Helpful resources for employers facing the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The past months 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.
COVID-19 Employer Resources
Utah Temporary Statewide COVID-19 Restrictions
The Statewide Temporary COVID-19 Restrictions issued by Utah Governor Gary Herbert on November 8, 2020 expired on November 23, 2020, but nearly all requirements for businesses have been continued through a new public health order.
The order renews the requirements that all businesses must:
- Require each employee and contractor to wear a face mask while at work
- Post conspicuous signs at each business that list COVID-19 symptoms, asks employees and customers experiencing symptoms to stay home, and provides notice of physical distancing and face mask requirements
We have created poster templates you can use to meet the business posting requirements:
Additional posters are available from utah.coronavirus.gov.
According to the order, businesses must comply or may face monetary penalties. This new order is set to expired on December 8, 2020.
The Utah Coronavirus website has many helpful resources for employers including answers to some frequently asked questions: https://coronavirus.utah.gov/business/workplace-resources/
How to Respond to an Employee’s Positive COVID-19 Test
As the number of COVID-19 cases grows, employers across the country are dealing with the difficulty of responding to an employee’s positive COVID-19 test.
Employers are responsible for handling the situation swiftly to protect the health of other employees while preserving the affected employee’s confidentiality. In addition to notifying the company and its customers, employers must also disinfect the office and evaluate next steps.
If you’re in this situation, you may be wondering what you need to do. Here is an overview of how you can respond to finding out an employee has COVID-19.
Responding to the Employee
When an employee notifies you that he or she has tested positive for COVID-19, you should respond calmly and empathetically. In these uncertain times, it can be easy to overreact, but you need to ensure that the infected employee is treated with compassion. Reassure the employee that their identity will remain confidential and be sure to help them coordinate taking leave or paid time off until they’ve recovered.
You will also need to ask the employee some specific questions about who they have been in contact with in the last two weeks. Obtaining this information enables you to directly notify customers and other employees that they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Notifying Employees and Customers
Without disclosing the identity of the infected employee, directly notify any co-workers or customers who had direct contact with the employee in the past two weeks. Because of the sensitive nature of the information, it is best to talk to individuals over video chat or phone, since in-person communication is not advisable. Be sure to remain calm and let them know that someone they have been in contact with, or someone who has been in their physical work area has tested positive for COVID-19. Recommend that they self-quarantine for the next 14 days and monitor themselves for the symptoms of COVID-19. If feasible, allow employees to work from home during this time. If you get questions you simply can’t answer, recommend that employees contact a health care provider (using telehealth if possible) and refer to the guidance on the CDC website if they have questions. Let individuals know what support the company will offer during this time. Check in with the employee who tested positive, and any employees or customers isolating due to close contact, regularly.
Notify the rest of the company that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 and share the comapny’s plans for keeping the office safe.
Disinfecting the Office
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 can remain on hard surfaces for up to 12 hours, creating a potential risk of transmission. Depending on the size of your organization, you may want to consider closing the office for a few days so that it can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. All surfaces that the infected employee may have touched should be disinfected, as well as other high-touch surfaces, which include countertops, cabinets, doorknobs, handles and chairs.
Employers should evaluate what their next steps will be. Each business is unique and should make the best decision for their company and employees. Be aware of provisions included in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), should you have employees who need to take leave due to a COVID-19 diagnosis or a recommendation to quarantine by a healthcare provider. Employers should contact Helpside HR with any questions about FFCRA or other types of paid leave.
Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, employers should be prepared to respond to an employee testing positive for the disease. By being prepared, employers can swiftly respond to the employee, notify the rest of their organization, and make plans for moving forward.
How to Properly Pay Employees Who Must Miss Work Due to COVID-19
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 became effective April 1, 2020.
The Department of Labor has provided a notification poster for employers. Please make sure this is posted or provided to employees.
Here are the steps you should to take to make sure that you are properly handling FFCRA leave requests related to COVID-19:
STEP 1: If an employee requests leave that may be related to COVID-19, please ask the employee to complete the FFCRA Paid Leave Request form: www.helpside.com/ffcra-leave-request If an employee is unable to complete the form on their device, an email with the same data and attached documentation can be used in place of the form.
STEP 2: Be sure to ask the employee to provide you with all applicable documentation, for example, written documentation from the employee’s healthcare provider advising the employee or person employee cares for quarantine for a certain number of days. Please see the FFCRA Leave Request Form for more examples of acceptable documentation.
STEP 3: Determine if the employee is eligible for paid leave under the FFCRA. Helpside HR is available via phone or email to assist on making these determinations if you are unsure.
STEP 4: Send a copy of the completed form and any attached documentation to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep a copy of the request and documentation for your records for at least 4 years.
STEP 5: Receive approval via email from Helpside. You will get an email within 24-48 hours
STEP 6: When you report payroll to your Payroll Specialist, be sure to let them know how many hours of paid leave an employee should have for the pay period and which pay code it should fall under. For more information on payroll codes, go here
- Emergency Paid Sick Leave for Self: COVIDLEAVE
- Emergency Paid Sick Leave for Care of Others: COVIDCARE
- Expanded FMLA: COVIDCHILD
STEP 7: For leave lasting beyond the 10 days/80 hours, contact Helpside HR for guidance on expanded FMLA, regular FMLA, ADA, PTO, unpaid time off, etc…
More information about the FFCRA itself, including answers to some common questions, can be found below.
