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The last couple of weeks have come with a lot of uncertainty. Being a small business leader means you aren’t only concerned about the logistics of caring for your own family, but also your employees and your business. Changes are coming rapidly, and we will work to keep you informed of vital details. Our team is fully-staffed and is monitoring relevant developments closely. Please reach out and let us know how we can help. We hope to be a helpful resource to small businesses through this challenging time.

For up-to-date information about employer responsibilities related to COVID-19, we recommend the following resources:

COVID-19 Employer Resources

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), is new legislation designed to help employees who must miss work due to the COVID-19 outbreak and provide tax breaks to employers for providing paid leave. The law will become effective April 1, 2020 (according to the most recent update from the Department of Labor).

Helpside is actively working out the details of tracking paid sick leave and expanded FMLA as well as the tax credit procedures for our clients and will provide updates as soon as possible.

Who is a Covered Employer: The FFCRA has two main leave components: expanded FMLA and emergency paid sick leave.  Both components apply to private employers with fewer than 500 employees. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or childcare unavailability if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business. Initial details about how to qualify for this type of exemption are available here: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-questions.

Paid Sick Leave
Generally, the law states that covered employers must provide the follow types of paid leave to all qualified employees:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work or telework because the employee is quarantined (due to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), and/or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (due to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), or care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or childcare provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19

Qualifying Reasons for Paid Sick Leave:
Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies Paid Sick Leave if the employee is unable to work and unable to telework due to a need for leave because the employee:

(1) is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
(2) has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
(3) is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
(4) is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2); or
(5) is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or childcare provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19

Expanded FMLA
A covered employer must provide to employees that it has employed for at least 30 days:

  • Up to an additional 10 weeks of expanded FMLA at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee is unable to work due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

Qualifying Reasons for Expanded FMLA Leave:
As noted above, an employee qualifies for expanded family and medical leave if the employee is unable to work and unable to telework due to a need for leave because the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or childcare provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19.

Guidance has not yet been published on whether employees will be required to provide some type of certification in order to qualify for paid sick leave and emergency FMLA. Regular FMLA does require certification or other documentation, so something similar is likely to be required.

The law does not allow for retroactive pay, so any paid time off and associated tax credits would begin on that date. This paid leave is also separate from any other leave offered by the employer, so you can not require employees to use PTO or other paid time in lieu of this leave. A layoff is not a qualifying event that triggers coverage under the law. Employers should be cautious in laying off workers who may qualify for this type of leave to avoid retaliation or discrimination claims.

The Department of Labor has stated that they will not enforce penalties for not complying with the new law for 30 days after it is enacted, as long as an employer is putting forth a good faith effort to comply. This means that if mistakes are made in trying to figure out exactly how to comply with the new law, employers will be given a chance to fix them without penalties.

The Department of Labor has provided a notification poster for employers.

Tax Credits for Employers:
The law includes employer tax credits equal to the cost of providing paid leave to employees. Eligible employers are also entitled to an additional tax credit based on costs to maintain health insurance coverage for the eligible employee during the leave period

Under guidance expected to be released this week, eligible employers who pay qualifying sick or child care leave will be able to retain an amount of the payroll taxes equal to the amount of qualifying sick and child care leave that they paid, rather than deposit that amount with the IRS.

Here is some more helpful information from the Department of Labor:

Small Business Financial Resources

Many small businesses have expressed their concern over the financial impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are some resources we have found that may offer some assistance:

CARES Act: Economic Stimulus Package
The stimulus package has been passed by Congress and should be signed by President Trump very soon. It is designed to provide additional help for small businesses. The core components involve access to SBA disaster loans and SBA “payroll protection” loans that will be forgiven if used by businesses to cover qualified expenses including employee payroll. For full details including how to apply, see the US Chamber of Commerce article: Small Business Guide to CARES Act

 

Utah SBA Loans
In partnership with Utah’s congressional delegation, the state emergency management division and the Utah Governor’s Office, we’re pleased to announce businesses located in all Utah counties are now eligible to apply for low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration.

This loan program will not solve all of today’s economic challenges, but it will be a useful tool for businesses affected by COVID-19. Coronavirus (COVID-19): Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources

Details of the new SBA loans are as follows:

  • Loan amounts of up to $2 million per entity
  • Repayment terms of up to 30 years
  • 75% interest rate for small businesses, and 2.75% interest rate for nonprofits

The SBA offers a PDF that explains the application process in detail.

You’ll need to select “Economic Injury” and “COVID-19” options. The Utah disaster number is UT00066. The process requires several financial documents and may take over an hour to apply.

