Counties across the state and across the country are reopening as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread. With most states operating under staggered reopening guidelines, many counties have met the guidelines to enter into “Phase 1” and “Phase 2” of the reopening process. Mask mandates are becoming more prevalent with businesses adhering to state and federal government regulations and OSHA and CDC guidelines.
As an employer, business operations are a top priority, but the safety and health of your employees should be right up there as well. How do you balance both? How do you reopen your organization and focus on business operations, but ensure that your employees are kept safe and just as important, feel safe when reentering the workforce?
Ensure Compliance with New Regulations and Orders – Most if not all states have some level of executive orders in place. Intended to provide additional regulations surrounding federal standards and expectations on maintaining safe working conditions, make certain that you are in compliance with your state’s specific rules and that health standards are met and maintained.
Prepare the Workplace – Based on those regulations and orders, ensure that the workplace is set up according to standards. Ensure that measures have been taken to meet social distancing rules, enforce rules regarding facial coverings, and identify best practices for maintaining disinfecting routines and identifying and eliminating any risks for possible exposure.
Communicate!! – With many employees still working remotely, there is a prevalent and understandable concern with returning to the workplace as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country. Communicate with your employees. Listen to their concerns and communicate to them what your organization is doing to ensure the safest possible working environment. Communicate new policies and practices, along with expectations of all employees.
What if They Refuse? – A problem many employers are running into, what if an employee refuses to return to work based on executive orders or concerns for their health? The nitty gritty is that a fear of returning to work is not a protected reason to continue to telecommute. You can reasonably require an employee to return, so long that you are meeting guidelines regarding workplace safety. However, as in many situations in which accommodations are requested, work with the employee to see if a temporary and mutually beneficial compromise can be met that works for everyone. This may include a part time work from home arrangement, or a work location that is more isolated from others.
The impact the new coronavirus has had on organizations is staggering. Transitioning back to work is a process that should be as smooth as possible, but keep in mind that every industry, every employee, every case is different. There is still so much gray area regarding employees returning to work and managing leaves under the FFCRA. No one situation is the same nor should they be treated as such. As we slowly start resuming (somewhat) normal activities, feel free to contact us for advice and counsel regarding implementing policies and practices that are tailored for your organization and culture.
As we discussed in our last post, employers are solely responsible for ensuring their employees take their designated meal and rest breaks (particularly their meal break during which they are to be relieved of all duties). Aside from making certain this happens, employers are additionally responsible for accurately managing and tracking employee time, something that has become even more of a challenge with so many employees working remotely.
While it is important to have a usable time reporting system in place, it is equally important to make sure that your employees know what is expected of them with regards to tracking time accurately. Regardless of the method used (e.g., an elaborate software program, or Quickbooks and simple spreadsheets for tracking time), when you have multiple employees, it can be near impossible to keep track of every “in” and “out” and managing time worked in addition to sick leave, vacation, emergency sick leave, holiday pay, etc. can create an incredible amount of frustration.
How do you make your time management process as streamlined and user-friendly as possible? How do you establish compliant and effective practices that ensure accuracy and honesty?
- Utilize a Simple System – Dependent on your company size, don’t over complicate things by using software that is too complex and cumbersome. The easier it is for employees to use, the easier it will be to ensure accuracy. Your system should easily integrate with daily operations and should simplify administrative tasks.
- Communicate Policies and Practices – In new hire orientation and regularly or as necessitated by circumstances, communicate your organization’s policies surrounding your time keeping system and process. Walk new employees step-by-step through how to track their time accurately, including meal and rest periods and the type of pay (e.g., straight pay, overtime, holiday pay, PTO, etc.).
- Establish Expectations – In addition to communicating policies, clearly communicate what you expect out of your employees with regards to time tracking, including: honesty and accuracy in record keeping, submission of timecards, and consequences for not following company policy, including potential disciplinary action.
