Can Employers administer COVID-19 tests? What about reasonable accommodations? Latest EEOC Guidance on Interpreting the ADA during the Pandemic

The EEOC continues to update its guidance [Link: https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/wysk_ada_rehabilitaion_act_coronavirus.cfm] on the enforcement of workplace anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, during the coronavirus pandemic. Below are the highlights from the latest updates:

Can employers administer COVID-19 tests?

Yes. Employers may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus. Employers should ensure that that the tests are accurate and reliable, consistent with guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, CDC and other public health authorities.

Remember that employers who choose to test employees must keep the results confidential and store this information separately from the employee’s personnel file.

Do employers have to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who have a higher risk from COVID-19?

Potentially, yes, if the employee’s higher risk is due to a preexisting condition and it does not cause an undue hardship. The EEOC proposes a number of potential low-cost accommodations for reducing exposure in the workplace, including designating one-way aisles, and using plexiglass, tables, or other barriers to ensure minimum distances between customers and coworkers whenever feasible per CDC guidance. Additionally, temporary job restructuring of marginal job duties, temporary transfers to a different position, or modifying work schedules may be reasonable accommodations.

Do employers have to provide reasonable accommodations to employees who have a preexisting mental illness or disorder that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Potentially, yes, if it does not cause an undue hardship. Although many employees feel stress due to the pandemic, employees with certain preexisting mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, may have more difficulty handling the disruption and may require an accommodation.

Is the pandemic relevant to what accommodations can be denied as causing an “undue hardship”?

Yes. An accommodation that would not have posed an undue hardship prior to the pandemic may pose one now, as the pandemic changes what accommodations cause employers “significant difficulty or expense.” For example, it may now be significantly more difficult to provide employees with temporary assignments, to remove marginal functions, or to acquire certain items as delivery may be impacted. Additionally, the EEOC notes that the sudden loss of some or all of an employer’s income stream and amount of discretionary funds available because of this pandemic are relevant considerations.

Does the pandemic change the interactive process or length of accommodations?

Potentially, yes. During the pandemic, the employers may still ask questions or request medical documentation to determine whether the employee’s disability necessitates an accommodation

However, employers may choose to forgo or shorten the interactive process and grant accommodation requests on an interim, short-term or trial basis to keep up with the changing circumstances based on public health directives. Employers may choose to put an end date on the accommodation (for example, until the end date of a stay-at-home order) but must consider extensions, particularly if current government restrictions are extended or new ones adopted.

May employers require employees to wear face masks or gloves?

Yes. Employers may require employees to wear protective gear and observe infection control practices. However, employees may request reasonable accommodations under the ADA or religious accommodations from wearing this equipment.

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COVID-19 Workplace Safety for Essential Businesses: What is New in Illinois? [Updated]

Can Employees Who Contract Coronavirus Receive Workers’ Compensation Benefits?

Update: The emergency rules have been rescinded following a court order temporarily blocking enforcement of the rule. Governor Pritzker and the Commission have indicated they will renew their efforts to make workers’ compensation available to employees who contract COVID-19.

Likely yes. In new emergency rules effective April 13, the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission announced that an employee of an essential businesses who contracts coronavirus will be rebuttably presumed to have been exposed in the workplace. Specifically, the exposure will be rebuttably presumed to have arisen out of and in the course of employment and, further, will be rebuttably presumed to be causally connected to the hazards or exposures of employment. To defeat this presumption, the employer would likely have to put forth evidence showing the employee was exposed elsewhere or could not have been exposed in their workplace.

The presumption applies to First Responders, Front-Line Workers, and other employees identified as crucial personnel under Pritzker’s Executive Order.

Mask Requirements: What Could Happen in Illinois?

Update: Governor Pritzker’s executive order extending Illinois’ Stay-at-Home mandate to May 30 includes a requirement that employers provide face coverings to employees where social distancing unavailable. See all key takeaways here.