For additional information, please contact the SBA disaster assistance customer service center at 1-800-659-2955 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or by email.

 

Salt Lake City Emergency Fund
Salt Lake City also has an emergency fund, but you have to be within city limits to qualify: https://www.slc.gov/ed/elploan/

 

Ogden City Emergency Fund
Ogden City’s Emergency Loan Fund is available to help companies immediately affected by COVID-19 (coronavirus). https://www.ogdencity.com/1458/Business-Information-Center

 

Private Loan and Grant Programs

There are a few additional programs we have become aware of that may be helpful as well.

Facebook: $100M in Grants for Small Businesses. Facebook is offering $100 million in grants to support over 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries. Facebook will be accepting applications for grants in the coming weeks. https://www.facebook.com/business/boost/grant

Nav: Small Business Grant Contest. Nav is giving grants to small businesses that tell a story of preservation and opportunity in the face of a past or ongoing challenge. Apply by May 30th https://www.nav.com/business-grant-contest/

Kiva. If you’re a small business owner who believes you can benefit from a Kiva loan, or you know one in your community, reach out at kiva.org/borrow and apply for a loan.

Opportunity Fund. Specializes in money lending to small businesses owned by women, immigrants and people of color, is collaborating with investors and nonprofits to put together a coronavirus relief fund that will provide grants and low-interest-rate loans to business owners in need. https://www.opportunityfund.org/assistance-for-small-business-owners-affected-by-covid-19/

Communicating with Employees

Right now, a lot of individuals are scared, and uncertainty causes even more anxiety. It can be helpful to reassure employees and provide them with the information they need to feel safe.

We created some templates that you can modify as needed to communicate with your employees about your expectations during the COVID-19 situation.These are editable Word documents that will automatically download when you click on the links below.

Preventing the Spread of Illness 
Employee Work from Home Guide

The CDC has a number of resources available in both English and Spanish that you can provide or post for employees to help educate them about reducing the spread of COVID-19.

CDC Handouts and Posters

OSHA Guidance on COVID-19

OSHA has put together guidance for employers to help keep their employees safe during the COVID-19 outbreak. The 2020 Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 includes information about:

  • What is COVID-19
  • How an outbreak could impact your workplace
  • Steps to reduce exposure to your workplace
  • What to do to protect workers
  • Proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

In addition, clients can visit the OSHA website for additional information, common questions, and quick facts.

Coverage for COVID-19 Testing on the Helpside Medical Plan

Participants on any of the Helpside Medical Plan options through EMI Health will not experience any co-pays, deductibles, or other cost sharing for Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing recommended and completed by an in-network health care provider. The plan will cover the cost of these 100% as long as you use an in-network provider. We will be sending an email communication with this information to all plan participants later today.

Both the Helpside and EMI Health customer service teams are full staffed and available to answer your questions.

Please encourage employees to use TeleMed services:

As a participant on the Helpside Medical Plan, access to WellVia telemedicine services is available 24 hours a day, 7 day as a week, at no additional cost to you. Although the actual testing for the COVID-19 virus requires a physical visit to a health care provider’s office, WellVia’s staff of board-certified physicians may be able to help assess your symptoms and possibly treat some symptoms via known remedies, without you having to leave the safety and comfort of your home.

Using this service can save lives as it keeps people out of doctors’ offices, urgent care clinics, and emergency rooms during COVID-19, and helps to reduce the pressure on the health care system.

To contact WellVia telemedicine:

Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Resources for COVID-19

If you have employees who are feeling stressed by the COVID-19 outbreak, they may find the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) resources helpful. All clients who participate in the basic life insurance through Helpside have access to the EAP for their employees.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)-COVID-19

Using the EAP Mobile App

Helpside Office Eliminates In-Person Visits

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact the communities where we live and work, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily eliminate in-person visits to our office in Lindon, Utah beginning Monday, March 23, 2020. Our team members will continue to be available via email, phone, chat, and online meetings.

If you normally send your employees to our office to complete new hire paperwork, they will need to utilize an electronic option instead. Our Client Success Managers (CSM) will assist them over the phone, via email, or via chat with their paperwork and will answer any of their questions. Unfortunately, we will be unable to conduct drug screening during this time. If you would like, we can provide you with testing materials and instructions so you can continue to conduct pre-employment drug screenings at your location. We can also help you identify third-party testing agencies to facilitate drug tests for your staff if you prefer.

If you normally come in to our office to pay for your payroll and/or to collect paper checks, please speak with your Payroll Specialist to determine the best alternative.