- Hold Employees Accountable – Especially in Oregon, with employers being held strictly liable for ensuring employees take their meal and rest breaks, it is important to bring the hammer down when necessary to make certain policies are adhered to. Dishonesty in record keeping is a terminable offense in many organizations, and making those expectations known early on, and following through on consequences can prevent issues down the road.
Record keeping doesn’t have to be a burdensome task. By implementing the right process for your company, communicating practices and expectations, and holding your employees accountable, time management can be easy and simple. Contact us today for questions regarding any unique situations you may have, or for help in reviewing and updating your current policies for efficiency and compliance.
Ensuring employees adhere to state and federal mandates surrounding meal and rest periods is incredibly important during optimal times. It is crucial now more than ever with so many employees working remotely that managers hold their employees accountable for taking their required meal and rest periods and are documenting such breaks accordingly, and that such time worked is appropriately compensated.
When it comes to managing teleworking employees, it is vital to ensure compliance with federal, and state, and local wage and hour laws which are different depending on the classification of your employees:
Exempt employees must be paid for the entire workweek during which they perform any amount of work as their “primary duty” for the employer. PTO or vacation/sick may be taken in full or half day increments (depending on your internal policies), but the employee’s full salary must be compensated for that workweek if they have performed any work. If an employee performs NO work for the employer, the full week may be taken off as unpaid as in compliance with organizational policies. It is additionally important to note that exempt employees must still be paid their full, weekly salaries for absences taken at the employer’s discretion or based on operational requirements.
In addition to communicating expectations and reiterating your internal policies regarding meal and rest periods, strongly encourage your exempt employees to work their regularly scheduled hours if possible.
Generally, nonexempt employees must be compensated for any and all work performed during the workweek. The schedules of nonexempt employees may be reduced due to a decrease in demand or due to closures, with pay reflecting that cut accordingly. The biggest thing to focus on with nonexempt employees is ensuring that time is logged and monitored accordingly and in compliance with federal, state, and local wage and hour laws. Consider the following to make certain no violations arise:
- Depending on the time tracking system your organization uses, many remote employees do not have access to a physical time punching system. While it is ideal if you have software that provides online access, what do you do if you don’t have that type of system? A simple spreadsheet to be submitted daily, indicating when an employee punches in and out throughout the day is one common method.
- Alternatively, have your employees email you when they start their day, communicating expectations of when meal and rest breaks are to be taken and logged, with these emails and entries being logged and monitored closely.
- Communicate to your employees your policy on meal and rest breaks, ensuring that laws and expectations are outlined and understood. CLEARLY communicate that all hours worked when working remotely must be logged accurately.
- Additionally, communicate your policy on the use of overtime, particularly the authorization (or prohibiting unauthorized) of working overtime.
Contact us if you have any questions on regulations that may apply to your organization, or for assistance on implementing a policy on meal and rest periods or a system for effective time tracking.
March 2020: States across the country ordered “shelter in place” mandates due to the ever-spreading coronavirus pandemic. Resulting in furloughs and layoffs for some organizations, other companies were lucky enough to allow their employees to work from home. While a blessing with regards to ensuring the safety and health of employees remained a top priority, working from home does not come without its challenges, especially when shirt tugging and the pitter patter (pitter patter? more like the stomping of giants…) of little feet are rampant due to child care and school closures.
April 2020: Less than 2 weeks into working from home with no child care, my 3-year-old daughter proceeds to dump half a cup of coffee ON MY WORK COMPUTER! Instant fear washes over me as I frantically power my device off, turn it upside down, and pray to the IT gods that my computer is saved, alleviating a dreaded call to my boss explaining that I’m the worst employee ever. (Pro tip: If you work from home with kids, invest in a keyboard protector, it saved my ***).
Mid-April 2020: At last. Some semblance of a routine in which I am ALMOST logging my standard hours per week. Clients are being taken care of, and as the first few weeks of chaos following the launch of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) have come to a close, things are finally falling into place and I think I can make this work for the foreseeable future.