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 (see question #58): 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 for 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
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.
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.
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
Here is some more helpful information from the Department of Labor:
- General information from the DOL about the leave requirements
- FAQs about the leave requirements
- FAQs about the notice requirements
Getting Critical Employees Back to Work After COVID-19 Exposure
As employers continue to navigate the COVID-19 situation within their workforce, the CDC is providing guidance and best practices to keep businesses running and employees safe. Previous guidance required workers to self-isolate at home for 14 days after exposure to someone with symptoms of COVID-19 or a confirmed positive COVID-19 test. This timeframe includes the 48 hours before an individual, who has been confirmed positive for COIVD-19, became symptomatic.
Recently, the CDC provided new guidance that will help employees who may have been exposed but are not experiencing symptoms get back to work. The new guidance from the CDC states that exposed employees who are symptom-free can continue to work as long as:
They wear a facemask. The employee should wear a face mask at all times in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure. Employers can issue facemasks or can approve employees’ supplied cloth face coverings.
They are checked regularly for symptoms. Employers should take the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to the employee starting work. Ideally, temperature checks should happen before the individual enters the workplace by a supervisor. If the employee doesn’t have an elevated temperature or symptoms, they should self-monitor and report any changes to their supervisor immediately.
They practice social distancing in the workplace. The employee should stay six feet away from all other employees as much as their work duties allow.
Employers disinfect shared spaces regularly. Frequently touched places such as doorknobs, light switches, bathrooms, break rooms, and other shared spaces like conference rooms should be disinfected regularly while wearing disposable gloves. Individual employee workspaces including desks, chair, keyboards and phone should also be disinfected or cleaning materials should be provided to employees.
Even if there is no known exposure to COVID-19, if an employee begins showing symptoms, they should be sent home immediately. All surfaces that the employee may have been in contact with should be disinfected while wearing disposable gloves.
The CDC continues to provide updated recommendations for employers.
Can I Require COVID-19 Testing for Employees?
Keeping your employees safe while at work is an essential part of running a successful business. Amidst the many negative impacts COVID-19 has had on our world is the threat of employees coming to work and spreading the virus throughout your facility. We often receive the question, “Am I allowed to test my employees for COVID-19?”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) requires that any mandatory medical test of employees be “job related and consistent with business necessity.” Applying this standard to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may take screening steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others. Therefore, an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before permitting them to enter the workplace and/or periodically to determine if their continued presence in the workplace poses a direct threat to others. According to the EEOC, testing administered by employers consistent with current CDC guidance will meet the ADA’s “business necessity” standard.
While testing your employees to determine if they currently have the virus is allowed, testing your employees to determine if they have had the virus previously is not. According to the CDC’s Interim Guidelines, antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.” Thus, requiring antibody testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace is not currently allowed under the ADA. Please note that an antibody test is different from a test to determine if someone has an active case of COVID-19 (i.e., a viral test), which is allowed.
If your employee has COVID-19, we recommend following the CDC’s guidance and temporarily not allowing this individual to continue to work within your facility. Employees may return to work once they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider. Other factors such as whether or not they may be eligible for paid leave under the FFCRA should be considered.
Coverage for COVID-19 Testing and Treatment on the Helpside Medical Plan
Testing for COVID-19
There has been much talk lately about testing for COVID-19. But what does it all mean? There are two categories of tests for COVID-19: viral tests and antibody tests.
What is a viral test?
Viral tests check samples from your respiratory system, such as swabs on the inside of the nose, to tell you if you are currently infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. A positive test means you have the virus. A negative test means you probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected. However, it is possible that you were very early in your infection and that you could test positive later.
Who should get a viral test?
The CDC, health departments, and healthcare providers have guidance for who should be tested. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or if you have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, call your healthcare provider to determine if you should be tested.
Does my health plan cover viral testing?
EMI Health will cover viral tests without member cost share (no deductible, copayment, or coinsurance) up to the plan’s maximum allowable charge. To be covered, the test must be requested by a physician and performed by an accredited laboratory or medical facility.
What is an antibody test?
These tests look for the presence of antibodies, which are proteins made in response to infections. They show the body’s efforts to fight off a specific infection. A positive antibody test is presumed to mean a person has been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 at some point in the past. It does not mean the person is currently infected.
Who should get an antibody test?
There isn’t enough information yet to say whether someone will definitely be immune and protected from reinfection in they have antibodies to the virus. In addition, these tests are not 100-percent accurate, and false positive or negative results may occur. It is too early to make recommendations on the use of antibody tests to determine protective immunity and infectiousness.
Does my health plan cover antibody testing?
EMI Health will cover one antibody test without member cost share (no deductible, copayment, or coinsurance) up to the plan’s maximum allowable charge. To be covered, the test must be requested by a physician and performed by an accredited laboratory or medical facility.
Both the Helpside and EMI Health customer service teams are full staffed and available to answer your questions.
- You can reach Helpside at (801) 443-1090, email@example.com, or via chat on our website at helpside.com
- You can reach EMI Health at (800) 662-5851
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:
- Download the app at wellviasolutions.com
- Call 1-877-872-0370
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.
