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What Employers Need To Know About Latest Federal COVID-19 Stimulus Package

December 24 - Posted at 8:34 AM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Federal lawmakers agreed to a second round of stimulus legislation late Monday night, sending a nearly 6,000-page bill to President Trump for his expected signature. The proposal allocates $900 billion in economic relief to businesses and workers across the country. Of the many provisions tucked within the mammoth bill are several key provisions of interest to employers. Specifically, the proposal continues the popular small business loan program, provides new options for unemployed workers, extends tax credits for continued paid sick leave, and offers a variety of other tax- and benefit-related provisions. It does not, however, create a liability shield for COVID-19 litigation. What do you need to know about the critical workplace-related portions of Stimulus 2.0? Here are summaries of the most significant employment-related provisions and recommendations for actions you should consider as a result of each.

Continuation Of The Paycheck Protection Program

Foremost in the eyes of many businesses, Stimulus 2.0 apportions approximately $284 billion to a revamped Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It provides small businesses with much-needed financial support in the form of potentially forgivable loans equal to the total money spent on payroll and other specified costs during an eight or 24-week period after the disbursement of the loan. However, the Stimulus 2.0 program makes many critical changes from the previous PPP, including lowering the employee threshold for businesses to 300 employees or fewer (down from 500), and the loan maximum to $2 million (down from $10 million). What do potential borrowers need to know?

Tax Deductibility of Expenses

The first PPP iteration provided that the forgiven amount was tax-free, but the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that the expenses paid with forgiven PPP loan proceeds were not deductible. Thus, before Stimulus 2.0, the amount of loan proceeds used to cover payroll, if forgiven, would not be deductible. 

Stimulus 2.0 changes that, clarifying that gross income does not include any amount that would otherwise arise from the forgiveness of the PPP loan. The bill states:

no deduction shall be denied or reduced, no tax attribute shall be reduced, and no basis increase shall be denied, by reason of the exclusion from gross income provided by [the loan forgiveness provision that says forgiven PPP loans will not count as income.

This means that deductions are allowed for deductible expenses paid with forgiven PPP loan proceeds. This provision is effective as of the date of enactment of the CARES Act and applies to second draw PPP loans.

New Allowable Expenses

Stimulus 2.0 expands qualifying expenses for new borrowers and those who have not yet applied for forgiveness, including the following:

  • Payment for any software, cloud computing, and other human resources and accounting needs;
  • Covered property damage costs, including costs for property damage due to public disturbances that occurred during 2020 that are not covered by insurance;
  • Covered supplier costs for expenditures supplier according to a contract, purchase order, or order for goods in effect before taking out the loan that are essential to the recipient’s operations when the expenditure was made (supplier costs of perishable goods can be made before or during the life of the loan); and
  • Covered worker protection expenditures for personal protective equipment (PPE) and help for compliance with federal health and safety guidelines or any equivalent State and local guidance related to COVID-19 during the period between March 1, 2020, and the end of the national emergency declaration.

The bill also allows loans made under PPP before, on, or after enacting Stimulus 2.0 to be eligible to utilize the expanded forgivable expenses except for borrowers who have already received loan forgiveness.

Second Draw PPP Loans

Section 311 of Stimulus 2.0 provides for second draws of PPP loans for smaller businesses, capping the loan amount at $2 million. Under this section, eligible borrowers must (1) employ not more than 300 employees; (2) have used or will use the full amount of their first PPP; and (3) demonstrate at least a 25% reduction in gross receipts in the first, second, or third quarter of 2020 relative to the same 2019 quarter. Borrower applications submitted on or after January 1, 2021, are eligible to utilize the gross receipts from the fourth quarter of 2020. Eligible second draw borrowers also include non-profit organizations, housing co-operatives, veterans’ organizations, tribal businesses, self-employed individuals, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and small agricultural co-operatives.

Second draw loan terms are reduced and calculated up to 2.5X the average monthly payroll costs in the 12 months before the loan application or the calendar year (2019), with maximum loan amounts capped at $2 million. However, Stimulus 2.0 maximizes benefits for borrowers in the restaurant and hospitality industries by calculating loans up to 3.5X average monthly payroll costs. Additionally, the bill reinstitutes the waiver of affiliation rules that applied during initial PPP loans for second loan borrowers with multiple locations employing not more than 300 employees per location.

Second draw loan recipients are eligible for loan forgiveness equal to the sum of their payroll costs and expanded allowable expenses, subject to the previous program’s 60%/40% allocation between payroll and non-payroll costs.

Streamlined Applications For Borrowers Under $150K

Stimulus 2.0 provides a streamlined process for loans under $150,000. In fact, such borrowers will not be subject to the required reductions in forgiveness amounts generally imposed by reductions in salaries or headcount by simply certifying that the borrower meets the revenue loss requirements described above on or before the date the entity submits the loan forgiveness application.

What You Should Do Next: If you are considering seeking financial assistance, regardless of whether or not you’ve previously received any, you should determine your eligibility for this second round of PPP loans. Additionally, you should continue to follow this rapidly developing situation, especially given the fluidity of the previous Paycheck Protection Program. 

