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The Families First Coronavirus Response Act + A Churchillian Quote

Since my last blog on March 16, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, much has changed in the world, let alone Iowa. Listing the changes here would be futile, so I will not attempt to do so.

I will, however, share new federal legislation. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that was signed into law on March 18, provides paid emergency family leave in limited circumstances, in addition to paid sick leave for people affected by COVID-19.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the relatively quick overview of the FFCRA includes the following:

  • The emergency paid-leave provision applies to businesses with fewer than 500 employees. However, there are some exceptions available for small organizations that employ health care workers. These provisions take effect April 2 and are set to expire on December 31.
  • As for Paid Family Leave, the legislation updates the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to provide employees with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave when they cannot work – either onsite or remotely – because their minor son’s or daughter’s school or child care service is closed due to a public health emergency.
  • The first 10 days of leave can be unpaid. It appears, however, than an employee can opt to substitute accrued vacation, personal or sick leave during this time, but an employer may not require an employee to do so.
  • For the remaining 10 weeks, eligible employees must receive two-thirds of their regular rate of pay, which is capped at $200 a day – $10,000 total.
  • For Paid Sick Leave, many employers will have to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick-leave benefits if an employee:
    1. Has been ordered by the government to quarantine or isolate because of COVID-19.
    2. Has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19.
    3. Has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis.
    4. Is caring for someone who is subject to a government quarantine or isolation order or has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine or self-isolate.
    5. Needs to care for a son or daughter whose school or child care service is closed due to COVID-19 precautions.
    6. Is experiencing substantially similar conditions as specified by the secretary of health and human services, in consultation with the secretaries of labor and treasury.
  • Paid Sick Leave must be paid at the employee’s regular rate-of-pay, or minimum wage, whichever is greater, for leaves taken for reasons 1-3 above.
  • Employees taking leave for reasons 4-6 may be compensated at two-thirds their regular pay rate, or minimum wage, whichever is greater.
  • Part-time employees are eligible to take the number of hours they would normally work during a two-week period.

It is important to note that employers cannot:

  • Require an employee to use other paid leave before using the paid sick time provided by this new legislation.
  • Require an employee to find a replacement to cover his or her scheduled work hours.
  • Retaliate against any employee who takes leave in accordance with the act.
  • Retaliate against an employee who files a complaint or participates in a proceeding related to the act – including a proceeding that seeks to enforce the act.

The Department of Labor issued guidance on this new law, which can be found here.

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Since our blog this past week, a handful of organizations responded to our invitation to share their workplace practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  A quick summary follows:

“As with others, CV-19 has wiped out a robust schedule of events and programs we had planned over the next 30 days. A small workplace of six employees, four were offered the option of working from home, with the other two “splitting time” in the office to cover business. Closed the office physically, but still working in it, and remotely. Our priorities in order are to: 1) Protect the staff’s well-being, 2) Protect our donor well-being (many being in the 65 and over category), and 3) Preserve the Foundation’s resources.” 

  • A healthcare & social services organization shared the following:
    1. We have carefully assessed which administrative employees are able to telework and still provide essential business function support. These employees were engaged in telework effective March 16 (2020).
    2. For those administrative employees who are not able to provide essential business function support from home, they continue to work in one of our administrative locations, practicing strict social distancing, hygiene, and workplace cleanliness guidelines.
    3. All administrative locations have been closed to unscheduled guests.
    4. All team meetings have either been cancelled, postponed, or moved to a virtual environment.
    5. All non-essential travel has been cancelled through April 30.
    6. Visitor restrictions at our service locations have been put in place.
    7. Daytime services have been closed per governor’s order.
    8. Active task force groups have been implemented for problem solving and strategic action moving forward with all information funneled for review by our Executive Leadership Team.
    9. Regularly updated inward-facing and outward-facing communications have been put in place.
  • A few other organizations mentioned similar protocols to those mentioned above.

Because organizations are now a week or two into the changes being made due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and measures taken have been shared through local and national media, we will discontinue our invitation to share the practices of Iowa organizations. Thank you to each organization that shared their practices with us!

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This past week, my Mom (age 88) emailed her numerous grandchildren sharing her experiences growing up during the Great Depression and the hardships that she and others encountered. She ended her message with the following:

“Now we are faced with another crisis. You/we have tasted a good life and now you/we are experiencing some of the difficult times that we (my generation) have experienced many years ago. This is what life is all about, and by working together like a family, we too, shall conquer!”