Preventing the Spread of Illness at Work
Having a healthy workforce has been on the top of every business owner’s mind right now. While there are many things out of your control, there are some actions you can take to help keep your employees safe and healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond. As we will soon have employees who are working from home returning to work, here are a few things businesses can do to help protect their employees from illness:
Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home
Communicate often about the company’s commitment to keeping employees healthy. Simply having a policy in your company policy guide isn’t enough. Make sure managers talk to employees about staying home if they are ill. Keep the lines of communication open so employees feel comfortable asking questions about their specific situation.
Review Your PTO Policy
Review your paid time off policy to ensure it supports employees taking time off when they are ill. Also, make sure you understand the paid leave laws in your state. Consider that employees sometimes feel pressure to come into the office even when they are unwell. Some reasons for this might include not wanting to disappoint co-workers or clients, not wanting to use PTO saved for a planned upcoming event, etc. Talk to employees about this and work with them to understand their specific situation.
Respond Appropriately to Sick Employees
If an employee comes to you and tells you they are ill, respond empathetically. Help them come up with a plan for managing their work while taking time off to get well. Consider remote work options if the employee is still possibly contagious, but well enough to do some work from home.
Encourage Frequent Handwashing
Make sure you have handwashing supplies like soap and paper towels stocked in the restrooms and break room. Post signs reminding employees to wash their hands. Keep hand sanitizer in conference rooms and other frequently used areas where handwashing is not available.
Provide Employees with Cleaning Supplies
Keep your office space clean. In addition to your regular cleaning protocol, have cleaning supplies on hand for employees to use their own workspace and encourage them to keep their area clean.
Taking the precautions year-round can help you keep your workforce as healthy as possible.
Employer Guide to Face Coverings in the Workplace During COVID-19
Whether you are an essential business who has stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic or you are bringing employees back to the workplace, masks are a hot topic. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings including workplaces, where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community transmission.
There are many questions about the differences between cloth face coverings, masks, and respirators, and which (if any) are appropriate to wear in the workplace.
What are the Differences?
Employers should know that face coverings, masks, and respirators are different and should be used by different types of professions in the workplace.
- Face Coverings
According to the CDC, cloth face coverings may prevent people who don’t know they have the virus from transmitting it to others. These can be purchased or even made at home. Cloth face coverings typically filter out some particles in the air, but do not offer much protection for the wearer from catching the virus. This is why social distancing measures are important even if individuals are wearing masks. These face coverings are not surgical masks or respirators and are not appropriate substitutes for them in workplaces where masks or respirators are recommended or required.
Medical or surgical masks are similar to cloth face coverings but may be made of disposable materials like paper or plastic. Similar to cloth face coverings, they do not actually filter out particles, but instead prevent droplets from spreading by the wearer. These may be in short supply as they are needed for healthcare professionals and medical settings, which is one reason cloth face coverings have been popular options.
Filtering respirators, such as an N95 and K95 masks are drastically different than the previous two options. These are designed to fit tightly against the face and can have an impact on your heart and lungs. As a result, individuals who wear one in the workplace are required to be medically cleared. Individuals must receive a receive a fit test and a pulmonary function test. If not worn properly, these respirator masks offer little to no protection and could cause serious health issues. N95 respirators can filter out 95% of air particulates that are from .3 microns in size. The virus itself is smaller than what a N95 can filter (.05-.1 microns), but generally has to be accompanied by droplets which can range from .25 microns and up. Even N95 masks are not going to offer 100% protection. These types of respirator masks are also currently in short supply due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is not recommended that individuals who are not required to wear these types of masks use them at this time.
Should My Organization Require Face Coverings or Masks?
Masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the CDC considers these as critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders. Unless providing critical services in one of these professions, most employers will want to consider using cloth face coverings rather than masks. N95 respirators can filter out 95% of air particulates that are from .3 microns in size. To put this in perspective, a cross section of a human hair is 50-70 microns and humans cannot see anything less than 40 microns. The virus itself is smaller than what a N95 can filter (.05-.1 microns), but generally has to be accompanied by droplets which can range from .25 microns up. If employees choose to wear a respirator mask in the workplace, they should be required to complete a Voluntary Respiratory Protection Program form and follow OSHA recommendations for use. Before making any determinations, employers should check updated guidelines from sources such as the CDC and local governments.
Face Coverings in the Workplace
Cloth face coverings may prevent people who don’t know they have the virus from transmitting it to others. Wearing a cloth face covering will not prevent all transmission or infection of COVID-19, but it can reduce the spread of larger droplets. The CDC has stated that cloth face coverings should not be a substitute for social distancing. If employees are able to maintain a distance of six feet from others, cloth face coverings may not offer much additional protection
The CDC currently has the following guidelines for effective use of cloth face coverings, which include the following characteristics:
- A tight fit but comfortable on the face, allowing for breathing without restriction
- Secured with ties or ear loops
- Includes multiple layers of durable fabric, able to withstand washing for reuse
General best practices for implementing face coverings in the workplace include:
- Create specific policies. Employers should have policies and practices in place for use of face coverings. Topics to cover may include:
- Who is expected to wear face coverings?
