The COVID-19 pandemic is a moment that will be written about in history books for centuries to come. The world hasn’t been united by a common cause in this way for quite some time. During this time, showing our collective strength and resilience as a business space while supporting each and every worker and their family is crucial to continuing our normal way of life.
Thankfully, the federal government has heard our requests for help and is significantly aiding this work with the proposed COVID-19 Relief Bill. In this post, we’ll explore what that Bill contains and what it means for business and HR leaders across the country.
Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- The expansion of FMLA (Family & Medical Leave Act)
- The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
- How the COVID-19 Relief Bill offsets employer expenses with tax credits
- Employee benefits administration guidance based on the Act
- A few best practices to help keep your business running and minimize costs associated with FMLA, paid sick leave, etc.
The COVID-19 Relief Bill Explained
The COVID-19 Relief Bill seeks to provide employers and employees with the economic and physical safety and security they need to survive and maintain some semblance of normalcy as the Coronavirus pandemic continues. In short, the Bill’s goals are to make it easier for employees to take paid sick time during the outbreak while also making it easier for employers to cover those costs.
What’s the Status of the Bill?
The COVID-19 Relief Bill has already been approved by the House of Representatives and by the Senate. The Bill must now be signed into law by President Trump, which he is expected to do so.
What Does the Bill Mean for Employers?
The biggest way the Relief Bill will impact your day-to-day as an employer is it requires expansion of your family and medical sick leave programs. With that said, the bill builds in backend tax credits to make up for this increased cost and productivity reduction for employers.
The COVID-19 Relief Bill will expand the scope of FMLA requirements to require all employers with fewer than 500 employees and government agencies to allow up to 12 weeks of protected leave for employees who must:
- Comply with required or recommended quarantines
- Provide care to a family member observing a quarantine
- Provide care to a minor whose school or daycare facility is closed due to COVID-19
Under the expansion, up to the first fourteen days of leave can be unpaid, but after that, employees must receive 2/3 of their regular rate of pay.
The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
The COVID-19 Relief Bill requires employers with fewer than 500 employees and government agencies to provide employees with paid time off for:
- Self-quarantine due to Coronavirus diagnosis
- Time needed to obtain a test and diagnosis after exposure
- Quarantine compliance orders
- Providing care to a family member observing an above quarantine
- Provide care to a minor whose school or daycare facility is closed due to COVID-19
Employer Tax Credits
The government recognizes that the above expansions will cost businesses who are already feeling the pinch of COVID-19. As an employer, you’re eligible for the following tax credits to offset your losses:
- Wages for employees taking time off under the Act’s FMLA expansion and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act will be counterbalanced with refundable payroll tax credits
- Sick leave credits up to $511/day per employee receiving pay while out sick
- Sick leave credits up to $200/day for employees taking leave to care for family members or minors whose schools/day care centers are closed
COVID-19 Employee Benefits Administration Concerns
Given the volume of people becoming sick, employee healthcare benefits administration must be a point of emphasis for all businesses in the coming weeks and months. Your HR department needs to become a valuable point-of-contact for employees looking to get answers about COVID-19, healthcare and testing accessibility, and what to do when they feel they might be getting sick.
Your HR team should be taking time to build out quick reference resources related to:
- How to access COVID-19 testing through your carriers
- How to extend employee coverage via COBRA if a long absence is necessary
- How employees can figure out if they qualify for partial or full disability at this time
Formalizing Your Response Plan
This pandemic has clarified and reinforced the need for emergency and crisis response plans across business. If you’re looking for some guidance to help you create a plan, be sure to check out our recent blog on the subject.
In general, you need to have a COVID-19 response plan that:
- Addresses your business’ unique pain points, challenges, and needs
- Establishes a response/leadership team who “own” the response
- Assesses your current strengths, weaknesses, exposures, etc.
- Articulates a formal, official communication strategy
- Creates official policies for continuing in-office and remote work
Communicating with Employees
Given the new protections created by the COVID-19 Relief Bill, it’s more important than ever to communicate with employees about what you expect from them, what they can expect from you, and how you’ll come together as a team to weather this storm (while remaining safe physical distance).
What You Need to Do for Employees
The first step is to open a dialogue with a clear, consistent, and compassionate voice. That means identifying official communication channels, assigning a point-person for communication, and disseminating as much relevant information as quickly as possible. You need to connect employees with:
- CDC & WHO guidance
- Employee benefits resources
- Resources they can use to apply for leave as needed
- The full text and digestible explanations of your COVID-19 policies and plan
- Information that helps them understand their role in the plan
It’s important to mention that your focus needs to be on facts and clarity. While teamwork and community spirit are crucial to bringing us through this public health crisis, your official communications should be serious, transparent, and focused on keeping your employees, business, and the public in general healthy.
What Employees Need to Do for You
You need to create a framework for employees to be honest with you. You are within your legal rights to demand that employees tell you they are feeling sick or to send somebody home if you suspect they have COVID-19.
If your employees are sick, they need to stay home. If an immediate family member is sick with COVID-19, the employee needs to stay home.
Employees absolutely need to stay away if they are or might be sick and use the proposed resources the COVID-19 Relief Bill creates. You need to plan for how you’ll make these expectations clear and enforce them.
Enabling Remote Work
One of the ways you can minimize FMLA and paid sick time requests is to embrace a remote work strategy that allows employees to continue productivity at home. With a great approach to remote work, you can actually maximize your team’s potential in new ways.
You need to address:
- Who is eligible to work from home and why
- Everybody? A certain department? People in certain roles?
- How you will provide workers with the technology and applications they need
- How you will create a communication framework for remote workers
- How you will extend your business’ culture and identity to the remote workspace
If you’re looking for more resources to help you quickly pull together an approach to remote work that preserves productivity and keeps employees plugged in, read our blog on how to manage a remote workforce.
The COVID-19 Relief Act will support the American workforce and economy by increasing accessibility to paid leave and sick time while offsetting those costs for employers through tax credits. Those changes will go a long way to help our societal fight against this pandemic, but there’s still a lot of work to do. Remember:
- FMLA has been expanded to specifically provide protections for employees who have COVID-19 or have been exposed
- Paid sick leave can be used to comply with quarantines or care for family member under quarantine
- Those expansions will create increased costs,
which can be minimized through:
- Government tax credits
- Strong employer-employee communication
- A strong internal crisis management plan
- Remote work enablement
How to Learn More
If you’re a business or HR leader searching for guidance to help you navigate the COVID-19 pandemic with an eye towards public health, productivity preservation, and employee benefits compliance, you should join Launchways on Friday, March 20 for What Employers Need to Know About the COVID-19 Outbreak.
This one-hour learning opportunity will deliver insight from Launchways’ team of HR and client success experts. Discussion topics will include:
- Understanding the letter & spirit of new legislative updates and agency guidance
- Actionable human capital management strategies to address social distancing while maintaining productivity
- HR best practices for pandemic policy and employee communications
- How COVID-19 connects to/affects your employee benefit offerings
- Regulations and compliance expectations from OSHA, COBRA, FMLA, etc.
Our team is updating their webinar plan throughout the week to reflect the latest news, statistics, and federal and local guidance. That means this session will be the definitive source for HR and operational recommendations based on the progression of the pandemic. To save your seat at What Employers Need to Know About the COVID-19 Outbreak, register today.