Because the health and well-being of all employees, their families, our clients, and the community is of utmost importance to us, we have decided to take these precautions. We will revert to our normal processes as soon as it is prudent to do so. In the meantime, we remain fully-staffed to ensure there is minimal interruption in the payroll, benefits, risk management, and HR services upon which you have come to rely.

Thank you for your understanding and support during this challenging time.

Completing Form I-9 Remotely Due to COVID-19

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has offered guidance to employers for completing the identification verification section of the Form I-9 with employees now working remotely due to COVID-19.

If a new employee is working remotely. employers must inspect the Section 2 documents remotely (e.g., over video link, fax or email, etc.) and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents, within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2. Employers also should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 Additional Information field once physical inspection takes place after normal operations resume.

Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate. These provisions may be implemented by employers for a period of 60 days from the date of this notice OR within 3 business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first.

Once normal operations resume, all employees who were onboarded using remote verification, must report to their employer within three business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate.

More information can be found here: https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/dhs-announces-flexibility-requirements-related-form-i-9-compliance 

Layoff Resources

Final Pay for Employees Who are Laid Off
If you are laying off employees due to a decrease in businesses from COVID-19, you need to be aware of final pay procedures in the state where the employee works. For example, In Utah, employees who are laid off must receive their final paycheck within 24 hours, but employees laid off in Wyoming can be paid on the next scheduled pay date. For other state final pay laws check here.

Benefits for Employees Who are Laid Off
If you participate in the Helpside Medical Plan and you have to temporarily lay off employees, they may qualify for a non-medical leave of absence that would allow them to keep their benefits during the layoff, as long as it last less than 90 days. Normally an employee’s benefits coverage ends at the end of the month they last worked full-time. Then, when the employee returns to full-time work, they have to wait for the regular benefits waiting period before qualifying for coverage.

If an employee completes the non-medical leave of absence form prior to being laid off, they would be able to keep their benefits during a temporary layoff lasting less than 90 days.  If the employee pays a portion of the premium, that premium will be charged to the employer during the leave of absence and the employer is responsible for collecting that from the employee (or an extra payroll deduction can be set up upon the employee’s return).

If you are not participating the in the Helpside Medical Plan, reach out to your medical plan provider for information about how they will handle temporary layoffs.

If you have any questions about benefits, please reach out to us at (801) 443-1090 or service@helpside.com.

Unemployment
Employees who are being laid off (temporarily or indefinitely) due to lack of work may qualify for unemployment. Employees should contact their local Department of Labor for information about filing for unemployment. If an employee is temporarily laid off but expected to be called back to work at a later date, they likely do not need to look for other employment. If the employee is not going to be called back to work, they will need to seek other employment while collecting unemployment benefits. If employees have specific questions about unemployment, they should contact their local Department of Labor for assistance. Here are some of the website for states we work in frequently:

Utah Department of Workforce Services UI Claim Filing
Wyoming Department of Workforce Services
Idaho Department of Labor
Colorado Department of Labor and Employment

Helpside will assist with processing any employer paperwork for unemployment claims that come through from the state agencies. Please let us know as soon as possible when you lay off an employee or reduce their hours so we can quickly respond to these claims. You can do that using our online Employee Offboarding resources.

Legislative Changes

There are a few bills being considered by Congress that are designed to provide relief for employers and employees. We will keep you updated as we learn more.

Additional Economic Stimulus

The Senate plans to vote today on an additional economic stimulus bill that is designed to stabilize the economy during the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill includes individual payments, increases in unemployment funds and additional financial resources. We will provide more details as they become available.

Minimizing Stress and Distractions to Keep Employees Safe

It’s understandable that the majority of workers are feeling stressed with the COVID-19 outbreak, slowing economy, scarce supplies, and now the recent earthquake in Utah. As a result, we have seen an increase in workplace injuries among Helpside clients.

From our experience, there is a very strong correlation between stress/distractions and workplace accidents. Our bodies physiology is designed to cope with threatening emotional situations. Therese Mascardo, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist, states, “When we’re experiencing a threatening emotional situation, our brain’s survival systems kick into high gear. Instead of thinking from the rational, logical frontal lobes of our brain, the survival-based amygdala can take over and make everything feel like life or death.”

She also noted that “our bodies are designed to get our attention and help us deal with what we need to address. If we don’t slow down and pay attention to those cues, our bodies will eventually slow us down and force the issue.”

Increased stress can lead to us not focusing on the task at hand or lead to a loss of sleep which can, in turn, lead to further distractions and inattentiveness.

Here are some suggestions to help you and your employees cope with stress and overcome distractions that could be negatively impacting your work. Read More

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