- How will face coverings will be supplied?
- How will employees be informed about using face coverings correctly?
Employers will also want to plan for unique situations, including:
- An employee who objects to wearing a face covering
- An employee who loses his or her face covering
- An employee who is unable to wear face coverings due to a medical condition
- An employee who would prefer to wear their own face covering, if the employer will be providing them
- Communicate expectations to all employees. Employers should communicate policy updates related to face masks to all employees. This may include posting notices, as well as training employees on best practices. Communications should cover topics such as whether face coverings are optional or mandatory, who will be providing them and how they will be washed, and how training will be conducted.
- Ensure face coverings are washed daily. This may mean that employees will need more than one face covering to ensure adequate time for laundering. According to the CDC, washing face coverings in a washing machine should properly clean it.
Effective practices can ensure that face coverings are being used effectively and that employers can plan for how to introduce face coverings in the workplace. Many health experts advise that COVID-19 may even come back in additional waves, and employers may end up utilizing COVID-19 related business practices for the near future. When implementing face coverings in the workplace, employers should check with local guidelines and laws, and seek legal counsel when implementing any policies or changes.
Training Employees on Properly Wearing Face Coverings
To ensure the best use of face coverings in the workplace, employers may want to consider a training program for employees. Training dialogue may include the following best practices:
- Before putting on your face covering, make sure to wash your hands. Upon entering the workplace, ensure your cloth face covering is snug and secure. Make sure you are able to breathe comfortably and without restriction.
- Avoid touching your face or the cloth while you are wearing it. Touch only the ties or strings when you remove your face covering.
- Remember—wearing a cloth face covering does not replace other COVID-19 best practices, such as washing hands often, maintaining social distancing of 6 feet or more and avoiding touching of the face.
- When it is time to take off a face covering, avoid touching hands to your face, eyes, nose, and mouth. As soon as the face covering has been removed, make sure to wash your hands immediately.
- Store you face covering in a paper bag (plastic if paper is not available) when not in use. Placing your face covering on your desk, in your pocket, or in your purse will contaminate those surfaces.
- Cloth face coverings should be washed in a washing machine between uses.
Paying for Face Coverings
In some states, organizations are currently required to supply face coverings to employees, while others offer more flexibility. Employers should check with local guidelines for accurate and updated information. For employers that are looking to provide cloth face coverings can make or purchase them. For employers that are requesting employees to make or purchase their own face coverings, employers may be required to reimburse employees for time, materials and costs, depending on the employment laws in their area.
Protecting the Safety and Health of Employees
As employers plan for how to operate both during and post-coronavirus, creating preventive best practices can set up organizations for success. By being proactive and establishing appropriate measures and practices, employers can not only help prevent the spreading of diseases—but put employees at ease that necessary steps are being taken to ensure the health and safety of those who will be spending time in the workplace. Remember that in most cases, if social distancing is taking place, a face covering might not be necessary, but each business must decide what is appropriate based on their industry, employees, and location.
As laws and guidelines related to COVID-19 update, employers should consult with legal counsel when updating or changing policies. As you consider planning for your organization in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, contact Helpside, Inc. for additional COVID-19 related resources.
OSHA Guidance on COVID-19
On May 19, 2020 the OSHA released new guidelines for returning to work in the time of COVID-19. The revision allows OSHA representatives to inspect workplaces for compliance more often. What they are looking for depends on your location, type of business, and the level of risk. This is just to ensure that employees are working in the safest environment possible. Below are some potential areas of focus from OSHA when inspecting a workplace for compliance. The full list of what they are looking for can be found here.
- Determine whether the employer has a written pandemic plan as recommended by the CDC. If this plan is a part of another emergency preparedness plan, the review does not need to be expanded to the entire emergency preparedness plan (i.e., a limited review addressing issues related to exposure to pandemics would be adequate). The evaluation of an employer’s pandemic plan may be based upon other written programs and, in a hospital, a review of the infection control plan.
- Review the facility’s procedures for hazard assessment and protocols for PPE use with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.
- Determine whether the workplace has handled specimens or evaluated, cared for, or treated suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients. This should include a review of laboratory procedures for handling specimens and procedures for decontamination of surfaces.
- Review other relevant information, such as medical records related to worker exposure incident(s), OSHA-required recordkeeping, and any other pertinent information or documentation deemed appropriate by the CSHO. This includes determining whether any employees have contracted COVID-19, have been hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, or have been placed on precautionary removal/isolation.
- Review the respiratory protection program and any modified respirator policies related to COVID-19 and assess compliance with 29 CFR § 1910.134.
- Review employee training records, including any records of training related to COVID-19 exposure prevention or in preparation for a pandemic, if available.
- Review documentation of provisions made by the employer to obtain and provide appropriate and adequate supplies of PPE.
- Determine if the facility has airborne infection isolation rooms/areas, and gather information about the employer’s use of air pressure monitoring systems and any periodic testing procedures. Review any procedures for assigning patients to those rooms/areas and procedures to limit access to those rooms/areas only by employees who are trained and adequately outfitted with
- Determine and document whether the employer has considered or implemented a hierarchy of controls for worker protection, i.e., engineering controls, administrative controls, work practices, or PPE (including a respiratory protection program). Such documentation can be in the form of photos or design specifications.
