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Common COVID-19 Questions and Answers for Employers

By: Mike Meltser, Attorney

EMPLOYER Q AND A

What are the most important laws I should be aware of right now?

You should be aware of your legal obligations to your employees under the Families First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA) and monetary relief available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

How long will PPP funds remain available? How do I maximize use of a PPP loan?

The Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) is technically open until June 30, 2020. It is difficult to project how long the PPP will last. The program has a funding cap, and the latest bill infused $310 billion for the PPP.

It is important to note that PPP loans are forgivable if businesses spend at least 60% of the funds on payroll. Practically, your business should consider spending as much of a PPP loan on payroll as possible.

The Treasury Department states that you will owe money when your loan is due if you use the loan amount for anything other than payroll costs, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities payments over the 24 weeks after getting the loan. You will owe money if you do not maintain your staff and payroll, and you have until December 31, 2020 to restore your full-time employment and salary levels for any changes made between February 15, 2020, and April 26, 2020.

After Congress signed into law the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, your business will now have five years, at 1% interest, to repay the loan. For additional details on PPP loans, see the Treasury Department’s Fact Sheet for borrowers.

You can apply for PPP loans on the SBA’s website. The loan forgiveness application is available here.

Must I allow employees to work remotely as I reopen my business?

There is no legal duty to allow an employee to work remotely when that means he cannot do his work. Because of the serious nature and spread of the coronavirus, we recommend allowing employees to work remotely if possible. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends telecommuting as a tool to address coronavirus.

What resources are available to keep my workplace safe?

All Texas businesses and services are subject to the recommended minimum standard health protocols outlined by the Texas Department of State Health Services. The DSHS has detailed protocols for all employers, as well as employers under different categories, including retailers, restaurants, and offices.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has updated guidance for employers, including Interim Guidance for Business and Employers, a Workplace Decision Tool, and ways for businesses and workplaces to Plan, Prepare, and Respond to COVID-19.

How should I make the decision to reopen my office? What should I be thinking about?

We recognize that making the decision to reopen an office during a global pandemic is a very challenging one. We recommend that you consult the DSHS protocols for office-based employers. At a minimum, you should be thinking about limiting the total office workforce, using appropriate cleaning and disinfecting methods, and encouraging social distancing.

What are my responsibilities to my employees as a whole, when an employee tests positive for COVID-19? Can I disclose the employee's identity?

If an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, you have the right to inform other employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19. You cannot disclose the name of the employee to other employees because of the confidentiality requirements under the ADA and HIPAA.

The EEOC’s guidance states that an employer may disclose the name of an employee to a public health agency when it learns that the employee has COVID-19. Please also note that the ADA requires that all medical information about a particular employee be stored separately from the employee’s personnel file.

What is my liability in case an employee gets COVID-19 at my workplace?

Workers’ compensation should cover an employee’s treatment for COVID-19 contracted at work. Within 8 days after an employee’s absence for work or diagnosis of COVID-19, you should submit DWC Form-001, Employer’s First Report of Injury or Illness to your workers’ compensation carrier.

I'm fortunate enough that my entire workforce can work remotely. What resources can I use to ensure that my employees are actually being productive while physically not in the office?

We recognize some employers remain concerned about productivity with remote work. Monitoring productivity and hours worked can address those issues. Many instant chat programs are available to help remote workers keep in touch with one another and many indicate when an employee is active, which helps flag productivity issues. In addition, employers can employ programs like Google Drive and Google Spreadsheets, where employees are assigned tasks on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Mize PC uses Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Planner, which are included as part of Office365. As a practical matter, if your employees are not productive, you will likely know it.