Working from home with kids is HARD. I am fortunate enough to work from home on a part time basis; however, when our child care facility was no longer permitting children of “non-essential” workers and we had to keep our children home to comply with social distancing mandates, I quickly realized how much I relied on those child-free days. Though we followed a very loose routine prior to sheltering in place, I knew that in order for my husband and I to work, for my daughter to get some preschool education in, and for all of us to maintain our sanity, I had to quickly develop and implement a schedule and stick to it.
Every family dynamic is different, but routine is critical when you work with kids underfoot. Our ideal schedule involves my working while my infant son sleeps (that is a non-negotiable), during which time I get my daughter set up with some craft or educational activity. Before and after those 2 longer chunks out of the day I have carved for work, I make sure to keep tabs on emails and calls, but I have to get my kids outside at some point; otherwise they get stir crazy and the house is DESTROYED. Taking a break to run them (yes, like dogs) is necessary in ensuring I get work done. Otherwise, I’m left entertaining a very bored threenager and fussy crawler.
Oftentimes, I’m working on the floor with my daughter coloring next to me and my son playing with some toys on the other side. On days when my son is teething and super cranky, I’ll work standing at our kitchen counter with him in a wrap. When I’m desperate, my daughter will watch a video so I can make a call (caving to extra screen time during this phase does NOT make you a bad parent!!). More often than not, I’ll get an extra hour or so of work in after the kids are down for the night to flex and make up hours.
*Honest disclaimer: As I’m writing this, I’m telling my daughter that I will give her an ice cream cone after lunch if she lets me finish this project…
Sometimes, you have to resort to extreme measures and there are days when your routine will be broken. That is okay! The biggest takeaway I’ve learned in the past few weeks is to give myself grace. (Case in point, my house in that photo is a disaster; but, there is a smile on my daughter’s face = win). Set a routine that works for you and your family. Try your best to stick to it. Communicate where you are at with your supervisor and colleagues. However, if a project has to get pushed to the next day, or if you just can’t dedicate the time one afternoon to take a call or work on a last-minute request, don’t beat yourself up. Burnout is far more unproductive and lasts way longer than having to take the afternoon to recharge and focus on your family.
In times like these, it is all about balance. Find that balance, establish that routine, and simply do your best. We are all in survival mode right now. So long as at the end of the day the job gets done, we don’t pull our hair out, and we support and encourage one another when we are having a rough day, we will all get through this.
Effective April 1, 2020 and lasting through December 31, 2020, the FFCRA provides for paid emergency sick leave and expanded leave protections for those eligible employees who have been adversely affected by COVID-19.
The two biggest components of this Act, emergency paid sick leave and expanded FMLA leave protections, and what eligible employees qualify for, are as outlined:
- Emergency Paid Sick Leave – Qualifying employers (private sector employers with less than 500 employees and all government employers) will be required to pay up to two weeks (80 hours, or a part-time employee’s two-week equivalent), paid at the following rates to employees who have been impacted by COVID-19 for one of the following reasons:
- 100% the employee’s regular rate of pay (up to $511 daily or $5,100 total) for the following reasons:
- Is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
- Has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19; or
- Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
- 2/3 the employee’s regular rate of pay (up to $200 daily or $2,000 total) for the following reasons:
- Is caring for an individual subject to an order described above (self-quarantine or isolation);
- Is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; or
- Is caring for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons.
Time off due to lack of work (e.g., furlough or layoffs), or voluntarily staying home rather than commuting to the place work, are not qualifying reasons to receive emergency paid sick leave. For example, unless otherwise specified, state or local “stay at home” orders do not typically qualify as a local quarantine or isolation order.
Private employers with less than 50 employees may be exempt from this mandate, if the “viability of the business” would be in jeopardy as a result of providing this benefit.
- Paid Family Leave (Expanded FMLA) – Qualifying employers (private sector employers with less than 500 employees and all government employers) are required to provide up to 12 weeks of paid Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) to employees who have worked more than 30 calendar days to care for their child(ren) whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons.
After the first 2 weeks of leave that would satisfy the paid sick leave requirement outlined above, eligible employees will receive 2/3 of their regular rate of pay (up to $200 daily or $12,000 total) for an additional 10 weeks (for a total of up to 12 weeks of time off for childcare).