If you have any questions about COVID-19 and your workplace, please contact Helpside.
Planning to Bring Employees Back to the Workplace
While no one knows when you will be able to bring employees who have been furloughed or working from home back into the workplace, having a plan to bring them back safely will be important. There are things you can do now to be prepared when the time comes.
Develop a Return to Work Action Plan
Helpside has a template you can use to create a return to work plan that will help you communicate your commitment to the safety of your employees and customers. Download Template
Proactively prevent the spread of illness
There are many things you can do to help prevent the spread of illness in your workforce. First, make sure you are encouraging sick employees to stay home. Your company communications, managers, paid time off policy, and absence policy should support this. Encourage frequent handwashing. Make sure your restrooms and other common areas are stocked with soap and paper towels. Provide hand sanitizer in areas where handwashing is not feasible. Keep the workspace clean, focusing on frequently touched areas. Provide supplies to employees to keep their work areas clean.
Consider work from home options or flexible scheduling
While it may not be ideal, having some employees continue to work from home temporarily can limit the number of people coming into the workplace. If work from home is not feasible, consider flexible scheduling options that would reduce the number of employees in the workplace each day.
Rethink your workplace layout
Does your space allow for six feet of separation between most employees? If not, it may be time to try to rethink the design of your workplace. Rethink common areas where employees congregate. Restrict public access and discourage visitors whenever possible. Discourage employees from using their co-workers’ phones, desks, and other work tools and equipment.
Ask your employees for feedback
As you make your plans for what your workplace will look like when the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak is reduced, ask your employees for their feedback. If you have employees currently working from home, ask them what they like about it and what challenges they have faced. Ask employees if they feel safe returning to the office and find out what they need from you to feel safer.
One of the biggest concerns for employees right now is the uncertainty of the future. Communicate with employees regularly about your plans. Give employees as much time as possible to plan for their return as well. Employees may have to find new childcare or transit options. Providing as much information as early as possible will help.
Even though the timing is uncertain, planning now can help ensure that your team has a smooth transition back into the workplace. We have a free editable Return to Work Action Plan template available. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a copy.
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
Trump recently signed the CARES Act, which includes important provisions to help small businesses keep employees on payroll during the COVID-19 crisis. These benefits are potentially available to all employers and, in some cases, the federal government will cover many of the costs of continuing to pay your employees for a period of time.
As outlined in more detail here, there are three new ways that employers can access funding for payroll expenses. Understanding your options is vital to making the best business decision for your company:
- Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan: The biggest change is a new streamlined SBA loan program designed to provide eligible businesses with cash to meet payroll (including benefits) and other fixed costs (such as rent, interest on mortgages, and utility payments) for up to eight weeks. The maximum loan amount would be 250% of the employer’s average monthly payroll costs, capped at $10 million. The CARES Act expands the previous SBA definitions of small employer in a number of ways to increase the availability of these loans and makes changes in the traditional SBA loan process that should speed-up the process of obtaining a loan. Additionally, after the borrowing business demonstrates that the loan proceeds were actually used to maintain previous payroll or pay those other fixed costs, then the loans (and any interest due) would be eligible for very generous loan forgiveness (and the forgiven amounts would not be taxable). The Treasury Department released the loan application form and a Borrower Fact Sheet on March 31, 2020, but you are not able to apply until April 3, 2020. You can apply through any existing SBA lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. Business owners can consult with their local bank/ lender as to whether it is participating or visit www.sba.gov for a list of SBA lenders. Please keep in mind, that the Paycheck Protection loans under the CARES Act are different from the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) from the SBA that have been around for years. Most notably in that EIDL loans do not have the Paycheck Protection’s loan forgiveness rules. If you have already applied for or received EIDL loans, you will be able to refinance the EIDL into the PPP for loan forgiveness purposes. However, you cannot take out an EIDL and a PPP loan at the same time and for the same purposes. Click here for a guide and checklist from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the new loan program.
- 50% Employee Retention Tax Credit: Another option allows employers that are uniquely affected by COVID-19 to claim a refundable tax credit against the employer portion of payroll tax equal to 50% of certain wages paid to an employee from March 13, 2020 through the end of the year. Only $10,000 of wages can be taken into account for any employee. This 50% credit would be available to businesses (i) that have had their operations fully or partially suspended by government order due to COVID-19 or (ii) that experienced a 50% decline in gross receipts during a 2020 calendar quarter when compared with the same quarter in 2019. The IRs has provided more details about this options here.
- Social Security Tax Deferral: Another provision that is available to employers of all sizes is the ability to defer the payment of the employer portion of Social Security taxes (6.2% of wages) for the remainder of 2020. Fifty percent of those deferred taxes would have to be repaid by the end of 2021, with the remainder due by the end of 2022.
You Can’t Choose All of the Above. Each of these new options provides generous tax subsidies to assist employers, but you have to make decisions about what would be best for your company.
It is critical that you carefully evaluate your eligibility for and the benefits of each of these options, since the amount of assistance provided by the federal government could vary greatly depending on which path you choose.
As with all new legislation surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, information about exactly how to access some of the tax relief is still coming out. We will provide you with additional information as it becomes available, so you can make the best decision for your company.