As of April 15, essential businesses in New York must provide employees who are present on the worksite with face coverings to be used when in direct contact with customers or members of the public. In Illinois, local governments in Skokie, Glenview, Cicero, and Morton Grove have issued orders requiring residents and visitors to wear a mask when in essential businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations. In Cicero, like in New York, the order requires employers to provide masks to employees.

Governor JB Pritzker has said he is considering issuing a similar order. If he does, employers required to provide face masks to employees may be subject to OSHA requirements for providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Employers are generally required to provide PPE to employees for at the employer’s cost and cannot require employees to provide their own PPE. Employers should thus be prepared to provide or pay for face masks for employees. Additionally, employers will likely need to provide employees information on the safe usage of required face masks. CDC guidelines on face masks is available here.

Non-Coronavirus Related Activity in the Supreme Court

While attentions have been focused elsewhere, the Supreme Court continues to operate remotely and release decisions. Here are recent highlights from the highest court:

Clarified Standards for federal ADEA and Section 1981 Claims

The Supreme Court has ruled on two cases recently regarding the standards for proving employment discrimination claims. Each case determined which of two standards was necessary to prove a claim:

  • The “but for” standard, which requires an employee to show that the employer would have reached a different decision if the protected characteristic wasn’t considered; or
  • The “motivating factor” standard, which requires employees to show that the protected characteristic was one of several factors that led to an adverse employment action.

In Babb v. Wilkie, the Court found that federal employees may prove age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) using the more lenient “motivating factor” standard. For private sector employees, the Supreme Court has already ruled that employees must use the “but for” standard, but the court noted that the federal-sector provision in the ADEA is worded differently from its private-sector counterpart. However, federal employees will still need to show discrimination based on the stricter “but for” standard to receive remedies under the ADEA.

In Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African American-Owned Media, the Court held that the “but for” standard applies to claims under 42 U.S.C. 1981 (Section 1981). This means that employees bringing claims for employment discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity under Section 1981 may only prove their case using the “but for” standard. This ruling did not impact the standards under Title VII, which allows employees to prove race discrimination using the “motivating factor” standard.

Takeaway: The difference between these standards can be significant in practice. The motivating factor test requires employees to show that the protected characteristic was one of several reasons that led to the action. The but-for test requires the employee to show that the decision would not have happened, but for the protected characteristic.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in his dissent in Babb, cautioned that applying this more lenient standard could result in the federal government facing more ADEA lawsuits. Meanwhile, civil rights groups have raised concerns that the Comcast decision disadvantages victims of race discrimination, who are “in the least advantageous position to know” whether race was the but for cause of a decision, rather than one of several factors.

EEOC Investigatory Powers

The Supreme Court declined to review a decision from the Ninth Circuit ruling that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may continue to investigate a charge of discrimination after it has issued a right-to-sue letter.

In VF Jeanswear v. EEOC, Lori Bell, a former salesperson for VF Jeanswear filed a gender discrimination charge with the EEOC—a required administrative step before filing a federal lawsuit. The EEOC issued Bell a notice of right to sue, and she subsequently filed a lawsuit against VF. Nevertheless, more than a year after issuing the notice of right to sue, the EEOC sent VF a subpoena requesting information about its employees. When VF refused to comply with the subpoena, the EEOC went to court to enforce it. The Ninth Circuit found that the subpoena was enforceable, because it was relevant to the allegations in Bell’s charge, even though the information requested was about practices that did not affect Bell.

Although the Ninth Circuit’s decision conflicted with a previous Fifth Circuit holding that issuing a right to sue notice terminates the EEOC’s ability to investigate, the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

Takeaway: Employers should be aware that—although rare—the EEOC may continue to investigate a charge, even after a notice of right to sue has been issued. Outside of the Fifth Circuit, the employer may be required to comply with such a subpoena. At some point in the future, the Supreme Court hopefully will resolve this circuit split.

