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State Chamber offers guidance to employers, employees

Andrew Levy and Ursula Siverling, business attorneys with McNees Wallace & Nurick, provided detailed information regarding legal ramifications, the government shut downs and the Family First Relief Act as well as the Stimulus Bill and how that relates to small businesses in a state Chamber of Commerce webinar recently.

Governor Wolf ordered all non-life sustaining businesses to close their physical locations in attempt to slow the outbreak. The order included a list of businesses that were to be considered as life-sustaining.

Failure to comply with this order could come with a price: penalties ranging from citations, fines, license suspensions and even the possibility of forfeiture of current or future grants and disaster relief funding.

This order was amended on March 20 to extend the effective date as of March 23 with an updated business list and a document of frequently asked questions that is updated often.

This order does not prohibit remote learning as long as employees are practicing social distancing and other mitigation measures that are recommended by the CDC.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act will be providing paid emergency sick leave and FMLA leave to employers with fewer than 500 employees. This act also has provisions to waive the one week waiting period for unemployment, provide free virus testing, protection for healthcare workers and provide additional federal funds for Medicaid.

This was signed into law on March 18 and will be effective April 1 with the sunset provision as of Dec. 31 Siverling added.

Those who are laid off before the effective date will not qualify for this act as they qualify for unemployment benefits.

Emergency paid sick leave will become available to any employee on your payroll, part-time and full-time, and provides 10 days of paid sick leave and benefits who are unable to work or telework for the following reasons:

• Employee is subject to government quarantine or isolation order

• Employee is advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine

• The employee has symptoms of COVID-19, is caring for a relative who is in quarantine, unable to work because their child’s school is closed or childcare is closed

Levy added that leave for employee’s own illnesses or quarantine can earn up to their regular pay per day up to a cap of $511 per day during this emergency paid leave.

Leave to care for family members subject to quarantine or isolation, or a minor child in the family due to school or childcare services closing, will earn up to 66 percent of their regular daily pay up to a cap of $200 per day.

Part-time employees are at the discretion of average hours over the prior six month period Levy said.

Paid FMLA benefits on the other hand provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for employees who cannot work because their child’s school or childcare service is closed due to the pandemic.

For the first two weeks, employees can use the emergency paid sick leave and then have 10 additional weeks of FMLA leave pay, both at the 66 percent of their regular pay, caping at $10,000 total or $200 per day.

This also applies to those who work part-time and their average hours.

Both emergency paid sick leave and FMLA leave allow employers to qualify for a tax credit according to Levy.

He explained that this tax credit is for employers who should “receive prompt credit for the cost providing leave,”. In his presentation, he added that employers are required to withhold from employee’s paychecks federal income taxes and the employee’s share of Social Security and Medicare.

This credit is for the same amount required to be given to the employee and the credit is refundable to offset the employer’s portion of the Social Security tax and this credit can be filed as an accelerated payment from the IRS which can be processed in two weeks or less.

More guidance on this tax credit is said to be released soon.

There are exclusions for large and small businesses according to Levy. He said that private businesses with more than 500 employees are not covered by the bill but single and integrated employer concepts will apply.

Employers with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption from providing paid family leave and medical leave if it could in any way affect the viability of the business.

Levy continued by briefing listeners on additional information and the Stimulus Bill which was signed into law on Friday and passed in the Senate on March 25. Within this bill, the state unemployment compensation will increase up to $600 a week for four months with a 13 week extension benefit period.

“It is quite significant,” Levy said. “It is important to know the provisions in the bill.”

This period does not include the weekly $600.

Federal stimulus checks, if passed, will go out to individuals who are filing individually and making less than $75,000 and making below $150,000 jointly. These checks are $1,200 per individual and an additional $500 per child in the household. There are also smaller checks available for those who are making $99,000 or less.

For additional resources and information for human resources individuals, Siverling suggests HR professionals look into putting different policies in place regarding social distancing, teleworking and attendance. She also added that they should look into specific protocols for if employees are exposed all while posting the Department of Labor employee notice of rights during this time.

Additional information comes from the DOL website: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic.

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