Utah Leads Together Small Business Bridge Loan Program
The Utah Leads Together Small Business Bridge Loan program uses $11 million in state funds to provide gap funding to Utah’s small business and nonprofit entities. Round one has ended, but applications round two can be made in the online application portal from April 13 at 8 a.m. to April 16 at noon (MDT). Learn more at: https://business.utah.gov/utah-leads-together-small-business-bridge-loan-program/
Salt Lake Chamber Mainstreet Preservation Grant
The Salt Lake Chamber has announced the creation of the Mainstreet Preservation Grant to support Utah rural and/or minority small businesses that need immediate assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic and before federal stimulus funding is accessed. Businesses may apply for the grants through their local chamber of commerce or county economic development department. Learn more: slchamber.com/mainstreet-preservation-grant
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/
Hello Alice: Hello Alice is offering $10,000 grants being distributed immediately to small business owners impacted by coronavirus, as part of our broader mission to ensure Business for All. In addition to funding, grant recipients will receive ongoing support from the Hello Alice community. Apply here: https://businessforall.helloalice.com/signup
SheaMosture: SheaMoisture announces $1M relief fund to women of color entrepreneurs affected by coronavirus Businesses can visit sheamoisturefund.com to learn more and apply
Google Ads: Google has pledged to help small businesses, by providing $340 million in credits for Google Ads that the company says can be used throughout 2020 across any of Google’s advertising platforms. According to the company, the goal is “to alleviate some of the cost of staying in touch with their customers.” There’s no sign-up or application process. Instead, credits will automatically be added to active Google Ads accounts.
Preparing for PPP Loan Forgiveness
The U.S. Department of Treasury and the Small Business Administration (SBA) recently released the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Forgiveness application and instructions for small businesses to use when applying for PPP loan forgiveness with their lender. The release of this application has been much anticipated by U.S. small businesses that were able to secure financial relief through the PPP, as many were wondering about next steps with regard to PPP loan forgiveness.
This article provides a general overview of the application and information about loan forgiveness eligibility under the PPP. For more information about your organization’s loan, please contact your lender.
Overview of the application
The application is an 11-page document that consists of four parts:
- PPP Loan Forgiveness Calculation Form
- PPP Schedule A
- PPP Schedule A Worksheet
- Optional Demographic Form
Employers must submit the first two items to the same lender they applied for and received the PPP loan from. In addition to helping employers calculate the amount of PPP forgiveness they are eligible to receive, the application also clarifies definitions, guidance and documentation requirements for applying for loan forgiveness.
The application and accompanying instructions clarify administrative questions surrounding PPP loans but do not provide guidance on how quickly forgiveness will work and whether bonuses are includable under compensation. Look for the SBA and Treasury to issue regulations and guidance related to these issues in the near future.
Clarified guidance provided by the application and instructions
As previously mentioned, the application and instructions provide clarification for certain definitions and guidance for administrative queries.
- Covered payroll period vs. alternative payroll covered period—Previous guidance for PPP loans stated that the eight-week period during which eligible expenses are forgivable begins the date the borrower receives disbursed PPP loan funds. The application and instructions state that borrowers who have biweekly or more frequent payroll schedules may utilize an alternative eight-week period to calculate payroll costs. For purposes of this alternative payroll covered period, the eight-week period should begin on the first day of the first pay period following PPP loan disbursement.
- Covered payroll and nonpayroll costs—The application and instructions provide further guidance on both covered payroll and nonpayroll costs as they relate to loan forgiveness eligibility.
- Payroll costs—The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act requires that eligible covered payroll costs be incurred and paid within the covered eight-week period. According to the instructions, costs are incurred on the day the employee’s pay is earned (i.e., works their hours) and are paid on the day the employer distributes a paycheck or facilitates an ACH transaction. Further, the instructions explain that incurred payroll costs that are not paid on the last day of the covered period are eligible for forgiveness so long as they are paid on or before the next payroll date. Noncash payroll costs (e.g., employee health insurance and employer state and local taxes on employee compensation) may be included, provided that such costs satisfy the same incurred and paid requirements within the covered period.
- Nonpayroll costs—The application and instructions provide clarification on inclusion of certain nonpayroll costs that were incurred or in place prior to Feb. 15, 2020. These costs must be paid during the covered period, incurred and paid during the covered period or paid on or before the next regular billing date, and are limited to 25% of the total PPP loan forgiveness amount. Specifically, the following nonpayroll cost definitions are further explained:
- Rent—While it was widely understood that PPP funds could be used to cover rental or mortgage payments for office, storefront and other real property, it was not previously made clear whether lease of personal property or interest payments (e.g., mortgage interest or interest on real or personal property) could be included in rent and eligible for forgiveness. According to the instructions, personal property items (e.g., copiers or company vehicles) and interest paid on loans for real or personal property “in force between Feb. 15, 2020,” and through the covered period are includable under nonpayroll costs that may be forgiven.
- Utilities—The instructions clarify that utility expenses are includable under nonpayroll costs for forgiveness. Specifically, “electricity, gas, water, transportation, telephone or internet access, for which service began before Feb. 15, 2020,” may be included under nonpayroll costs for forgiveness.