COVID-19 OSHA Recordkeeping: What If an Employee Tests Positive?

In an interim guidance issued late last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) confirmed that COVID-19 is a recordable illness under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements. Thus, employers are responsible for recording a case of an employee with coronavirus if:

  1. the case is a “confirmed” case of COVID-19
  2. the case is “work-related”
  3. the case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR § 1904.7

A confirmed case means an individual with at least one respiratory specimen that tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

The definition for work-related is changed for most employers to make this determination easier. For employers of workers in the healthcare industry, emergency response organizations (e.g., emergency medical, firefighting, and law enforcement services), and correctional institutions, employees must continue to make work-relatedness determinations pursuant to 29 CFR § 1904. For all other employers, a COVID-19 case is considered work-related only if:

  1. There is “objective evidence” that a COVID-19 case may be work-related. For example, a number of cases developing among workers who work closely together without an alternative explanation; and
  2. The evidence was “reasonably available” to the employer. Reasonably available evidence includes information given to the employer by employees, and information an employer learns in the ordinary course of managing its business and employees.

This policy is intended to allow employers to focus their efforts on maintaining safe workplaces, rather than making difficult work-relatedness decisions.

There are number of considerations for managing your workplace after an employee tests positive. Levenfeld Pearlstein is available to advise through every step in the process.

OSHA COVID-19 Poster on Safety in the Workplace: What Do I Need to Know?

Yesterday, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a new poster which highlights ten infection-prevention measures employers can take to reduce risk of exposure to coronavirus in the workplaces. The poster is not required to be posted in the workplace, but employers may find it a useful reminder for employees.

Safety measures listed on the poster include encouraging sick workers to stay home; providing places to wash hands; discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks and other work equipment; and regularly disinfecting surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment.

The poster is available for download in English, or Spanish.

What Are the Key Takeaways from the IRS’s New Guidance and the DOL’s Proposed Rules?

The federal government continues to provide additional guidance and rulemaking on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act’s Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Expanded FMLA (E-FMLA) requirements, which went into effect on April 1.

  • The IRS’s new guidance is available here.
  • Additionally, the Department of Labor (DOL) has issued proposed rules on the enforcement of the FFCRA, available here.

Below are the highlights. To read our initial write-up of the FFCRA, and our summaries of the IRS’s and DOL’s previous guidance, click here.

Key Takeaways:

  • Requests for leave need to be in writing and contain specific information depending on the need for the leave.
  • Leave to care for an “individual” only covers immediate family members, people in the household and other similar people.
  • Where leave is to care for a child aged 15-18, and provided that work is during daylight hours, employee must provide special justification of their need for leave.
  • Shelter-in-Place and Stay-at-Home orders do constitute government quarantine/isolation orders, but employees can only claim leave for one of these reasons if they are subject to the order (i.e. not essential) and there is work for them to do (i.e. workplace is open) – leaving very few situations where an employee could claim EPSL based on such an order.

IRS Guidance

Is there more information on how to claim the tax credits for providing EPSL and E-FMLA?

Yes! Employers will report the amount of EPSL and E-FMLA (“qualified leave wages”) on their quarterly federal employment tax returns (typically a Form 941).

Employers may receive the tax credit in advance by reducing the amount of federal employment taxes they deposit for that quarter by the amount of the qualified leave wages paid in that quarter.

The IRS provides the following example:

An employer paid $5,000 in qualified leave wages and is otherwise required to deposit $8,000 in federal employment taxes, including taxes withheld from all of its employees, for wage payments made during the same quarter as the $5,000 in qualified leave wages. The employer may keep up to $5,000 of the $8,000 of taxes it was going to deposit, and it will not owe a penalty for keeping the $5,000. The employer is then only required to deposit the remaining $3,000 on its required deposit date. The employer will later account for the $5,000 it retained when it files its Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, for the quarter.