Continued Assistance For Unemployed Workers

The CARES Act previously expanded unemployment assistance for countless Americans whose employment was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other things, the CARES Act provided a $600 weekly supplement to state unemployment benefits until the end of July and expanded eligibility to cover COVID-19 related reasons as well as many workers not traditionally covered by unemployment benefits. However, many of the unemployment benefits provided by the CARES Act were set to expire December 31. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Stimulus 2.0 provides for further unemployment benefits in an attempt to bring cash flow to millions of Americans whose employment was adversely impacted. 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Stimulus 2.0 expands the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) created by the CARES Act to March 17, 2021 and allows those who have not yet exhausted their rights under PUA to continue to receive such assistance until April 5, 2021. The stimulus package also expands the number of weeks for these PUA unemployment benefits from a 39-week period to a 50-week period.

While providing these additional benefits, Stimulus 2.0 adds a documentation requirement starting January 31, 2021 for both new applicants as well as those receiving PUA. Specifically, new applicants must submit documentation to substantiate employment or self-employment within 21 days although this deadline may be extended for good cause. Similarly, individuals receiving PUA as of January 31, 2021 must submit documentation to substantiate employment or self-employment within 90 days.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation

Stimulus 2.0 restores the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) supplement to all state and federal unemployment benefits. While lower than its predecessor under the CARES Act, this stimulus package provides a $300 weekly boost from December 26, 2020 to March 14, 2021.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

Like the PUA, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) permits individuals receiving benefits as of March 14, 2021 to continue to receive such assistance through April 5, 2021 as long as they have not reached the maximum number of weeks. The new stimulus also increases the number of benefit weeks under the PEUC from 13 weeks to 24 weeks.

Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation

Stimulus 2.0 provides $100 per week additional benefit to individuals who have at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income but are disqualified from PUA because they are eligible for regular state unemployment benefits.

 

Federal Support To Governments And Non-Profit Organizations

To help make these expanded benefits possible, Stimulus 2.0 extends the unemployment relief for government entities and non-profits from December 31 to March 14, 2021. Similarly, this stimulus package extends several CARES Act provisions originally created to incentivize states to provide the unemployment benefits by aiding with the expense and burdens created by these unemployment programs.

Return-To-Work Reporting Requirement

Stimulus 2.0 requires states to implement methods within 30 days to address situations where claimants refuse to return to work or accept an offer of suitable work without good cause. This must include a reporting method for employers to notify the state when an individual refuses employment and a notice to claimants informing of return-to-work laws, their rights to refuse work, and what constitutes suitable work.

What You Should Do Next – You should ensure you provide information on the additional unemployment benefits to those employees impacted by your staffing decisions. In addition, you should continue to monitor your obligations to report when individuals refuse employment, as states will likely change these over the next 30 days.  

No Extension Of FFCRA Paid Leave (Yet) – But Tax Credit Period Extended Through March

The compromise agreement does not extend the paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which expires on December 31. Therefore, an employer’s obligation to provide paid leave under the FFCRA will cease at the end of the year. 

However, the final legislation does extend the tax credit for both the Emergency Paid Sick Leave and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave under the FFCRA until March 31, 2021. This means that you are not required to provide paid leave under the FFCRA after December 31, 2020. If you choose to voluntarily do so (assuming the employee still has eligible leave remaining), you will be able to obtain a tax credit for those payments until the end of March under the compromise agreement contained in Stimulus 2.0.

In addition, depending on the circumstances of an employee’s leave, it is possible that the employee could be entitled to normal unpaid leave under the FMLA even after the FFCRA expires, if they still have weeks available under the FMLA. You should work with counsel to determine whether any employees out on FFCRA leave may be entitled to regular FMLA unpaid leave after the end of the year. 

Moreover, you should pay close attention to developments in Congress after the new year. There is already talk about a larger stimulus package after Congress returns and President-elect Biden is inaugurated. Congress could very well pass legislation early in the new year that extends (or even expands) the paid leave requirements of the FFCRA, and they could make it retroactive to the expiration of the prior law. 

In addition, you need to be aware of state and local laws passed in recent months that require the payment of sick leave to employees for a variety of COVID-19-related reasons. Some of these local laws expire at the end of the year, some are tied to the expiration of the FFCRA, and some do not expire. We could also see state and local lawmakers extend these paid sick leave requirements into the future. You should work closely with counsel to determine any applicable state and local mandates, and to continue to monitor developments on this front into 2021.

What You Should Do Next – Decide whether you will voluntarily extend paid leave benefits into the new year in order to gain a tax credit for those payments through March 2021. Work with counsel to determine whether any employees out on FFCRA leave may be entitled to regular FMLA unpaid leave, or some other form of leave under state law, after the end of the year. 

Tax And Benefit-Related Provisions

The bill also contains the following tax and benefit related provisions:

  • PPP Forgiven Loan Amounts – The IRS had argued that expenses incurred using forgiven PPP funds were not deductible. For example, wages paid with those funds could not be deducted. With Stimulus 2.0, Congress overruled the IRS and decreed that expenses incurred using forgiven PPP funds are deductible.
  • 2019 income may be used for the earned income tax credit – If 2020 earned income is less than 2019 earned income, 2019 income can be used when calculating the earned income tax credit. A lower 2020 income (for example, due to loss of employment during the year) may reduce the amount of credit available. Using a higher 2019 income amount may mean a higher credit for those who otherwise qualify.
  • Deductibility of business meals – Derided by some as the “three martini lunch” deduction, business meals after December 31 and before January 1, 2023 will be fully tax deductible. The current administration believes this provision will aid in reviving the ailing restaurant industry.
  • The Employee Retention Tax Credit – The employee retention tax credit is a credit for wages paid to certain employees during: i) a full or partial suspension of operations; or ii) a significant decline in gross receipts. The stimulus package enacts several technical clarifications but more importantly extends the credit’s availability from January 1, 2021 until June 30, 2021.
  • Flexible Spending Accounts – The law has several provisions which increase employer flexibility in administering health and dependent care flexible spending accounts. Usually subject to the “use it or lose it rule” (unused amounts at the end of the year are forfeited) the act makes available expanded carryover, grace period, and election change rules.

