Employer Update: Dealing with Coronavirus Work Issues

As the response to the coronavirus moves on at warp speed, it’s hard to keep track of new developments. The one certainty is that small employers and their employees alike are being placed in substantial financial jeopardy by the crisis. Here’s the latest guidance we have on how to deal the virus in the workplace.

  • Most small companies are being forced to close their doors for the next several weeks, either by direct governmental order or the practicalities of doing business – or not doing much business, as the case may be – in this restrictive environment. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is making short-term, low-interest, emergency loans available to help employers cover expenses with limited or no business income. Up to $75,000 is available to employers of 50 or fewer employees with favorable repayment terms. Visit https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-resources-and-guidance-for-businesses for more information and to apply. The U.S. Small Business Administration is also making loans available based on economic effects, with coverage expected to expand in coming days. Visit https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19 for information. And the Trump administration today proposed $300b in loan authority to help small companies meet payroll over an 8-week period.
  • Companies that can stay open need to issue policies on sickness, visitors and the like immediately. They should cover issues such as what employees should do when ill, when and how visitors should be allowed on business premises, whether and to what extent sick leave wages are available, and the like. A single employee who appears for work after exposure to the coronavirus can, obviously, put an employer’s entire work staff and its ongoing business viability in serious jeopardy. Employers should be careful permitting sick employees at work and generally can request medical clearance for safety purposes.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance can now grant benefits to workers who are furloughed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Weekly pay is available for anyone who is quarantined by civil authorities or medical professionals as well as those who leave the job because of an exposure risk, to care for a family member, or on restrictions by an employer. Qualifications apply but are not onerous. Employers can direct employees to https://www.mass.gov/service-details/learn-about-massachusetts-covid-19-workforce-measures for more information. Employees should be instructed to apply for benefits online at https://www.mass.gov/how-to/apply-for-unemployment-benefits. Employers can apply for a 60-day grace period to file quarterly reports and pay contributions to the DUA.
  • The U.S. Senate is considering and appears likely to approve new benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Act applies to employers of 50 or more. Under the bill now being reviewed, the FMLA’s 12 weeks of annual leave will become available after 30 days rather than the current 12 months. Two weeks of leave can be unpaid, and covered employers will have to pay workers 2/3 or their regular wages for the remaining 10 weeks. Separately, it appears, they will be required to grant up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for coronavirus issues. Whether and to what extend these provisions remain in a final bill is unclear, but some form of relief for workers is virtually certain to pass Congress due to strong support from the majority leader, Mitch McConnell. The bill was expected to have passed yesterday but was held up by Rand Paul, who moved to amend it by adding a provision related to troops in Afghanistan.
  • In the wake of Sen. Mitt Romney’s push to write checks to all Americans, President Trump now supports the prompt issuance of payments directly to citizens to help defer the costs of lost wages, etc. He today asked Congress for authority to send two rounds of checks, the first on April 6. The amount of each check will vary based on family income and size.

We hope this information is helpful and we are available, as always, to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to call any member of the firm as needed. In the meantime, we at KSR Law will continue to monitor developments that impact employers and provide you information as it is obtained.

Jack Merrill
Lloyd Sanders
Frank Ravinal