Labor & Employment
Remote Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond
The COVID-19 pandemic that forced many companies to restructure their workforce has showed that advances in technology have made remote work viable for positions previously considered not suitable for such arrangements. And many employees who were previously apprehensive about remote work have now embraced working from home. With this experience under their belts, will employers now consider making remote work permanent for such positions?
According to an April 2020 Gartner press release, 74% of 317 CFOs and Finance leaders surveyed on March 30, 2020, intended to move at least 5% of their previously on-site workforce to permanently remote positions post-pandemic. Recent news about tech companies back up Gartner’s survey, including a BuzzFeed News article reporting about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s recent announcement that employees whose physical presence was not required could permanently work from home after the pandemic crisis passes, and a New York Times article reporting that Google and Facebook employees were told that they could stay at home until 2021. As companies continue to grapple with COVID-19 business disruption and seek cost-saving measures to minimize the impact to operations, making remote work permanent for certain positions is a cost-saving option that some businesses are considering.
Whether telework is permitted short-term or long-term, employers should be mindful of best practices for remote work. In their haste to transition to remote work in March, businesses may have overlooked important employment laws and requirements. Areas that employers should consider for compliance and best practices related to remote work include payment and tracking of hours, maintenance of information security, and worker safety. And, even if remote work is implemented for the short-term only, there should be clear, written employment policies explaining company rules and expectations for its remote workers.
Navigating Unemployment Issues When Managing Your Workforce
Although states are beginning to ease restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers and workers continue to deal with the massive toll the pandemic has taken on the workforce.
The pandemic has caused an upswing in unemployment, with the national unemployment rate increasing to 14.7% as reported by the federal Department of Labor on May 8, and the state unemployment rate up to 5% in March and 10.2% in April. Many workers have had to turn to unemployment insurance (UI) benefits as their main source of income.
In addition to the normal state UI benefits available, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) has provided a much-needed expansion for workers unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19.
The CARES Act creates three new unemployment programs: (1) Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), (2) Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and (3) Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
These programs provide expanded benefits such as an extra $600 in weekly benefits to workers drawing any type of unemployment compensation through July 31, 2020, (FPUC), 13 weeks of benefits in addition to the normal 26 weeks of benefits available (PEUC), benefits for workers such as self-employed individuals and independent contractors who have not normally been able to receive UI benefits (PUA), and funding of states’ shared work programs through Dec. 31.
The FFCRA Regulations: Key Aspects of the Department of Labor’s Rule
So much has changed since February. For one thing, many of us are having discussions on a daily basis about a law that didn’t exist two months ago — the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
As you probably know, the FFCRA requires two different types of paid leave — Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Expanded FMLA Leave (EFMLA Leave) — for all employers with fewer than 500 employees. An employee can take up to 80 hours of EPSL for a variety of reasons, including if that employee:
- is subject to a government-ordered quarantine or isolation order
- has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine
- is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis
- is caring for an individual subject to quarantine or isolation
- is caring for his or her child due to schools or daycares being closed or the unavailability of a child care provider.
An employee can take up to 12 weeks of EFMLA leave for the reasons listed in the final bullet point above. Depending on a variety of things, the leave may be paid at full or or two-thirds of regular compensation, and there are daily and overall maximum caps on the dollar amount of paid of leave.
Things were extremely fluid for a few weeks and still are to a degree, but the Department of Labor’s rule answers many questions about the FFCRA’s paid leave provisions. Here are a few particularly notable issues to watch for with your own employees.
FFCRA, CARES Act and Employment
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the CARES Act provide significant COVID-19 related federal employment benefits. Beginning April 1, 2020, FFCRA requires private employers with 500 or fewer employees and public employers to provide paid leave in certain circumstances. First, for qualifying reasons such as an employee who contracts COVID-19 or is under a government or physician-ordered quarantine (and cannot telework), the employee is entitled to 2 weeks leave at full pay, subject to a daily cap of $511. Second, employees who are unable to work (and cannot telework) due to school closures or unavailability of childcare are entitled to 12 weeks paid leave at 2/3 their normal pay rate, subject to a $200/day cap. Employers with fewer than 50 employees may be able to obtain an exemption from the paid leave requirements. Like other federal employment laws, the FFCRA includes a non-retaliation provision.