Private employers with less than 50 employees may be exempt from this mandate, if the “viability of the business” would be in jeopardy as a result of providing this benefit.
Certain components of this bill are still being interpreted and analyzed; the Department of Labor is still releasing updates and finalizing these elements of the Act, including releasing information pertaining to documentation and tracking.
We will keep all of our clients personally updated as additional regulations are finalized. Please feel free to contact us by phone at 800.574.3282 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions regarding, the FFCRA, House Bill 6201 and its provisions, and how to implement these new protocols within your organization.
In unprecedented rapid succession, House Bill 6201 (also known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act) was passed by House of Representatives on March 13, the Senate on March 18, and signed into effect by the President on March 18. Effective on April 1, this bill will provide for paid emergency sick leave, expanded leave protections, enhanced unemployment benefits, and free testing for those adversely affected by COVID-19.
The following summarizes the three biggest components to the Families First Act:
- Paid Sick Leave – Qualifying employers (private sector employers with less than 500 employees and all government employers) will be required to pay for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave (prorated based on average hours worked over a 2 week period) benefits to employees who have been impacted by COVID-19 (for reasons such as being required to stay home or when it has been advised to self-quarantine, when they are exhibiting symptoms, are caring for someone who is in quarantine or isolation, or for those who have children who’s schools or childcare facilities are closed or a caregiver is unavailable during this health emergency).
Employers with less than 50 employees may be exempt from this mandate, particularly if the “viability of the business” would be in jeopardy as a result of providing this benefit.
- Paid Family Leave – Private sector employers with less than 500 employees and government employers are required to provide up to 12 weeks of paid Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) to employees who have worked more than 30 calendar days to care for children when schools are closed or childcare facilities are unavailable or when they are unable to work remotely.
After 10 days (2 weeks, or 80 hours) of leave that would satisfy the paid sick leave requirement outlined above, eligible employees will receive 2/3 of their regular rate of pay.
Private employers with less than 50 or more than 500 employees are exempt from this mandate.
- Unemployment Benefits – The federal government is encouraging all states to be more flexible with eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. They are projected to provide $1 billion in additional funding to provide UI benefits to affected employees, and states have been authorized to extend the provision of benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks of payment.
The Department of Labor is actively working on finalizing the specifics to each of these components of the bill, specifically regulations that would assist small employers in navigating through this process, particularly if they are exempt from these mandates.
Nearly every organization has been adversely impacted by this national health emergency. We are actively working with our clients and colleagues to assist in answering questions regarding the employment status of their workers, modifying sick leave and time off policies, and providing any assistance as needed as we work through this situation. There are countless additional exceptions, provisions, and factors to consider when applying these mandates to specific businesses. For additional information regarding how this bill affects your organization personally, please contact us for a consultation and guidance.
We will keep all of our clients personally updated as additional regulations are finalized. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding House Bill 6201, its provisions, and how to implement these new protocols within your organization.
We are all in this together and wish you all health and safety during this time.
You can’t turn on the radio or television, or open a web browser without getting some update on the ever-encroaching coronavirus. With confirmed cases in Oregon, concern for your personal health and wellbeing is a natural reaction, but what do you do as an employer? How do you make the safety of your employees a top priority while ensuring business needs are met?
Many of our clients and colleagues have reached out asking questions pertaining to what they can/cannot do in light of a pandemic. Can you ask an employee questions about their health? Can you send an employee home or require an employee(s) to work from home?
The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) recently released guidelines on how to mitigate potential health concerns while maintaining compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) and Rehabilitation Act. Essentially, the ADA and Rehab Act rules continue to apply when dealing with employees who are or may be ill; however, these acts do not interfere with or prevent employers from following guidelines and steps outlined by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) regarding managing coronavirus in the workplace. These steps include:
- Encourage sick employees to stay home – If employees exhibit any cold or flu-like symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (e.g., respiratory issues or a fever), they should stay home. Ensure sick leave policies are flexible, and do not require a doctor’s note for employees who are sick with these symptoms. In accordance with the EEOC and CDC, an employer MAY ask employees if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms as these inquiries are not disability-related. If a pandemic becomes severe, these inquiries, even if disability-related, are justified by a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that the severe form of pandemic influenza poses a direct threat.
