With so much in flux around COVID-19, it can be overwhelming and difficult to prepare for changing laws and regulations – especially when it’s all happening so fast. Here are 3 regulatory trends to keep an eye on and tips for staying up to date on the latest changes.

As always with any of our posts, this article does not provide any legal guidance or advice. We always recommend organizations seek out legal counsel to understand if or how any of the regulations mentioned below may impact their business.

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1. Sick and family leave

Federal

On March 19th the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that makes some significant temporary changes to FMLA and sick leave.

This act requires certain employers to offer paid leave to employees who may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, diagnosed with COVID-19, or caring for a family member who has become ill with COVID-19, until December 31, 2020.

In addition, on March 20th, the IRS announced that they would allow businesses to retain their payroll taxes equal to the amount of qualifying leave that they paid (so businesses do not have to wait for a tax credit).

While there are exceptions, here are some keep points of the bill:

  • Sick and family leave pay covered under this Act are considered taxable wages but are exempt from employer social security taxes.
  • It applies to businesses with less than 500 employees and more than 50 employees.
  • Employees who have been employed for at least 30 calendar days are eligible for up to 12 weeks of job protected leave.
  • Paid FMLA leave is available when an employee is unable to work because they need to care for a child under 18 whose school or daycare has been closed due to COVID-19.
  • Paid sick leave of up to 80 hours is available to full-time employees, regardless of how long they have been employed by the employer. Part-time employees are also eligible based on the average number of hours worked (including leave) over a 2-week period over the last 6 months.
  • The new regulation goes into effect on April 1st, 2020.

As of March 23rd, a new bill, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, has also been introduced that would amend the original bill and potentially expand coverage to employees of any business with more than one employee, among other changes.

State

Within the last few years, many states and localities have approved paid sick and/or family leave laws. While many of these laws may still apply, some states and localities are expanding their paid leave laws, while others are enacting new laws to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of these state laws expand access to paid leave beyond the federal government’s regulation, so it is important to understand how your state and locality laws may impact your business. Some states and localities who have issued guidance or have passed legislation include California, Colorado, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.

How you can stay up to date

  • For federal leave regulations, you can visit congress.gov and sign up to be alerted to new bills and/or track introduced bills.
  • For state and locality leave regulations, you can visit the relevant state legislature websites to view and track bills, as well as sign up for alerts. You can visit State and Local Government on the Net for a comprehensive list of links to different state legislature websites federal, state and locality.

 2. Workplace safety

Other federal and state organizations are issuing guidance around protecting employee from COVID-19. On the federal level, OSHA has issued an alert that provides general practices that businesses should follow to help prevent exposure, which includes:

  • For employees: Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (in the absence of soap and water, use an alcohol-based solution that contains at least 60% alcohol). And avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • For employers: Assess the hazards to which workers may be exposed, evaluate the risk of exposure, and select, implement, and ensure workers use controls to prevent exposure, including physical barriers to control the spread of the virus (for example, social distancing and appropriate personal protective equipment, hygiene, and cleaning supplies).

In addition to this guidance, OSHA also indicated that businesses need to file an incident if an employee contracted COVID-19 in the workplace.

Many state OSHAs have also issued guidance around protecting employees in the workplace, including California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Washington.

How to stay up to date on OSHA changes

  • At the federal level, you can visit the OSHA website and subscribe to one or all the OSHA RSS feeds to get the latest information about directives, interpretations, etc.
  • At the state level, there are 22 states with their own occupational safety and health programs. You can visit this OSHA page for a comprehensive list of links to state-level OSHA programs.

3. Adjusting specific processes

Some HR-related regulations have required employees to be in close physical proximity to each other and share documentation. For instance – verifying I-9 documentation. This poses a risk to employees and makes employment eligibility verification more difficult for employers who have implemented telecommuting and/or distancing policies.

So, to eliminate the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19, on March 20th, the Department of Homeland Security announced that employers can now review Form I-9 documentation remotely. Here are the key points:

  • Documents can be viewed and verified over video, fax, or email, etc.
  • Once normal operations resume, all employees who were onboarded using remote verification must report to their employer within 3 business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation.
  • Once physical inspection takes place, employers should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 Additional Information field.

How you can stay up to date on these more specific regulatory changes:

Conclusion: Making sense of it all to manage through uncertainty

Staying on top of changing regulations is always a challenge, especially in particularly volatile times. Check out our resource center for more tips on how you can manage through this time of uncertainty and help your organization adjust to this unprecedented disruption.

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Published: Friday, March 27, 2020