As the coronavirus continues to disrupt every part of our daily business operations, keeping your business running and employees safe means dealing with scenarios you’ve most likely never come up against before. At this writing, not all states have instituted “stay-at-home” policies. But things are changing rapidly, so be sure to follow the news from your state government and follow their instructions.
If your business is still open, however, what can you do when an employee won’t work without a mask or refuses to come to work for fear of infection? Do you still need to pay nonworking, yet healthy, employees? Also, the federal government just passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. How can that help your business?
Here are five things you need to know.
1. Masks at Work
While normally wearing a mask in front of customers may not present the picture of safety, but in these pandemic times, it might actually make both your employees and customers feel more comfortable.
Standard OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) doctrine states safety masks only need to be provided to employees “when such equipment is necessary to protect the health of such employees,” which your staff could make a valid case for these days. Currently, the World Health Organization has stated the only people who need to wear masks are those treating people infected with COVID-19, however, if it makes people more comfortable to wear them, there is no harm.
Although, you can allow your employees to wear masks at work, unless your business is medical in nature and your employees treat the sick, as an employer you are not required to supply masks.
2. Fear of the Workplace
Can your employees refuse to come to work because they are afraid of catching the coronavirus? Again, according to OSHA, workers can refuse to work if they feel they are in “imminent danger,” which means the employee feels working can cause immediate bodily harm or death. The key phrase is “imminent” which doesn’t really apply in this situation—at the moment.
The experts agree we have not hit the peak of the virus in the United States yet, so things could (and will likely) change. As an employer, you need to do everything in your power to make your business safe for your employees. If you’re practicing OSHA’s influenza pandemic guidelines, you’re not in violation of workplace regulations.
Again, desperate times bring out extraordinary fears. Understanding the fear and offering employees the option of remote working or a leave of absence could go a long way in promoting a positive work culture.
3. Paying Workers
For hourly employees laid off due to shortened business hours or those refusing to come to work for fear of infection, you are not required to pay them. For salaried employees, if employees perform any kind of work during the week, you must pay their full salary, unless of course, the salaried employee is not working at all.
Whether or not you have employees use vacation time or leave is not regulated by the Fair Labor Standards Act. For more on this see the Department of Labor’s COVID-19 and the Fair Labor Standards Act Questions and Answers.
4. The CARES Act
While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act helps pay employees on sick leave with COVID-19, the CARES Act includes additional resources for those who can’t work because the workplace has closed or lost business due to COVID-19, such as:
- Expanded unemployment insurance (UI) for workers, including a $600 per week increase in benefits for up to four months. The federal government is encouraging states to abolish any “waiting week” provisions that prevent unemployed workers from getting benefits as soon as they are laid off. Also, the federal government will fund an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits through December 31, 2020 after workers have run out of state unemployment benefits.
- An additional $350 billion has been allocated to the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses (with less than 500 employees) impacted by the pandemic to make payroll and cover other expenses.
- Employers whose businesses are disrupted due to COVID-19 are eligible for a 50 percent refundable payroll tax credit on wages paid up to $10,000 during the crisis. Valid disruption includes either a business shutdown or 50% decrease in gross receipts compared to the same quarter last year. The credit is available for employees still employed, but not currently working due to the crisis for firms with more than 100 employees, and for all employee wages for firms with 100 or fewer employees.
- Social Security payroll tax payments for employers may be delayed until January 1, 2021, with 50 percent owed on December 31, 2021 and the other half owed on December 31, 2022.
For more on acquiring capital to cover the cost of retaining employees or for a quick infusion of cash, check the U.S. Senate Committee’s Guide to the Cares Act.
You have several options when applying for the program—see the Getting Help section below.
5. Workers’ Compensation
Although workers’ compensation eligibility requires a job-related injury or illness, there are circumstances where an employee would be covered if he or she contracted the virus at work. The key is whether the employee was “acting within the scope of his or her employment.” Running errands during the employee’s lunchtime and becoming infected outside of the office is not a valid reason for workers’ comp to kick in, but work-related travel, client visits or picking up work supplies do count. In most cases, an employee cannot fault the business for the illness and the burden of proof is on the employee to prove the virus was contracted during the normal functions of the job.
Ask your business insurance company for clarification if someone in your workplace becomes infected while working.
There are several ways to apply for the various government programs. You can complete the SBA form yourself; find out if your bank offers the SBA loans; work with your accountant; or work with an SBA loan packager.
CorpNet remains open and in full operation Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. PST to help. Our team is safely self-distanced and set up to work remotely with all of the necessary tools and resources to serve you. Contact us today at 1-888-449-2638 to discuss how we can help you.