- Full-time equivalent employee (FTE) calculation—Prior to the issuance of the application and instructions, it was not clear how employers should calculate FTEs under the PPP. According to the instructions, employers can assign an FTE value to each employee, which can be calculated by dividing the average number of hours an employee is paid per week by 40. The calculated amount can be rounded to the nearest tenth but cannot exceed 1.0.
- Reduced loan forgiveness calculation—Prior to the issuance of the application and instructions, it was largely unknown whether and by how much loan forgiveness would be reduced if an employer failed to restore their head count or payroll costs to pre-coronavirus amounts. The application includes a calculation that will help employers determine how much loan forgiveness they are eligible to receive.
In addition to the above guidance, the instructions provide compensation for limitations on cash compensation per employee and explain that employers must certify and verify the PPP payments on the application have been appropriately used. Moreover, the instructions explain that borrowers that knowingly use payments for unauthorized purposes and request forgiveness are subjected to both civil and criminal fraud charges.
Applying for loan forgiveness
The CARES Act requires employers to apply for loan forgiveness with the same lender from whom they applied for and received the PPP loan. When applying for loan forgiveness, employers will need to submit the following items to their lender:
- Completed PPP Loan Forgiveness Calculation Form
- Completed PPP Schedule A
- Proper payroll documentation, which includes:
- Bank statements or third-party payroll service reports that document payroll
- Tax forms or third-party payroll service reports (e.g., payroll tax filings reported or that will be reported on IRS Form 941, state business and individual wage reporting, and state unemployment tax filings)
- Receipts, canceled checks or statements documenting noncash payroll costs (e.g., employee health insurance or employer contributions to employee retirement accounts)
- Head count and determination of FTEs and proper documentation (which must match period employer uses for PPP Schedule A, Line 11), which includes:
- Payroll tax filings with the IRS
- State income, payroll and unemployment insurance filings
- Documentation for nonpayroll costs requested to be forgiven to establish existence prior to Feb. 15, 2020, and eligible payments within the covered period, which can include:
- Copy of lender amortization schedule or canceled checks to verify payments or lender account statements from February 2020 and the months during the covered period through one month following the covered period to verify interest amounts and payments for business mortgage interest
- Copy of current lease agreement, or receipts or canceled checks verifying eligible payments during the covered period, or lessor account statements from February 2020 and the months during the covered period through one month following the covered period to verify interest amounts and payments for business rent or lease payments
- Copy of invoices from February 2020 and the covered period, as well as receipts, canceled checks or account statements from these months verifying eligible utility payments
While employers are not required to submit the PPP Schedule A Worksheet and any documentation supporting FTE and salary or wage reduction calculations, job offers or refusals, firings, voluntary resignations, voluntary requests and reductions in hours, and safe harbor calculations, this worksheet and documentation must be maintained.
After submitting an application, lenders must make a decision on whether an employer’s PPP loan will be forgiven, or how much of the loan will be forgiven, within 60 days. In some cases, a lender may ask for additional information. Employers should monitor their application and pay attention to any requests for additional information. For questions on your company’s loan forgiveness eligibility or application, contact your lender. Additionally, for more information on PPP loans, watch this video.
For more information on how your company can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.helpside.com/covid-19
What Happens to Benefits Coverage for Employees With Few or No Hours?
During the COVID-19 outbreak, recognize that there may be a number of individuals who have reduced hours or have been laid off due to lack of work. Employee benefits coverage typically ends on the last day of the month that the employee last worked full-time (at least 30 hours per week). We have two options for clients to consider if they have employees who have reduced hours of have been laid off due to lack of work:
No extension of coverage- Typically, if an employee is terminated, laid off, or has no or low hours for more than 30 days they will lose benefits coverage. Employees potentially have the option to elect COBRA (if eligible) to maintain coverage. Once the employee returns to work full-time, they would have to reestablish eligibility for the benefits and could re-enroll after the standard benefits waiting period. If an employee out for less than 30 days, we can reinstate benefits with no lapse in coverage, if the company notifies Helpside.
If you would like to provide some support to employees in this situation, you could choose to provide some pay to employees to help cover the cost of the COBRA premiums. We always advise clients to pay the employee any of these amounts directly and leave the responsibility of electing and paying COBRA premiums with the employee due to the strict timing rules associated with COBRA. If you want to provide some pay to employees in this situation, notify your Helpside Payroll Specialist.
Non-Medical Leave of Absence- Helpside is accepting applications from all clients to utilize the non-medical leave of absence due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Applications are subject to approval and should completed and sent to Helpside prior to the beginning of the employee leave. There are a few things to understand before selecting this option:
- Benefits are protected for 90 days, as long as the employee is anticipated be full-time upon their return.
- The client company must pay whatever portion of the premium the employee is unable to pay through their payroll deductions. If an employee receives no pay, the employer would be responsible for 100% of the premium. If the employee doesn’t return to work after 90 days, we have no way to help recoup the cost through payroll.
- If an employee voluntarily quits during the leave, benefits will terminate the end of the month in which leave is given, and then any applicable COBRA will be offered.
- If an employee does not return at the end of 90 days, benefits will terminate the last day of the month in which they should have returned, and any applicable COBRA will be offered.
- When an employee returns to work, back benefits premiums will be deducted from all paychecks and returned to the client company until paid in full.