Mom, Winston Churchill could not have framed our ‘new world’ any better than you have.

To each of you, be safe during this unprecedented and challenging time.

To stay abreast of employee benefits, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Employers and the Coronavirus Crisis

Given the escalating local and worldwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we are now inviting Iowa organizations to complete an unscientific ‘survey’ on this website. We hope to learn more about what precautions and business practices employers are taking to avert potential disruptions to the workplace. One example is mandating that a certain classification of employees work remotely. From this information, I will then periodically share personnel practices that have been implemented by Iowa organizations.

In just one day, I’ve been contacted by two friends and an Iowa business on what employers are currently doing to help alleviate the growing concern about this ‘epidemic.’ Because the COVID-19 is both fresh and fluid in our local communities as well as worldwide – so many decisions are being made on the fly as to how to handle and protect employees within the workplace.

Examples of National Employers

How are some key employers locally and around the U.S. responding to COVID-19? Employers have an obligation to notify their employees (and customers) who may have been in contact with a sick employee. Employers should encourage sick employees to stay home – using paid time off benefits or perhaps short-term disability coverage. If no leave is available, the employer may also choose to pay employees – even when they are not sick. This is one way to avoid exposure to COVID-19.

Walmart, effective March 10, began an emergency leave policy after an associate tested positive for the illness. Walmart will allow employees to stay home if they are unable to work or feel “uncomfortable” at work. According to a memo seen by Bloomberg News, employees will need to use regular paid time off options. If their workplace is placed under quarantine, Walmart will pay employees for up to two weeks, and this absence will not count against attendance.

If a Walmart employee is affected by this virus, in addition to receiving two weeks of pay, the retailer will pay “additional pay replacement” beyond the two weeks (if needed), up to 26 weeks for both full-time and part-time hourly associates.

Paid leave and workplace practices are front and center now for employers, and critical for retailers and restaurants. Paid sick leave is much less common for lower-wage employees who work in the leisure and hospitality sector. These employees typically interact with the public, such as in the restaurant industy.

Organizations like Twitter Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Amazon have instructed thousands of employees to work from home, if possible. Whereas Costco Wholesale said that corporate employees cannot work remotely unless there is concern about employees being at high risk. If this should happen, the employee could use vacation or sick time to stay at home.

Wells Fargo, the third largest bank in the U.S., indicated that 62,000 of its 259,000 employees worked from home on Monday, March 9. One employee in San Francisco tested positive for the virus and Wells Fargo learned of this diagnosis two days earlier. Other financial institutions are also taking precautions.

Google, in order to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19, has sent out a memo to employees across North America to work remotely. Just hours later, Google is extending this recommendation to include all workers in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. will have many of its 3,300 employees in Des Moines begin working from home, beginning on Monday, March 16. The goal is to have half of its employees working at home at any given time.

An insightful SHRM piece, written by Stephen Miller, regarding employer health, wellness and leave benefits and COVID-19 can be found here.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The CDC has a webpage that provides resources for businesses and employers when preparing for COVID-19. It provides a good beginning to address interim guidance for employers, in addition to cleaning and disinfection recommendations. Employers are advised by the CDC to “ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) just sent out a document that contains useful information on measures to keep workplaces, schools, homes and commercial establishments safe.

Summary

Within the span of writing this particular piece, new emails and updates about COVID-19 are coming in with a flurry. One might expect this will be the new normal for a while.

We live in a world that requires vigilance both at home and at work. Despite this evolving environment, remaining calm and gathering as much trustworthy information as possible is the best solution to navigate through this ‘season’ of the unknown.

Again, completing our informal online survey will allow us to share various organizations’ business practices and policies.  As a reminder, our official 2020 survey will be covering many components of paid time off and paid parental leave benefits.

