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Revamping employee policies during COVID-19

Apr 27, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is upending the way companies typically do business and manage employees. As a result, we recommend updating or creating several employee policies as soon as possible. The policies that need attention concern three policy areas:

  • Emergency paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
  • Family leave under the FFCRA’s Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act
  • Telecommuting

These policies are particularly relevant now. Making sure that they are in place and that they adequately cover the current crisis will help prevent headaches during the next several months. Let’s look at each policy area in greater detail.

Note that the FFCRA requires all companies with 500 or fewer employees to follow its provisions for Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL)

Under the EPSL provision, if an employee can’t work on-site or at home because of the reasons listed below, you need to provide two weeks (up to 80 hours for full-time employees) of paid sick leave at their regular pay rate, up to a limit of $511 per day for self-care reasons 1-3 listed below or two-thirds pay unto a limit of $200 per day for family care reasons 4-6 listed below:

  1. They are subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order due to COVID-19.
  2. They are advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
  3. The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  4. They are caring for an individual who is either subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2).
  5. They are caring for the employee’s child (of any age) whose school has been closed or place of care is unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions.
  6. They are experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretaries of Treasury and Labor.

Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (EFMLA)

Under the FFCRA’s Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act, employees who have worked for a company for 30 days are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a child whose school or childcare facility has closed due to COVID-19.

The first two weeks are unpaid, unless the employee elects to cover them with FFCRA Paid Sick Leave or with the paid sick leave or vacation time they have accrued under your existing policy.

After the first two weeks, employers must provide up to 10 weeks of paid EFMLA leave at a rate of two-thirds of the employee’s regular pay — up to a maximum requirement of $200 per day.

Employees must request EFMLA leave in writing. After returning to work, they must be reinstated in their former jobs or given positions roughly equivalent in pay and stature.

Companies with 50 or fewer employees may claim an exemption to EFMLA if:

  • Complying would result in financial costs so high they would shut down the business,
  • The resulting lack of specialized skills would entail a substantial financial risk to operations, or
  • The business would lack sufficient labor to operate at minimum capacity.

Other sick leave considerations

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has some further suggestions for your sick leave policy, including making sure it is flexible and consistent with public healthcare guidelines and appointing a coordinator who is responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact on the company.

Equal employment considerations

To create a safer workplace, you are allowed to send workers home if they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, according to a new provision of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You can also require them to wear a mask and/or gloves. What you cannot do is ask workers whether they have a medical condition that puts them at higher risk for suffering serious consequences of the virus.

Telecommuting

When states and cities began imposing shelter-in-place laws, employers rushed to get employees set up to work from home. A current Brookings Institution report estimates that about half of American employees are working from home during the COVID-19 shutdown. It’s time for employers to create a remote work policy or update their existing policy to reflect the current reality.

Your policy should:

  • Explain what types of work are eligible for telecommuting.
  • State any limits on remote hours under normal circumstance.
  • Specify employee eligibility.
  • Spell out the types of equipment and software you will provide (if any) and the employee or employer responsibility for maintaining it. Include a paragraph about how the policy applies during a pandemic such as COVID-19.
  • Explain which types of employees are considered essential and need to continue to report to the work site.

OSHA consideration for remote work

Working from home raises questions about workplace safety laws, which are under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). Fortunately, OSHA encourages home-based work, does not inspect home offices and does not have rules for nonphysical, knowledge-based work.

OSHA has criteria for determining whether an injury that occurs during the performance of office work at home constitutes a work-related accident. The criteria says it is work-related if “the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting.” For additional information see OSHA guidance.

How Wipfli can help

The ins and outs of these new workplace policies can be confusing. To help, Wipfli has provided a sample Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Request Form, as well as three sample policies:

  • Sample Emergency Paid Sick Leave policy
  • Sample Emergency Family and Medical Leave policy
  • Sample telecommuting policy

You can use these samples to craft your own policies. And if you have questions or need additional guidance, reach out to your Wipfli advisor.

Visit our COVID-19 resource center for more resources to help individuals and businesses navigate the impact of COVID-19.

Author(s)

Julia Johnson
Julia A. Johnson
Director, Organizational Performance
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Lisa Corbielle
Lisa L. Corbeille, MBA, SPHR, CCP
Manager, Organizational Performance
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