- Separate sick employees – Employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms upon their arrival to work or who become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately. Advising an employee to go/stay home if they are experiencing influenza-like symptoms is not a disability-related action, and such an action would be permitted under the ADA if the illness were serious enough to pose a direct threat.
- Emphasize staying home while sick, respiratory etiquette, and hand washing – Cover sneezes and coughs with your elbow, provide tissues and no-touch trash receptacles, instruct employees to wash their hands frequently and provide education (e.g., posters) on appropriate hand washing practices, and provide soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizers/rubs.
- Perform routine cleaning – Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, work surfaces, countertops, etc.) and provide disposable wipes for employees to wipe down commonly used and touched surfaces between use.
- Advise employees prior to traveling – Monitor the CDC’s health notices for the latest guidelines regarding travel and ensure that employees who become ill while traveling promptly notify their supervisor and health care provider if necessary.
As a precautionary measure, or in the event of a community spread, many employers are considering permitting more employees to telecommute or work remotely. For those positions in which this is a feasible option, there are a few steps you need to have in place to ensure this arrangement works for both the employee and the organization.
Follow along in our next post when we delve deeper into the specifics of telecommuting, including revamping or implementing policies based on recent health concerns.
For questions regarding flexible sick leave policies, or if you need any policies updated or implemented to ensure compliance and flexibility during this ongoing concern, feel free to contact us for advice and guidance.
The past year, the past decade, has proven to be monumental in updates and changes to employment and labor law. Most recently, improvements in pay equity, the #MeToo movement, modifications to EEO law, and long-awaited implementations to sick and medical leave laws have created positive changes for employees and employers alike.
What do we now have to look for and anticipate in the upcoming year? Here is a short list of what the start of this new decade hold for us as employers in this rapidly changing employment world (particularly at the Federal level, and for those employers on the West coast):
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Final Overtime Ruling – Effective January 1, 2020, the new salary threshold for exempt employees has been raised from $455 a week to $684 a week (or $35,568 annually).
- Tip Sharing Rules – Again on the docket, towards the end of 2019, the DOL announced a new, proposed rule that would make it easier for employees to engage in “tip pooling”, a practice in which employees who receive minimum wage and customarily receive tips share those tips with “back of house” employees (e.g., cooks, dishwashers, etc.) who are not usually tipped.
- California Assembly Bill 5 – Effective January 1, 2020, this new law will require companies to reclassify some of their independent contractors as employees. To maintain current classifications, independent contractors must meet a new set of established criteria. Additionally, certain professions are commonly exempt from this change, including physicians, lawyers, real estate agents, and engineers. This change will require employers to provide paid time off, overtime compensation, health benefits, etc.
- Oregon’s Employer Accommodation for Pregnancy Act – Oregon’s Fair Employment Practices Act will be expanded on January 1, 2020 to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees who are employed at organizations with 6 or more employees. Reasonable accommodations may include changes to schedules, equipment, working assignments, etc. While already prohibited from pregnancy discrimination, employers are additionally prohibited from denying employment opportunities or taking adverse employment actions, failing or refusing to make reasonable accommodations, requiring an applicant or employee to accept an unnecessary accommodation, or requiring an employee to take family or any other leave if a reasonable accommodation can be made.
- Washington’s Paid Family and Medical Leave – Starting January 1, 2020, employees in Washington will be entitled to take up to 18 weeks of paid family and medical leave each year. Washington state is the fifth state in the U.S. to implement such legislation.
HRCentral will keep our clients and colleagues updated on final rulings to pending legislation that will directly affect their organizations and employees. Please contact us with any questions regarding these updates, or to make any necessary updates to your employment policies and documentation.