What You Should Do Next – Work with your counsel and your tax preparers to ensure you understand the new tax and benefit provisions and work them into your planning for 2021 and beyond.

No Federal Liability Shield In Stimulus 2.0

It is often said that the result of a good mediation leaves both sides a little bit unhappy. The negotiations for the stimulus bill could be said to have done that with the Democrats not getting aid to state and local governments, and Republicans not getting liability protection for business owners.

Republicans had sought through various bills, such as the Safe to Work Act, to offer a liability protection for business owners. These efforts were criticized by organized labor and safety advocates as potentially diminishing employee safety measures. The proposal also sought to pre-empt state laws that conflicted with it. While the liability shield did not survive the sausage making process of Congress, some states have already taken measures to implement similar shields.

Roughly a dozen states have instituted some form of liability shield through either legislation or executive order. The types of protection vary from broad to narrow. Some states provide immunity for businesses as long as the owner attempted in good faith to comply with guidance from public health agencies. This protection may be in the form of an affirmative defense where the burden is on the business to demonstrate that it made good faith efforts to at least attempt to comply with public health guidance. Other states provide broader protections: as long as the owner did not act with willful misconduct or gross negligence, the burden will be on plaintiffs to prove that the business acted with willful misconduct or gross negligence. At least one state, North Carolina, has limited these protections to “essential businesses.” While some of the states provide immunity from civil liability, others focus on limiting what types of damages can be recovered.  

The majority of states have not implemented any COVID-19-specific protections – or at least not yet. This has led to a cottage industry of COVID-19 litigation springing up in workplaces across the country, as detailed in the Fisher Phillips COVID-19 Employment Litigation Tracker (with over 1,200 such lawsuits having been filed against employers through date of publication).

What You Should Do Next – You should determine whether the states in which you operate are providing any form of liability protections, and if so how is it limited. The best thing employers and businesses can do, even in state that are providing liability shields, is to make best efforts to comply with the ever-changing guidance from health departments, the CDC, and state and federal OSHA.

DOL Revises COVID-19 Leave Regulations

September 14 - Posted at 1:37 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Employers of healthcare providers will soon be required to provide paid sick leave and partially paid family leave to a broader category of employees, and all employers subject to the law now have clarification on a number of other obligations, thanks to a revised set of regulations released by the Labor Department late Friday afternoon. After a federal court judge recently knocked down the agency’s first attempt to provide employers with practical direction in complying with the Families First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA), the Labor Department issued a second set of rules on September 11 that in some instances revise and in other instances clarify employer compliance duties. Here are the key changes and clarifications, which are slated to go into effect on September 16, that employers need to know about:

  1. The definition of workers deemed “health care providers” – whose employers may exclude them from coverage under the law – was narrowed to only include employees who are health care providers under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and those providing diagnostic services, preventive services, treatment services, or other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provision of patient care.
  2. The agency reaffirmed that leave can only be taken only if the employee has work available from which to take leave.
  3. Employees must still obtain their employer’s approval to take leave on an intermittent basis.
  4. Employees must give their employer information to support their need for leave as soon as practicable.
  5. The Labor Department revised the rules to correct an inconsistency regarding when an employee may be required to give notice of family and medical leave to their employer.
(more…)

How To Balance School Re-Openings And COVID-19 Workplace Leave: FAQs For Employers

August 28 - Posted at 11:00 AM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,

As the summer draws to a close, schools are announcing their re-opening plans, which vary widely across states and localities. Some schools plan to remain open several days a week and direct students to attend remotely the other days. Others will split classes into morning and afternoon sessions, allowing students attending in the morning to participate remotely at home for the rest of day and vice versa. Still others will require physical attendance at all times, while some will choose to operate entirely under a remote learning model.

In light of these different reopening plans, employers need to understand how the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) affects the leave rights of employees for each of these different types of school schedules. The below serves as a list of answers to frequently asked questions related to the issues you could face as schools begin to reopen.  

The Basics: FFCRA Leave Benefits For Working Parents

Under the FFCRA, eligible employees are entitled to Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and/or expanded family and medical leave (EFML) if they are unable to work or telework because they need to care for their son or daughter if (a) the child’s school or place of care is closed, or (b) the child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19-related reasons. The FFCRA regulations provide that an employee may take leave to care for their child only when the employee needs to, and actually is, caring for the child. The Department of Labor (DOL) has advised that “generally, an employee does not need to take such leave if another suitable individual — such as a co-parent, co-guardian, or the usual child care provider — is available to provide the care the employee’s child needs.”