To stay abreast of employee benefits, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Paid Family Leave – Its Time Has Come

Too many Americans experience a number of different hardships when taking parental leave for a newborn – or an aging parent. A 2017 Pew Research study found that Americans who received only some pay or no pay when they took family or medical leave:

  • Cut back on spending (78 percent)
  • Used savings set aside for something else (50 percent)
  • Used savings set aside for this situation (45 percent)
  • Cut short their leave time (41 percent)
  • Took on debt (37 percent)
  • Put off paying their bills (33 percent)
  • Borrowed money from family or friends (24 percent)
  • Received money from family or friends that they weren’t expected to pay back (23 percent)
  • Went on public assistance (17 percent)

As of 2016, the U.S. is the only developed country without government-mandated paid maternity leave. Additionally, according to research from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. is one of nine OECD countries that have no leave policies for new fathers. In total, there are 36 OECD countries.

Need for Parental Leave

According to research from the National Institute of Health, children have fewer mental health, developmental and other problems if they have full-time caregivers in the first few weeks and months of infancy. Other research also supports the need for promoting a healthy family environment within our country.

After World War II, with many women in the workforce, employers and lawmakers needed to address the issue of pregnancy on the job. In 1972, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission drafted guidelines that basically labeled pregnancy as a disability. Six years later, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended the Civil Rights Act that prohibited discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. However, this legislation did not provide time off – paid or unpaid – to care for a child.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides unpaid leave. But only about 60 percent of private-sector workers are eligible, as it provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave with continued health insurance coverage to attend to a newborn or adopted child, a family member, or an employee’s own serious health condition. There are strict eligibility requirements for FMLA, such as needing to have worked at least 1,250 hours for an employer with 50 or more employees during the 12 months before the start of the leave.

Employer Role

Employers, for their part, have been adding parental-paid leave at their workplaces. According to a Society of Human Resource and Management (SHRM) survey in 2018, 27 percent of U.S. employers offered paid leave in 2018, a very slight increase from the prior year. A 2015 survey by Mercer reported about 25 percent of U.S. employers offered paid-parental leave for employees to bond with a new child, while in 2018, Mercer found this dramatically increased to 40 percent. Mercer also reported that the median number of weeks employers offer to birth parents in their paid leave policies was six weeks, a number similar to their 2015 findings. Most employers who do provide some type of paid maternity leave tend to be larger organizations and is dependent on their given industry.

As an example, according to the National Compensation Survey (BLS) in 2016, 37 percent of the finance and insurance sector employers offered paid-family leave, while 10 percent of manufacturing and six percent of leisure and hospitality offer such programs.

As mentioned in an earlier blog, we are in the midst of randomly surveying Iowa organizations to learn about the prevalence of various ‘work-life’ benefits in the workplace – which includes paid leave, unpaid leave, and a host of other ‘convenience’ benefits that help assist employees and their family members.

Being able to pay for this benefit is a big hinderance for many employers, and yet, according to SHRM, not having these plans in place can cause skilled workers to leave for employers who do offer such plans. Additionally, SHRM estimates that every time an employer loses an employee, it will cost the equivalent of six-to-nine month’s salary to replace and retrain a replacement – and considerably higher for highly-skilled employees.

The moral of this story is that employers may be wise to pursue the costs up front by offering paid leave programs.

Federal Traction on Paid Family Leave

Despite the gridlock in Congress to pass meaningful legislation on basically anything of substance to Americans, there does appear to be some hope that there is bipartisan support for some type of paid-family leave. Iowa’s Senator Joni Ernst, along with Utah Senator Mile Lee (both Republicans), announced last month a bill that would allow new parents to take paid time off for their children. Known as the “Cradle Act,” the bill would allow Americans to draw from their Social Security funds to take time off from work.

Two other bills involving paid leave are currently being kicked around. The Working Parents Flexibility Act proposes to create tax-exempt savings accounts which can be used to pay for childcare. This appears to have bipartisan support in the House and is moving to the Senate. The problem with having accounts, similar to Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), is that not everyone can afford to set money aside to pay for this benefit. The other bill, FAMILY Act, proposes offering 12 weeks of partially-paid parental leave to all employees who fall under the protection of the FMLA. Funding would be provided through employer and employee payroll taxes. Five states already have a similar mandate in place: California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York and Washington. Again, employers with fewer than 50 employees are not impacted by the FMLA.

As employers continue to search for opportunities to obtain and retain a highly-valued workforce in the future, paid-family leave programs will be a large trend in the years to come.

Balancing competing demands of work and family are important reminders to having healthy and thriving families within our workplaces and communities.

To stay abreast of employee benefits and healthcare issues, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.