to clarify certain rights and responsibilities under the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). DOL’s actions are in direct response to an August 2020 New York Federal District Court ruling that invalidated parts of prior FFCRA regulations. The revised regulations will become effective September 16, 2020, when they are published in the Federal Register.

Key portions of the revised regulations provide the following:

  • An employee is only entitled to Paid Sick Leave (“PSL”) and Expanded Family and Medical Leave (“EFML”) under FFCRA if the employer would otherwise have work available for that employee to perform. If there is no work available due to circumstances other than a qualifying reason for the leave, i.e. the employer has laid off or furloughed employees, or has temporarily or permanently closed the worksite, then an employee is not entitled to FFCRA leave. This “available work” requirement applies to all qualifying reasons for FFCRA leaves.
  • An employee must obtain employer approval to take intermittent FFCRA leave for any qualifying reason, regardless of whether the employee is teleworking or working on-site. Intermittent leave occurs when the employee takes leave in separate blocks of time due to a single qualifying reason. For an employee working on-site, many of the qualifying reasons for EPSL leave will not lend themselves to intermittent leave because they create a high risk of spreading the virus. Of note, the revised regulations clarify that the employer-approval requirement does not apply to employees who take FFCRA leave in full-day increments to care for children whose schools are operating on an alternate day (or other hybrid attendance) basis because such leave is not intermittent. In that scenario, where a school is physically closed to the employee’s child on particular days, each day of the school closure constitutes a separate reason for FFCRA leave. Thus, the employee may take leave due to the school closure until that qualifying reason ends (i.e. the school re-opens) and then take leave again when the new qualifying reason begins (i.e. the school closes again) – without the approval of the employer.
  • The definition of a “health care provider,” who may be exempted from FFCRA’s leave provisions, includes only those who meet the definition of that term under the FMLA regulations and those who are employed to provide diagnostic services, preventive services, treatment services, or other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provision of patient care.
  • Employees must provide required documentation to support FFCRA leaves to their employers as soon as practicable, but they need not provide it prior to taking PSL or EFML. Similarly, an employee must provide advance notice of EFML as soon as practicable. If the need for that leave is foreseeable, the employee should provide notice before taking the leave.

Your partners at Lake Effect HR & Law are closely monitoring the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace. Keep watching for blogs and emails 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.

Agencies Update Guidance on COVID-Related Issues as Employees Return to Work

OSHA and the US Department of Labor provide additional guidance on employee health screening information and FFCRA leaves

As more employers resume onsite operations and welcome employees back to the workplace, OSHA continues to update its Guidance on Returning to Work. New guidance highlights potential document retention obligations for employers that record employee health screenings and/or temperature checks related to COVID-19 symptoms. OSHA specifies that if an employer creates records relating to those screenings, the records might qualify as medical records under the Access to Employee Exposure and Medical Records Standard (29 C.F.R. 1910.1020). Under this standard, the employer is required to retain an “employee medical record” for the duration of the worker’s employment plus 30 years. Notably, however, records of these activities will not constitute a covered “employee medical record” for purposes of OSHA’s record retention requirement unless they are records “concerning the health status of an employee which is made or maintained by a physician, nurse, or other health care personnel, or technician.” Furthermore, employers are not required to make a record of health screening responses and/or temperature checks. Employers can choose to simply receive the information in real time, make a decision, and not even create a record of the results. That may be the best practice for employers, given the current uncertainty in this area.

The Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division also issued a new Field Assistance Bulletin that addresses the rights and obligations of employees who request FFCRA leaves to care for children this summer. FFCRA requires employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of expanded family and medical leave if the employee is unable to work or telework because they need to care for a child whose “place of care” is closed for reasons relating to COVID-19. The bulletin specifies that for purposes of FFCRA, “place of care” includes summer camps, summer enrichment programs, and summer school. Thus, an employee may request the expanded family and medical leave due to such closures and the resulting need to care for a child. However, that employee must support the request, either orally in writing, by providing the employer with:

  • an explanation of the need for the leave,
  • the name of the child,
  • the name of the specific summer camp or program that the child would have attended had it not closed, and
  • a statement that no other suitable person is available to care for the child.

Notably, the employee must also provide some evidence of a plan for the employee’s child to attend the summer camp or program (i.e. prior attendance, submission of an application or a deposit, or some other evidence of an intent to enroll). Recall under prior IRS guidance, parental care is primarily limited to children under age 14, unless the child is older and has certain condition/s that require enhanced care.

If your organization conducts health screenings as part of COVID-19 prevention efforts, or if you have any questions about employee eligibility for FFCRA leaves, contact your HR and employment law partners at Lake Effect. We can help guide you through this rapidly evolving legal landscape. 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.

DOL Ends Temporary Non-Enforcement of New Paid Leave Protections

As of April 21, 2020, covered employers (with fewer than 500 employees) across the country must be in full compliance with the paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which became effective April 1, 2020. On April 20, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the end of the temporary period of non-enforcement, which was intended to allow employers time to understand and come into compliance with the new Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family Medical Leave laws.

Moving forward, full compliance with FFCRA will be expected. Moreover, proper documentation and administration of the new Emergency Paid Sick Leaves and Emergency Family Medical Leaves will be critical to receiving payroll tax credits for the sick leave wages provided to employees under the new law.

If you have any questions or need assistance administering the new FFCRA paid leave laws, 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:

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.

Lake Effect HR & Law, LLC
(844) 333-5253 (LAKE)
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