The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak has caused significant disruption for people and businesses alike. But while the challenges are very real, they are made much worse by the amount of uncertainty and misinformation that surrounds the outbreak. To combat the spread of misinformation, Launchways held a comprehensive webinar on March 20th to help business leaders understand the situation and create a comprehensive strategy that keeps their business running and protects their team.
In the webinar, our panel of experts addressed major areas of concern for business and HR leaders amid the COVID-19 crisis, including:
- Understanding new legislative updates and how they will affect human capital strategies
- The critical human-resources best-practices you should be following during this turbulent time
- How this outbreak will affect employee benefits offerings & processes including FMLA, STD, & COBRA
Meet The Panel
Heather is a partner in SmithAmundsen’s Labor & Enforcement Practice Group and has practiced in employment and labor counseling and litigation for 18 years. In addition to her extensive experience in all things compliance and workforce, Heather is a member of SmithAmundsen’s COVID-19 Task Force and has been tackling COVID-19 issues for the firm’s clients and at the firm itself.
Karina is one of Launchways’ HR Client Success Managers and is a seasoned HR practitioner with over 15 years of experience working in employee relations, talent management, and benefits. She has been working closely with Launchways’ HR clients to help them navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
Devon is a benefits expert on the Launchways Employee Benefits team. Recently he has been helping each client review their policies to see how they can protect their employees during the outbreak.
Jim is the CEO and Founder of Launchways. He is a serial entrepreneur and has founded and scaled several notable businesses. At Launchways, Jim has spent over 10 years providing business counsel to clients, helping business leaders make the best decisions to grow their businesses.
Understanding Legislative Updates
Our panelists explored the nuances of how upcoming legislation may affect small and medium-sized businesses in the months to come. Special attention was paid to the pending COVID-19 Relief Bill and its impact on several existing workforce regulations. Here are the major changes that were addressed:
Family Medical Leave Act Expansion
The bill will require employers with fewer than 500 employees, as well as government employers, to provide up to 12 weeks of protected leave for any employees who have to comply with a quarantine, care for a family member in quarantine, or care for a minor whose school is closed due to COVID-19. The first two weeks of leave may be unpaid but the rest must be paid at 2/3 of the employee’s standard rate of pay. This expansion only applies to employees who cannot work remotely. And companies with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from the expansion, although that remains to be seen.
Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
In addition to the Family Medical Leave provisions, the COVID-19 Relief Bill requires small and medium-sized businesses to provide two weeks of paid time off for several COVID-related issues including quarantine or exposure.
Notably, Heather pointed out that employers can require employees to work remotely rather than go on leave so long as they can work remotely. The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act only applies to employees who cannot work remotely.
Employer Tax Credits
To ease the economic impact of the outbreak and the employee protections, the government is poised to offer tax credits for employee wages paid as a result of the changes to the FMLA and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act as well as sick leave credits for each day that employees are out on paid sick leave. All of these tax credits are applied against employers’ Social Security taxes.
The US Treasury Secretary is also being given broad authority to help employers meet their financial obligations while they wait to claim the tax credit to address cash flow concerns.
Human Resources Best Practices
In addition to reviewing upcoming legislation, our panelists examined human resources best-practices that employers should consider in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. Three major topics of conversation included:
Enabling Remote Work
Karina drew upon her extensive human capital management experience to weigh in on what is a very hot topic at the moment: how to enable effective remote work.
Whenever possible, employers should encourage their team members to work remotely to keep their business running without exposing employees to the virus. Remote work is also the best way for companies to minimize their FMLA and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act expenses.
Karina laid out a three-step process for creating an effective remote-work environment:
- Determine who is eligible for remote work and the reasons why they are eligible: Identifying who can work remotely will help you develop your remote-work strategy, engage those stakeholders, and justify the move to remote work
- Identify and distribute necessary technology and software: Many companies will have to distribute new technology and roll out new software to help their teams work remotely. From laptops to project management and communications software, you should figure out what your suite will look like and create a strategy for getting the necessary tools into your teams’ hands.
- Facilitating Communication: Communication is crucial for productivity and collaboration as you shift towards a remote-work model. You not only need to ensure that standard touchpoints such as weekly or daily all-hands stand-ups are maintained via video chat meetings but you also need to implement a more proactive communications policy to compensate for the physical disconnect within your team.
Protecting Employees at Work
While remote-work is the ideal solution during the COVID-19 outbreak, the fact of the matter is that not all employees or businesses can work remotely. Karina outlined best-practices to protect employees when they have to work in person, including:
- Provide hygiene supplies such as hand soap and tissues
- Sanitize high-touch work surfaces to reduce the risk of exposure
- Arrange schedules to minimize employee interaction
- Minimize face-to-face meetings
Understanding the Difference Between Layoffs and Furloughs
On the legal end of employment best-practices, Heather explored the difference between layoffs and furloughs as strategies to reduce labor costs during the outbreak. While most employers will want to maintain their teams to the best of their abilities, many will have to reduce their workforce as the outbreak continues to take a toll on the business community.
As Heather explained, layoffs are permanent termination events that could leave employers understaffed once the outbreak subsides or expose them to retaliation or discrimination lawsuits down the road. Plus, employers generally have to pay out any accrued PTO at termination, so layoffs could result in significant short-term workforce costs.
On the whole, employers are increasingly opting for temporary furloughs that maintain the employment relationship but render employees eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. While usually associated with government shutdowns, furloughs are a useful tool to help employers stay afloat during the outbreak while keeping their team intact once business returns to normal.
How the COVID-19 Outbreak Affects Employee Benefits
Devon explored the issues that Launchways clients are facing regarding employee benefits and the best practices that have helped them navigate the situation.
The best practices he reviewed included:
- Make sure employees have appropriate access to care, whether for COVID-19 or other health concerns
- Understand how your employee health insurance covers and responds to COVID-19
- Know if you can extend COBRA or State Continuation in the case of an extended furlough
- Understand and inform your team on employee rights on disability, unemployment, workers compensation, and more
Devon then outlined enhanced benefits that most insurance carriers have added to their plans in light of the outbreak:
- Free COVID-19 testing in-network
- $0 copays for telemedicine
- Free home delivery for prescriptions
In the 75-minute webinar, our panelists explored the ins-and-outs of managing the COVID-19 outbreak as a growing business. They explained how to tackle the dual-priorities of protecting your workforce and keeping your business running from the three angles of:
- Adapting to new legislation
- Managing your workforce by encouraging remote work, protecting non-remote workers, and reducing workforce costs without causing unnecessary harm or expenses
- Understanding how the outbreak affects employee benefits and keeping employees apprised of the changes
The panel discussion was in-depth and nuanced: there’s no way that we can capture all of the lessons that the four experts shared during the webinar in a single blog article. That is why we have made the entire webinar available to watch for free, stream the full webinar on-demand now.