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is a child’s school or place of care deemed “closed” for purposes of the FFCRA if it has moved to online instruction or to another model in which children are required to complete assignments at home?
Yes. If the physical location where an employee’s child received instruction or care is closed, the school or place of care is deemed “closed” for purposes of the EPSL and EFML. The DOL has instructed that this is true even if some or all instruction is being provided online or whether, through another format such as “distance learning,” the child is still expected or required to complete assignments. But this seemingly does not contemplate a hybrid model (discussed below) and likely pertains only to those circumstances where the child is not reporting to a physical location. Also note that in order to be eligible for FFCRA leave, employees must still certify that there is no other suitable person that can care for the child.

2. Is an employee entitled to FFCRA leave if they choose to keep the child at home or have the child homeschooled even though the child’s school is open?
No. The DOL has stated that employees do not need to take leave if their usual child care provider is available to provide care. But if the school is operating on a reduced capacity due to COVID-19, which then necessitates remote learning for the child, FFCRA leave could be available. See DOL guidance on summer camps

3. Would an employee qualify for FFCRA leave if their child’s school is open but the employee chooses remote learning based on a doctor’s recommendation due to the child’s vulnerability to COVID-19?
EFMLA is likely not available to the employee because the child’s school is not closed. The employee might be eligible for EPSL if they can demonstrate that they are taking leave to care for a person who has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19 (permitted reason #4 under EPSL). It is unclear however, whether a recommendation for remote learning is the same as a recommended self-quarantine for purposes of the FFCRA.

4. Will employees be eligible for FFCRA leave if a child’s school is operating on a hybrid model (whereby children are to alternate between physical attendance and remote learning)?
Likely yes. While this scenario is not specifically addressed in the statute or DOL guidance, one would argue that the child’s school is technically “closed” to that child on the days when the child is required to participate via remote learning. Thus, if the employee cannot work or telework during those days, they should qualify for FFCRA leave.

It is uncertain, however, whether a parent may take the leave consecutively or intermittently to coincide with the days and times the child is home remote learning. If the child’s school requires them to attend school daily (e.g., child attends school half of the day and spends the other half remote learning), leave is likely to be taken consecutively. If, on the other hand, the child’s schedule requires the child to physically attend school only on certain days of the week, leave is likely to be taken intermittently. Note that while the DOL regulations mandate employer consent for intermittent leave, a New York federal court recently struck out this requirement as unreasonable.

5. Would an employee qualify for FFCRA leave if the child’s school is open but the child’s before or after school program is closed?
Yes. The DOL defines a “place of care” as a physical location in which care is provided for the child. The physical location does not need to be solely dedicated to such care. Examples include day care facilities, preschools, before and after school care programs, schools, homes, summer camps, summer enrichment programs, and respite care programs.

6. Can an employer deny FFCRA leave to an employee who previously teleworked while the child’s school was closed but intends to request leave if the child’s school remains closed for the fall?
No. The DOL has made clear that simply because an employee has been teleworking despite having their children at home does not mean the employee is prevented from now taking leave to care for the child whose school is closed for a COVID-19-related reason.

7. Can more than one parent take paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave simultaneously to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons?
No. An employee may take EPSL or EFML leave to care for their child only when they need to, and actually are, caring for the child if they are unable to work or telework as a result of providing care. Generally, employees do not need to take such leave if a co-parent, co-guardian, or the usual child care provider is available to provide the care the child needs.

8. Can an employee take paid FFCRA leave to care for a child who is 18 years old or older?
It depends. EPSL and EFML leave may only be taken to care for an employee’s non-disabled child if they are under the age of 18. If the employee’s child is 18 years of age or older with a disability and cannot care for themselves due to that disability, the employee may take EPSL and EFML leave to care for the child if their school or place of care is closed or the child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19-related reasons and the employee is unable to work or telework as a result. Additionally, EPSL is available to care for an individual who is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19 or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19. If an employee has a need to care for a child age 18 or older who needs care for these circumstances, the employee may take EPSL if they are unable to work or telework as a result of providing care. But in no event may the employee’s total paid sick leave exceed two weeks.

9. Can an employee use EPSL for child care purposes if the employee already used up their 80 hours of EPSL for other permitted purposes?
No. The DOL regulations state that employees are entitled to only a one-time use of 80 hours of EPSL, regardless of the reason. However, if an employee has not exhausted their full EPSL allotment, they may use the remaining time for other permitted reasons.

10. If a new employee has used up their EPSL leave allotment while employed at their previous employer, are they entitled to another 80 hours of EPSL leave with the new employer?
No. The DOL regulations specify that any person is limited to a total of 80 hours of EPSL. An employee who has taken all such leave and then changes employers is not entitled to additional EPSL from their new employer. However, an employee who has taken some (but fewer than 80 hours of) EPSL and then changes employers is entitled to the remaining portion of such leave from their new employer, but only if the new employer is covered by the FFCRA.

11. Can employees use EFML leave if they have already exhausted all of their FMLA leave allotment for the benefit year?
No. An employee may only take a total of 12 workweeks for FMLA or EFMLA reasons during the employer’s designated benefit year.