Please consider the pros and cons to both options and come to a decision that works best for your company. Please note, that none of these apply if an employee is simply on paid leave due to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). For questions about FFCRA, please contact us at (801) 443-1090 or email@example.com.
If you have questions about your options, we encourage you to speak with our Client Success team at (801) 443-1090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Completing Form I-9 Remotely Due to COVID-19
|The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced an extension of the flexibility in complying with requirements related to Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, due to COVID-19.
This temporary guidance was set to expire September 19. Because of ongoing precautions related to COVID-19, DHS has extended this policy for an additional 60 days.
This provision only applies to employers and workplaces that are operating remotely. See the original news release for more information on how to obtain, remotely inspect, and retain copies of the identity and employment eligibility documents to complete Section 2 of Form I-9.
E-Verify participants who meet the criteria and choose the remote inspection option should continue to follow current guidance and create cases for their new hires within three business days from the date of hire. Please see COVID-19 webpage for more information.
Update 8/31/2020-Payroll Tax Deferral
Late Friday, the Department of Treasury provided preliminary guidance, about the payroll tax deferral referenced in the President’s recent executive memorandum. Each employer can decide whether to allow a tax deferral and should understand the potential challenges prior to making that decision. If you have questions, or you have employees asking about the payroll tax deferral, please feel free to reach out to us.
Update 8/24/2020 – Executive Memorandum on Payroll Tax Delay
We along with the rest of the business community, are still awaiting guidance from the Treasury Department to implement the memorandum passed by the President on August 8, 2020. We know that the Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, has stated that participation will be voluntary, meaning an employer can choose not to allow their employees to take advantage of this deferral. In addition, the President’s top economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, stated that the President is looking for ways to “fully forgive” the payroll tax deferral. But nothing has been issued in writing from any US Government entity.
A common theme throughout the business community in response to this memorandum is the concern that employers will ultimately be responsible for the repayment of the payroll tax deferral. Federal tax law and IRS regulations make it clear that the employer is liable for unpaid payroll taxes, stated clearly on this IRS webpage. In letters sent to the IRS by the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the National Payroll Reporting Consortium (NPRC) and the US Chamber of Commerce, one big concern is clarifying that employers are not responsible for deferred payroll tax payments, and that the employee who takes the deferral is ultimately responsible. Last Thursday, the NPRC released a second statement to Treasury outlining their concerns with the deferral memorandum. And in an election year, this proposal is getting political pushback. On Friday, 142 House Democrats sent a letter to the President demanding he reverse his ”recent executive action on Social Security payroll taxes and abandon your call to defund Social Security by eliminating the payroll tax permanently.”
With one week left before the memorandum goes into effect, we are waiting for Treasury to issue guidance on how the payroll tax deferral will work. We will continue to provide updates as they become available.
Update 8/11/2020 – Executive Memorandum on Payroll Tax Delay
On Saturday, August 8, 2020, the President issued an executive memorandum regarding a payroll tax delay. The memorandum directs the Secretary of the Treasury to implement a delay of certain employees’ obligations to pay Social Security taxes. The payroll tax provision requires guidance to be issued by the Department of Treasury. Until that guidance is issued, many of the details are unknown. As the current order sits, this does not take effect until September 1, 2020 and is set to expire on December 31, 2020.
Here’s what we do know about the order as it currently stands:
- This only applies to the employee Social Security taxes (6.2%).
- This provides only a delay of the tax obligation not a forgiveness.
- There is no relief with respect to the employer matching Social Security taxes.
There is a lot of additional guidance and information about how this will work that the Department of the Treasury still has to determine:
- Not defined yet if employers are required to participate the delay.
- Whether or not employers must apply this to all employees or offer it as an individual choice.
- How to interpret and apply the $4,000 bi-weekly pay cap.
- If there are any 941 and W-2 reporting requirements.
It is important to keep in mind that Congress and the Trump Administration are still negotiating on a potential COVID-19 relief measure, and that a compromise bill could supersede the President’s actions. As this situation becomes clearer, we will update you on what to expect and what actions to take.
For up-to-date information about employer responsibilities related to COVID-19, we recommend the following resources:
- Fisher Phillips- SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Forgiveness
- Fisher Phillips- Comprehensive FAQs For Employers on the COVID-19 Coronavirus
- Fisher Phillips- Post-Pandemic Return to Work Questions
- DOL Families First Coronavirus Recovery Act-FAQs
- US Chamber of Commerce CARES Act Guide for Small Businesses
- CDC- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
Encouraging Employees’ Mental Health
Mental health issues aren’t always as obvious as physical health challenges, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Having unattended mental health struggles in your workplace can cause a loss in productivity, revenue, and employee morale. One the other hand, giving employees’ mental health the attention it needs will increase happiness and motivation. Here are ways to encourage employees’ mental health in your company.Read More
How to Run Virtual Interviews Smoothly
As more people move to working remotely and your day gets busier, holding interviews in person may seem impossible. Virtual interviews can help you save time as well as connect with job candidates that live far away. Transitioning to virtual interviews can be difficult, especially if you’re used to in-person interviews. There’s new technology to learn and different problems to worry about. Here are the most important things to do for a virtual interview.Read More