What about tax credits for “qualified health plan expenses”?

Tax credits for qualified leave wages may be increased by the amount employers pay to provide and maintain a group health plan (“qualified health plan expenses”) allocable to each type of qualified leave wages. Qualified health plan expenses are properly allocated to EPSL or E-FMLA if the allocation is made on a pro rata basis among covered employees (for example, the average premium for all employees covered by a policy) and pro rata on the basis of periods of coverage (relative to the time periods of leave to which such wages relate).

What form do I use to request advance payment of tax credits?

Form 7200. The form, and instructions for completing it, are available here.

What information do I need to request from an employee to substantiate the tax credits?

Employers need to request the following information in writing in order to substantiate the need for leave:

  1. The employee’s name;
  2. The date or dates for which leave is requested;
  3. A statement of the COVID-19 related reason the employee is requesting leave and written support for such reason; and
  4. A statement that the employee is unable to work, including by means of telework, for such reason.

Additional information is also required for the following:

  • If the need for leave is based on a quarantine order, the statement from the employee should include the name of the governmental entity ordering quarantine.
  • If the need for leave is based on the advice of a health care provider to self-quarantine, the statement from the employee should include the name of the health care professional advising self-quarantine.
  • If the need for leave is to care for a person subject to a quarantine order or advised to self-quarantine, the employee will need to provide the person’s name and relation to the employee (in addition to the name of the governmental entity ordering quarantine or the name of the health care professional advising self-quarantine.)
  • If the need for leave is based on a school closing or child care provider unavailability, the statement from the employee should include the name and age of the child (or children) to be cared for, the name of the school that has closed or place of care that is unavailable, and a representation that no other person will be providing care for the child during the period for which the employee is receiving family medical leave and, with respect to the employee’s inability to work or telework because of a need to provide care for a child older than fourteen during daylight hours, a statement that special circumstances exist requiring the employee to provide care.

What records do I need to retain to request the tax credit?

In addition to retaining the information provided by the employee, employers should retain the following documentation:

  • Documentation to show how the employer determined the amount of qualified sick and family leave wages paid to employees that are eligible for the credit, including records of work, telework and qualified sick leave and qualified family leave.
  • Documentation to show how the employer determined the amount of qualified health plan expenses that the employer allocated to wages.
  • Copies of any completed Forms 7200, Advance of Employer Credits Due To COVID-19, that the employer submitted to the IRS.
  • Copies of the completed Forms 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, that the employer submitted to the IRS.

How long will I need to retain these records?

For four years after the date the tax becomes due or is paid, whichever comes later.

How long are the tax credits available?

The credits are available for EPSL and E-FMLA leave taken between April 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020, even if paid after December 31, 2020.

DOL’S Temporary Rule

Note that the temporary rule is effective as of April 1, but the DOL has noted that the version currently available may vary slightly from the published rule.

Employees may receive EPSL if they are subject to a quarantine or isolation order or are caring for an individual who is subject to quarantine or isolation order. What is a “quarantine or isolation order”?

A quarantine or isolation order includes quarantine, isolation, containment, shelter-in-place, or stay-at-home orders issued by any Federal, State, or local government authority that cause the employee to be unable to work. It also includes instances where the Federal, State, or local government authority has advised categories of citizens (e.g., of certain age ranges or of certain medical conditions) to shelter in place, stay at home, isolate, or quarantine.

An employee is eligible for EPSL if the employer has work available, but the employee cannot perform available work because of such an order.

Employees may receive EPSL if they are advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine. What type of advice does this cover?

An employee qualifies for EPSL if a health care provider advised them to self-quarantine based on a belief that (a) the employee has COVID-19, (b) the employee may have COVID-19, or (c) the employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19; and following the advice to self-quarantine prevents the employee from being able to work at the workplace or by telework.

Employees may receive EPSL to care for an individual subject to a quarantine or isolation order or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine. Does this mean any individual the employee cares for?