12. Does EFML contain the same limitation contained in the FMLA that requires spouses who work for the same employer to share the 12 weeks of leave (instead of each getting 12 weeks)?
No. Under 29 CFR 201(b), spouses who work for the same employer can be required to share a combined 12 weeks of FMLA leave to bond with their new child or care for their own parent with a serious health condition. The EFMLA does not provide for the same carveout. But keep in mind that while both employees who work for the same employer would each be eligible for EFMLA leave, they would likely not be able to both take leave to care for their child since they have to certify that there is not alternative suitable caregiver. 

13. What supporting documents must employees provide to their employers for FFCRA purposes?
When requesting EPSL or EFML leave, employees must provide the following information to their employers, either orally or in writing:

  • Employee’s name;
  • The date(s) for which employee requests leave;
  • The reason for leave; and
  • A statement that the employee is unable to work because of a FFCRA qualifying reason.

If the employee requests leave because they are subject to a quarantine or isolation order or to care for an individual subject to such an order, they should additionally provide the name of the government entity that issued the order. If the employee requests leave to self-quarantine based on the advice of a health care provider or to care for an individual who is self-quarantining based on such advice, they should also provide the name of the health care provider who gave the advice.

If the employee requests leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, they must also provide:

  • The name of the child;
  • The name of the school, place of care, or child care provider that has closed or become unavailable; and
  • A statement that no other suitable person is available to care for the child.

Notably, a New York federal court recently held that supporting documentation may not be required as a precondition for FFCRA leave. Thus, employers should ensure documentation is not required to commence the leave under the FFCRA. Supporting documentation can be submitted after the leave has commenced.

Recording Available for AAG’s 2020 Education Seminar

April 23 - Posted at 4:20 PM Tagged: , , , , , ,
The recorded presentation of AAG’s 2020 Educational Seminar on April 23, 2020 is now available for viewing.

Guest Speaker and attorney Keith Hammond, with Hammond Law Center, covered the impact of COVID-19 on businesses in relation to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) as well as the Emergency Leave Act and CARES Act.

This seminar is also approved for 2 Professional Development Credits (PDCs) with SHRM for all attendees.

Please contact our office for the link to view the presentation or the Activity ID for the PDCs.

Notice & Documentation Requirements Under the New Paid Sick and FMLA Leave Law

April 22 - Posted at 2:00 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Many employers have multiple questions on the requirements for documentation on the new paid leave programs available under the FFCRA, so we have summarized them here for you.
 
Now that you have the ever-changing jist of how the Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Expanded FMLA work, we need to make certain you obtain the correct documentation to ensure you can claim the tax credit.
 

Proper Timing for Requesting Leave

For employees that need to take leave due to school/childcare closures, where the leave is foreseeable, they must provide notice as soon as practical.

When leave is for any other reason, employers can only require notice after the first workday the employee is on leave.   KEEP IN MIND – notice from an employee’s spokesperson, such as a family member, must be accepted if the employee is unable to provide notice personally.
 
What information do you need to collect?
  1. Employees name
  2. Date of leave request
  3. Qualifying reason, and
  4. Oral or written statement that the employee is unable to work due to qualifying reason
Although oral notice is sufficient, you may wish to consider using a leave request form to maximize compliance.
 

What documentation must employee provide to prove need for leave?  

It will depend on the reason for the leave:
  • Employee subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19: the name of the governmental entity that issued the Order
  • A health care provider advises an employee to self-quarantine: the name of the health care provider who advised the employee to self-quarantine.
  • Employee caring for an individual subject to a quarantine order or been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine: either the name of the governmental entity that issued the Order to which the individual being cared for is subject, OR, the name of the health care provider who advised the self-quarantine.
If an employee has requested leave to care for a child whose school is closed or childcare is unavailable:
  • Employee must provide the name of the child, name of the school, place of care or child care provider that has become unavailable (keep in mind this could be family or a friend), and a representation that “no other suitable person will be caring for the child during the period the employee is taking leave

FFCRA Documentation and Record Keeping: What Employers Need to Know

April 06 - Posted at 1:31 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , , ,
The close of March and open of April 2020 brought in both Q2 of 2020 and some updated guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on the documentation needed for leaves under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The DOL’s Regulations, called a temporary rule, include substantial guidance related to the information an employer should (and in some cases must) obtain from an employee requesting leave. The DOL updated its FFCRA Questions and Answers (DOL Q&As) as well in conjunction with its Regulations.

When read in conjunction with the FAQs published by the IRS on March 31, 2020 (“IRS FAQs”) regarding the employer tax credits associated with paid FFCRA leave, the DOL’s Regulations answer some questions, but leave others unanswered. Somewhat surprisingly, the Regulations do not mention specific documentation for certain types of leave available under FFCRA, such as a copy of the doctor’s order or advice to quarantine or isolate. Any records that are required must be retained by the employer for a period of four years. 

Records Related to Small Employer Exemption

If a small employer decides to deny emergency paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave to an employee whose child’s school or place of care is closed, or whose childcare provider is unavailable (which is the only type of leave a small employer can deny), the employer must document the basis for the exception. 

Although the employer should not send this documentation to the DOL, it should retain such records for its own files.

Information Supporting Reasons for Leave

The Regulations require that employees requesting leave provide their employers a “signed statement,” in addition to the documentation (and information) noted below, which must contain the following: (1) the employee’s name; (2) the date(s) for which leave is requested; (3) the COVID-19 qualifying reason for leave; and (4) a statement representing that the employee is unable to work or telework because of the COVID-19 qualifying reason. The Regulations also outline what an employee must provide his or her employer for each qualifying reason for leave. The information required for each qualifying reason is summarized below.
 
