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.

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.

Statewide Limits on Indoor Public Gatherings

On October 14, 2020, a Sawyer County district court temporarily blocked Governor Evers administration’s Emergency Order #3, which limits indoor public gatherings statewide. The Court will hear arguments on Monday, October 19, to decide whether to issue a permanent injunction that would permanently block enforcement of Emergency Order #3, unless a higher court overrules that decision.

Earlier this week on October 12, a Polk County district court upheld Governor Evers’ Executive Order #90, extending the state’s public health emergency declaration, and Emergency Order #1, requiring all individuals in Wisconsin over the age of four to wear face coverings when in an enclosed space with people outside their household. That order was extended and is in effect until November 21.

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 the statewide 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.

Public Health Madison Dane County Issues Emergency Order #9

UPDATE

On September 1, 2020, PHMDC released Emergency Order #9 Amendment. The only change made to Emergency Order #9 was to allow for in-person instruction for students in any grade with a disability and/or with an IEP who may need to receive in-person instruction. This change is reflected in paragraph 4.d. on page 5 of the order.

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Prohibits In-Person Instruction for Grades 3-12

Effective Monday, August 24, 2020, public and private schools in Dane County may not hold in-person student instruction for students in third to twelfth grades under Public Health Madison and Dane County (PHMDC) Emergency Order #9. Schools may conduct kindergarten to second grade classes in-person with certain restrictions, including a requirement that the school also offer virtual learning options for its K-2 students. In order to open, schools must also adopt and distribute to staff PHMDC’s COVID response plan, which has not yet been posted.

Emergency Order #9 also modifies requirements applicable to child and youth care; expands the County’s face mask requirements; clarifies restrictions on religious groups; and changes the use of “bar” to “tavern,” as defined under Wisconsin statutes. The other requirements of PHMDC Emergency Order #8 remain unchanged.

School Closures

  • All school buildings and grounds – public and private – may open for in-person student instruction only for grades K-2. These schools must also offer a virtual option for students.
  • Although not included in the Emergency Order, PHMDC stated that it may consider reopening grades 3-5 for in-person instruction if Dane County sustains at or below a 14-day average of 39 cases per day for four consecutive weeks. For PHMDC to consider reopening grades 6-12 for in-person instruction, Dane County must sustain at or below a 14-day average of 19 cases per day for four consecutive weeks. PHMDC also noted that if there are more than 54 average cases per day over a two-week period, they would consider closing all schools to in-person instruction. We anticipate that PHMDC would provide orders when metrics permit reopening certain grades, or closing all grades.
  • Under revised requirements, all schools must:
    • Implement a hygiene policy and procedure (Section 4.d.i.), and a cleaning policy and procedure(Section 4.d.ii.)
      • PHMDC has not changed these policy requirements
    • Implement a written protective measure policy and procedure (Section 4.d.iii.) that includes several new requirements to ensure that:
      • When indoors and on buses, students age 5 and older and employees wear face masks and, to the greatest extent possible, maintain at least six feet distance from others.
      • Students and employees who cannot wear a face mask (based on the exceptions set forth in Section 2.c.) maintain at least six feet distancing from others when indoors and on buses.
      • Students and employees, to the greatest extent possible, maintain at least six feet distance from others when outside.
      • Student and employee groupings are as static as possible by having the same group of students stay with the same employees as much as possible. Mixing between groups must be restricted as much as possible.
      • While common areas (such as cafeterias and gyms) may be open, student groupings should be in distinct spaces within the common areas and not mix with one other.
    • Implement PHMDC’s action plan for COVID-19 cases
      • PHMDC will post this plan here when it is available
    • Document employee receipt, acknowledgment, or training on the cleaning, hygiene, and protective measure policies and the COVID action plan (Section 4.d.iv).
    • Post PHMDC’s workplace requirements poster in a location where it is easily viewed by all employees.
      • Employers can email this to all its employees if all or some of your school staff is working from home.

Modified Restrictions on Child and Youth Care

  • Groups or classrooms must be limited to 15 or fewer children regardless of the children’s ages.
    • Under previous orders, the limit was 25 children if they were all 13 years or older.
  • Organizations must also require children who are 5 years or older to maintain at least six feet apart to the greatest extent possible.

Expanded Face Coverings Requirements

  • A face covering is still required for all individuals age 5 or older. Children 2-5 years old are encouraged to wear a face covering. Note that PHMDC has clarified that children under the age of 2 should never wear a covering.
  • In addition to being required indoors, in line to enter a building, or in a vehicle with individuals outside of your home, face masks are now also required outdoors at a restaurant or tavern.
  • As a reminder, all organizations are required to post PHMDC’s “Face Covering” sign, or a similar sign, that is visible upon entering the property.
    • This posting requirement includes residential properties that have shared common indoor spaces, e.g. hallways, lobbies, mailrooms.
  • Recall that a face covering is defined as “a piece of cloth or other materials that is worn to cover the nose and mouth completely.” This may include a bandana, cloth face mask, a disposable or paper face mask, a neck gaiter, or a religious face covering. It does not include a face shield, mesh mask, a mask with holes or openings, or a mask with vents.

Religious Group Gatherings

  • PHMDC clarified that religious entities are exempt from mass gathering requirements only for religious services and practices.

Violations of this order are considered ordinance violations and are enforceable by any local law enforcement official.

The Lake Effect team will continue to monitor important updates such as these from Dane County and other counties across the state. 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.

Guidance Regarding Executive Order’s Payroll Tax Deferral

In early August, President Trump signed an Executive Memorandum directing the Secretary of the Treasury to defer the payment of payroll taxes from September 1 until December 31, 2020 for employees earning less than $4,000 per pay period (or $104,000 per year). Late in the day on August 28, 2020, the Treasury Department and IRS released guidance on the issue.

Employers may opt to temporarily stop deducting eligible employees’ payroll tax payments, from September 1 until December 31, 2020. The deferred payroll tax payments represent employees’ shares of Social Security taxes, in the amount of 6.2% of wages. Only Congress can change or forgive tax liability. If Congress does not enact legislation to forgive the deferred tax liability, employers would have to make these payroll tax payments or collect them from employees during the period January 1 to April 30, 2021 (“payback period”).

This payroll deferral presents potential challenges for both employees and employers. Unless the employer pays the employees’ portion of the tax payments that are owed, employees would pay the deferred tax payments along with their customary payroll tax payments in the first few months of 2021. This would result in double payment (12.4% of wages) during the payback period. While many employees may welcome the short-term cash gain in 2020, others fear the double financial hit in 2021. Employers share the concern this may be too financially burdensome for employees. Another potential issue for employers would be handling repayment for employees who are no longer employed, whether through termination, layoff, or resignation. Tax deferrals may also decrease Social Security funding. Given the first September payrolls start tomorrow, it is unlikely that any payroll systems are equipped to handle this change.

We encourage employers to tread carefully on this issue. Before implementing the tax deferral, employers should consult with their HR departments to assess employee interest and with their accountants to assess the tax risks. After that, communication with employees is critical to apprise them of any changes and the impact on their pay both now and in 2021.

Lake Effect HR & Law will continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19 relief. 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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