No, but the definition of “individual” is broad. “Individual” means an employee’s immediate family member, a person who regularly resides in the employee’s home, or “a similar person with whom the employee has a relationship that creates an expectation that the employee would care for the person if he or she were quarantined or self-quarantined.” It does not include persons with whom the employee has no personal relationship.

How may employers provide notice to employees of the FFCRA?

The FFCRA requires employers to post a notice on its premises, in conspicuous places. Employers may also satisfy this requirement by emailing or direct mailing this notice to employees, or posting this notice on an employee information internal or external website.

What documentation may I request from employees?

The DOL does not require employees to provide all of the information that the IRS requires employers to retain in order to support the tax credit (see above) to be eligible for EPSL or E-FMLA, but it permits employers to deny leave if the employee does not provide all information required to request a tax credit.

Note that for leave taken under the FMLA for an employee’s own serious health condition related to COVID-19, or to care for the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious health condition related to COVID-19, the normal FMLA certification requirements still apply.

What type of notice may an employer require of the employee’s need to take EPSL or E-FMLA?

Notice may not be required in advance, and may only be required after the first workday (or portion thereof) for which the employee takes EPSL or E-FMLA. After the first workday, the employer may require the employee to follow “reasonable notice procedures.” Generally, the following notice requirements will be reasonable:

  • Requiring notice as soon as practicable under the facts and circumstances of the particular case.
  • Requiring notice to be given by the employee, or the employee’s spokesperson if the employee is unable to do so personally.
  • Requiring oral notice and sufficient information for an employer to determine whether the requested leave is covered by the EPSL or E-FMLA.
  • Requiring employee to comply with the employer’s usual and customary notice requirements for requesting leave, absent unusual circumstances.

Employers may not require employees to provide more information beyond what is needed to support the tax credit when providing notice.

How do I elect the small business exemption?

Employers with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from having to provide E-FMLA and EPSL Category #5 (leave to care for a child due to the school or childcare provider being closed/unavailable due to COVID-19).

To elect this small business exemption, the employer must document that a determination has been made pursuant to the criteria for the exemption. The employer does not need to submit this documentation, but must simply retain the records in its files.

Does the employee maintain health benefits during EPSL or E-FMLA leave?

Yes. Employers must maintain the employee’s coverage under any group health plan (on the same conditions as coverage would have been provided if the employee had been continuously employed during the entire leave period.

What documentation do I need to retain?

In addition to the documentation required to be maintained to request the tax credits (see above), employers must retain all documentation provided by employees requesting leave, regardless of whether leave was granted or denied. These documents need to be retained for four years.

 

Assessing Workforce Options: Amid Financial Pressures, What’s The Right Plan Of Action For My Business?

Many businesses have faced significant economic challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic. If your business is considering making personnel decisions to improve financial stability, you have a number of options and considerations.

Generally, employers have four options for reducing their workforce costs:

  1. Reducing employees’ hours
  2. Reducing employee compensation
  3. Furloughs/temporary layoffs
  4. Termination/permanent layoffs

You do not have to select one alternative – these options can be used in combination to address the unique needs of your business. For example, a portion of the workforce could be furloughed and a different portion could be laid off. Or, some employees may have their pay reduced and may later be laid off if conditions do not improve.

The attached chart summarizes key considerations when determining the right plan for your business. Keep in mind that if your business has applied for or received a loan from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (put in place as part of the CARES Act) a reduction in the number of employees, in work hours, or in payroll during the eight weeks after receiving the loan may impact the loan forgiveness. Employers, in some cases, have the opportunity to rehire employees or make up for wage reductions by June 30, 2020 and still receive loan forgiveness. Consult our specific guidance on the CARES Act or speak to your accountant or bank concerning the loan terms.

 

Click here to download a full PDF of the guide.

 

For more resources and LP’s response to COVID-19, visit this webpage.