  • Leave because of a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19. The employee must supply the employer with the name of the government entity that issued the order.
  • Leave because a health care provider advised the employee to quarantine or self-isolate due to concerns related to COVID-19. The employee must supply the employer with the “name of the health care provider who advised” the employee to quarantine or self-isolate due to concerns related to COVID-19. Note that these “concerns” are limited to three COVID-19-related situations:  (1) the employee has COVID-19; (2) the employee may have COVID-19; or (3) the employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Although the Regulations do not state it is required, employers may want to at least include these situations on their request forms to show that the leave is being requested – and provided – for a covered reason.
  • Leave because the employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order by a federal, state, or local official to quarantine or self-isolate or who has been advised by a health care provider to quarantine or self-isolate due to concerns related to COVID-19. The “individual” to whom the employee is providing care must be an employee’s immediate family member, a person who regularly resides in the employee’s home, or a similar person with whom the employee has a relationship that creates an expectation that the employee would care for the person if he or she were quarantined or self-isolated. For this type of leave, ‘‘individual’’ does not include persons with whom the employee has no personal relationship. Although not specifically required by the Regulations, this detailed definition implies the need to request information regarding the relationship, and the collection of such information is supported by the IRS FAQs. As with similar leaves for the employee’s own circumstances, the employee must supply the employer with the name of the governmental official or entity that issued the quarantine or isolation order or the name of the health care provider who advised the individual for whom the employee is caring to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19. If the leave relates to advice from a health care provider, the same limited “concerns” noted above also apply to this form of leave, and employers may want – at a minimum – to include that list on their request forms to show that the leave is being requested for a covered reason.
  • Leave because the employee is caring for his/her son or daughter whose school, place of care or childcare provider has been closed, or the childcare provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, for reasons related to COVID-19. An employee must supply the employer with (1) the name of the son or daughter for whom the employee is caring; (2) the name of the school, place of care or childcare provider that has closed or become unavailable; and, (3) a representation that no other suitable person will be caring for the child during the leave.
    • NOTE: The answer to IRS FAQ No.44 notes that, in order to receive a tax credit for the paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for this reason, if the child is older than 14 and the leave is during daylight hours, the employee must provide a statement that special circumstances exist requiring the employee to provide care.
The Regulations do not list any additional information required for the purpose of a leave taken because the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.

The Regulations state that employers may not require documentation beyond what is allowed for by the Regulations. In addition to the information specified above, the Regulations state generally, that employers may also request additional information or documentation needed to support a request for tax credits pursuant to the FFCRA. According to the IRS, employers are not required to provide leave if employees requesting leave fail to provide “materials sufficient to support the applicable tax credit.” Taken together, the Regulations and the IRS FAQs suggest that employers can require the information specifically listed under the FCCRA Regulations and any specific information that the IRS requires for a tax credit (such as the information noted above concerning children older than 14). Requiring anything beyond those categories potentially violates the FFCRA.

Notably, if an employee fails to provide the required information or documentation, the employer must provide that employee an opportunity to correct the error and provide the required documentation before denying the request for leave.

What Employers Need to Keep (and for How Long)

An employer is required to retain all documentation provided to support the need for leave for four years, regardless of whether leave was granted or denied. If an employee provided oral statements to support his or her request for paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, the employer is required to document and retain such information for four years also. Similarly, if an employer denies an employee’s request for leave pursuant to the small business exemption, the employer must document its authorized officer’s determination that the criteria for that exemption are satisfied and retain such documentation for four years.

The Regulations and the IRS FAQs also explain what documents the employer should create and retain to support its claim for tax credits from the IRS. Employers must maintain the following records for at least four years: 
 
  1. Documentation to show how the employer determined the amount of emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave paid to employees that are eligible for the credit, including “records of work, telework and qualified sick leave and qualified family leave;”
  2. Documentation to show how the employer determined the amount of qualified health plan expenses that the employer allocated to wages;
  3. Copies of any completed IRS Forms 7200 that the employer submitted to the IRS;
  4. Copies of the completed IRS Forms 941 that the employer submitted to the IRS or, for employers that use third party payers to meet their employment tax obligations, records of information provided to the third party payer regarding the employer’s entitlement to the credit claimed on IRS Form 941; and
  5. Other documents needed to support its request for tax credits pursuant to IRS applicable forms, instructions, and information for the procedures that must be followed to claim a tax credit.
Although the DOL’s Regulations and the IRS’s FAQs appear to be in agreement regarding the documentation needed to support an employer’s claim for tax credits from the IRS, we expect more detail from the IRS on this topic in the near future. We hope the additional detail from the IRS provides more clarity on categories 1, 2, and 5 of the records that need to be retained by employers. A more detailed explanation of how employers may claim tax credits, and what information will be needed, can be found at https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-7200 and https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-20-21.pdf.

We continue to monitor future guidance from the DOL and IRS and other legislation that may affect employers during this challenging time. 

Employer Step By Step Guide to FFCRA Related Tax Credits for Paid Leave

April 03 - Posted at 9:00 AM Tagged: , , , ,
The IRS has provided  an initial guidance document to assist small- and medium-sized companies with the process of defraying the costs of paid sick leave required under the  Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The IRS also provided some guidance regarding what information you should receive from an employee in order to substantiate eligibility for the FFCRA tax credits.  

There is good news and bad news for employers struggling to keep up with the rapidly developing and somewhat-complex procedures. The good news is that you now have much-needed clarity on the “IRS forms and information” that the DOL referenced when it indicated that  certification questions would soon be answered. Fisher Phillips LLP has summarized below the required documentation required in each situation and the recommended written support you should request from your employees. 


The bad news is that the IRS guidance raises several additional questions that will need to be further clarified. For example, the IRS guidance provides that employers should receive a written request from the employee that contains, among other things, a “statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and written support for such reason.” But the IRS guidance does not specify what “written support” the employer may ask for. And because the FFCRA does not expressly provide that you may request certification (including doctor’s notes), it is still unclear whether and in what circumstances you may permissibly ask for doctor’s notes or similar information for some of the qualifying types of leave. 

For this reason, we recommend that you indicate on any certification forms you distribute that “ additional documentation may be required ” in the event further clarity is achieved and it becomes apparent that more “written support” is needed.

Documentation For Various Leave Situations

Below is the best information available to date (4/2/2020) that has been used to develop the following employer’s guide for navigating the tax credit process.
In order to qualify for the federal tax credit for providing the emergency paid leave, you will need to obtain a written request for the Emergency Paid Sick Leave or Emergency FMLA leave. In all leave situations, you should ensure you retain the following pieces of documentation:
  • Documentation to show how you determine the amount of qualified sick and family leave wages you paid to each employee, including records of work, telework, and qualified family leave;
  • Documentation to show how you determine the amount of qualified health plan expenses that the employer allocated to wages (see FAQ 31 through 36 on the IRS Guidance entitled “Determining the Amount of Allocable Qualified Health Plan Expenses” for methods to compute this allocation);
  • Copies of any completed Forms 7200 Advance of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19 that you submit to the IRS; and
  • Copies of the completed Forms 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, that you submit to the IRS. If you use third-party payers to meet your employment tax obligations, you should retain the records of information you provide them regarding your entitlement to the credit claimed on Form 941.
With respect to individual leave situations, you should ensure you retain the following pieces of documentation:

A. Reason For Leave- Quarantine or Isolation Order

Employee is subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.

Required Documentation:
  • Employee’s name
  • Date(s) the leave is requested
  • A statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and “written support” for such reason
  • A statement that the employee is unable to work or telework due to a COVID-19 related reason; and
  • The name of the government entity ordering the quarantine.

“Written Support” That Can Be Requested
It appears that the required “written support” could be met simply by obtaining the required documentation per the IRS guidelines. You could ask an employee for or otherwise locate a copy of the quarantine or isolation order. This may ultimately depend on  the U.S. Department of Labor’s final interpretation regarding whether a state or local shutdown order satisfies this qualifying reason. If so, then you should likely be able to locate the documentation. If not, and USDOL interprets this only to cover an individual quarantine or isolation order, then the employee would have to provide it to you as you would not have access to it.


B. Reason For Leave- Advised by Doctor to Self-Quarantine

Employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.

Required Documentation:
  • Employee’s name
  • Date(s) the leave is requested
  • A statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and “written support” for such reason
  • A statement that the employee is unable to work or telework due to a COVID-19 related reason; and
  • The name of the health care professional advising self-quarantine.

“Written Support” That Can Be Requested
It appears that the required “written support” could be met simply by obtaining the required documentation per the IRS guidelines, which includes a statement from the employee including the name of entity issuing/advising of quarantine. Note that it may be impractical or even contrary to local or state order to request a doctor’s note in such situations. 

C. Reason For Leave- Has Symptoms and Seeking Medical Advice

Employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis.

Required Documentation:
  • Employee’s name
  • Date(s) the leave is requested
  • A statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and “written support” for such reason; and
  • A statement that the employee is unable to work or telework due to a COVID-19 related reason.

“Written Support” That Can Be Requested
You should be able to ask the employee for the name of the health care professional or health care provider that they are seeking a medical diagnosis from as this is required by the IRS guidelines for other emergency leave reasons. Note that it may be impractical or even contrary to local or state order to request a doctor’s note in such situations. 

D. Reason For Leave- Employee Caring for Person Under Quarantine/Isolation Orders

Employee is caring for an individual subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order, or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.

Required Documentation:
  • Employee’s name
  • Name of the person subject to quarantine or advised to self-quarantine
  • Relation of the person subject to quarantine or advised to self-quarantine
  • Date(s) the leave is requested
  • A statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and “written support” for such reason
  • A statement that the employee is unable to work or telework due to a COVID-19 related reason; and
  • The name of the government entity ordering the quarantine or the name of the health care professional advising self-quarantine.

“Written Support” That Can Be Requested
It appears that the required “written support” could be met simply by obtaining the required documentation per the IRS guidelines. You could ask an employee for or otherwise locate a copy of the quarantine or isolation order. This may ultimately depend on  the U.S. Department of Labor’s final interpretation regarding whether a state or local shutdown order satisfies this qualifying reason. If so, then you should likely be able to locate the documentation. If not, and USDOL interprets this only to cover an individual quarantine or isolation order, then the employee would have to provide it to you as you would not have access to it.

E. Reason For Leave- Caring for Child if School/Daycare is Closed

Employee is caring for their child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child’s care provider is unavailable due to public health emergency.

Required Documentation:
  • Employee’s name
  • Name and age of the child/children
  • Name of the school that has closed or place of care that is unavailable
  • Date(s) the leave is requested
  • A statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and “written support” for such reason. The “written support” should include:
    • A statement that the employee is unable to work or telework due to a COVID-19 related reason;
    • Representation that no other person will be providing care for the child during the period for which the employee is receiving family medical leave; and
  • If the child is older than 14 and needs care during daylight hours, a statement that special circumstances exist requiring the employee to provide care.

“Written Support” That Can Be Requested
The USDOL has stated that you can require workers to provide additional documentation in support of EFMLA taken to care for a child or children whose school or place of care is closed, or child care is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons. This could include:
  • Notice of closures or unavailability from a school, place of care, or child care provider;
  • A notice of closure or unavailability posted on a government, school, or day care website;
  • A notice of closure or unavailability published in a newspaper; and
  • A notice of closure or unavailability emailed from an employee or official of the school, place of care, or child care provider.

F. Reason For Leave- Other

Employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

Required Documentation:
  • Employee’s name
  • Date(s) the leave is requested
  • A statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and “written support” for such reason; and
  • A statement that the employee is unable to work or telework due to a COVID-19 related reason.

“Written Support” That Can Be Requested
To be determined on a case-by-case basis. 


Maintenance Of Records
You should maintain all records noted above for at least four years after the date the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever is later.
Two items to bring to your attention today:

1. Latest COVID-19 relief bill was passed by Senate last  night. This bill was passed to help funnel funds into the US economy to assist workers and businesses survive the pandemic. The bill has not yet passed the House or been signed by the President. We are working on a summary of key points and will get those out once it’s though the house.

2. FFCRA Poster- The DOL published a Families First    Coronavirus Response Act notice you are required to post. You can download the poster here. 
 
When sharing electronically with staff, you may wish to remind them that it does not currently appear that county-required “stay at home” requirements qualify as a “quarantine or isolation order”. 
 
 Below we condensed and included some of the questions & answers the DOL provided regarding the posting.  Call us with any questions. 
 
Q. Where do I post this notice? If most of my workforce is teleworking, do I electronically “post” this notice?
 
Each covered employer must post a notice of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requirements in a conspicuous place on its premises. An employer may satisfy this requirement by emailing or direct mailing this notice to employees, or posting this notice on an employee information internal or external website.
 
Q. Do I have to post this notice in other languages that my employees speak? Where can I get the notice in other languages?
 
You are not required to post this notice in multiple languages, but the Department of Labor (Department) is working to translate it into other languages.
 
Q. Do I have to share this notice with recently laid-off individuals or new applicants?
 
No, the FFCRA requirements explained on this notice apply only to current employees, including new hires.
 
Q. I am a small business owner. Do I have to post this notice?
 
Yes. All employers covered by the paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave provisions of the FFCRA (i.e., certain public sector employers and private sector employers with fewer than 500 employees) are required to post this notice.
 
Q. Our employees must report to our main office headquarters each morning and then go off to work at our different worksite locations.  Do we have to post this notice at all of our different worksite locations?
 
The notice needs to be displayed in a conspicuous place where employees can see it. If they are able to see it at the main office, it is not necessary to display the notice at your different worksite locations.

Q. Our company has many buildings. Our employees report directly to the building where they work, and there is no requirement that they first report to our main office prior to commencing work. Do I have to post this notice in each of our buildings?

Yes. Where an employer has employees reporting directly to work in several different buildings, the employer must post all required federal notices in each building, even if the buildings are located in the same general vicinity (e.g., in an industrial park or on a campus).

Stay At Home Orders & FFCRA Update

March 25 - Posted at 10:00 AM Tagged: , , , , , , ,
Many counties are issuing “stay at home” orders where only businesses deemed as “essential” can continue remain open. These lists of “essential” businesses are not uniform from county to county so you will need to check your county’s Emergency Executive Order to determine if your business would qualify as “essential” or not. We have a copy of the Orange County, Florida Executive Order that was signed yesterday (3/24/2020) and will continue to obtain copies from other counties as those are signed/passed.

If your business is deemed as “essential”, we also have sample letters you can provide to employees to use for travel. Please let us know if you need copies of these samples for use.

If your business qualifies as “essential”, push the fact that you are staying open as a positive. Make sure each employee understands that you are trying to keep them working and getting paid as long as you can so they can take care of their families. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), the paid leave does not take effect until April 1st so anyone not working prior to 4/1 will not be eligible for payments under the FFCRA. 

Attached is an update to the presentation we sent out last week when the FFCRA was first passed with changes included.  You can access the updated presentation   here.

You may have heard the Senate stuck a deal late last night on an additional relief bill, but it still has not yet passed the House. More details on the provisions of this bill will be forthcoming once it is signed into law by the President.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act Update

March 19 - Posted at 9:00 AM Tagged: , ,
The President signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Respose Act late on March 18th. 
 
Attached is a summary of the 2 paid leave acts that will apply to employers once it officially takes effect no later than April 2nd.
You can access a summary recap of the acts  here. 
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