Working with COVID-19
As medical practices shift operational models, much of which includes remote workforce, telehealth, and staggered appointments many wonder what impact this will have to their staff.
We spoke with Thomas Bell, National Franchise Director of ADP, to get insights on the current landscape of unemployment rates, and outlook for employers moving forward, talk about employee pay, and your responsibility during COVID-19 with impacts of business closures, leave and alternatives to keep employees on staff.
ADP periodically puts out the National Employment Report, which in March was showing unemployment rates of an unprecedented scale affecting small businesses. Alternately, in the larger healthcare sector, there is a reported increase in demand.
Your Payroll Responsibility
One of the first steps recommended by ADP is to review a practice’s employee handbook.
If your practice friends itself having to reduce hours, wages, or staff, be sure to refresh yourself with your practice’s employee handbook. As you go through these changes due to the COVID-19 health event, be sure to provide statements to employee(s) notifying them of the occurrence and that they may be eligible for benefits.
In the statement, clearly convey the following information:
- The reason for the reduction is the COVID-19 global health event
- The effective date of action
- Type of reduction (in hours or pay)
- Length of reduction (temporary / permanent / undetermined)
- Date of hire (if available) and last date physically worked
- The guidance that the employee should notify the unemployment agency of the facts listed above
Employers are required to respond in a timely manner to all unemployment claims and requests for information received by your organization.
Though individual state law dictates an employee’s eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits, the federal government, through guidance (Unemployment Insurance Program Letter 10-20) and legislation (Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act of 2020), is making an effort to provide states with greater flexibility to make as many individuals affected by COVID-19 as eligible as possible.
If the state you are located in ordered your business to close, depending on the state, the length of the closure, and the employee’s work history, employees who are prevented from coming to work because their employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19 may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
States have issued guidance addressing this issue and many are suspending waiting periods for such benefits. Check your state law, communicate with your employees regarding their eligibility for unemployment benefits, and provide any required notice and information accordingly.
Employees may also be eligible for unemployment benefits if they are asked to stay home because they are thought to be at risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19.
Practices that are temporarily reducing employees’ hours as a result of COVID-19, may have their employees eligible for unemployment benefits. Some states require advance notice of any reduction in pay. Absent a specific notice requirement, employers should provide as much notice as possible.
Business closures, leave and alternatives to keeping staff
When it comes to scheduling and hour reduction, be sure to keep in mind that some states and local jurisdictions have enacted predictive scheduling laws.
These laws generally require employers to follow certain scheduling practices, including providing a certain amount of advance notice before making changes to employees’ schedules. Be sure to check to see if you are subject to such a law. Some jurisdictions, including Oregon, are providing guidance on these laws considering COVID-19.
Alternately, if a practice asks their back-office staff to telecommute, for example, some states require employers to reimburse employees for any reasonable business expenses they incur, such as internet access from a home office. Absent such a requirement, expense reimbursement may be necessary to satisfy the FLSA minimum wage and overtime requirements for non-exempt employees. In most cases, under the FLSA, any work-related expense incurred by an employee that would bring their pay below the minimum wage (or cut into overtime pay) must be reimbursed.
Regardless of your requirements, it’s a best practice to reimburse all employees for any reasonable business expenses. Where the expense may be used for work and personal use (such as having an internet connection), consider a system to help employees monitor and record how much of the cost is related to conducting business activities, and reimburse employees at least that amount. Again, make sure you also have policies and controls in place to ensure that employees use a secure connection to the Internet, protect company and client data, and comply with privacy laws when working remotely.
Return to Work Checklist
ADP has provided its clients with a helpful return to work checklist as practices think about re-opening. Some new regulations may impact how re-opening occurs, so best to consult with local and state governments to ensure adherence to those guidelines.
Review official guidance
Read and make sure you understand applicable federal, state, and local orders, directives, and guidelines, including information from OSHA and the CDC.
Independently assess your situation
Even where employers are permitted to allow employees back into the workplace, employers should independently assess whether it is safe to do so. For instance, see if social distancing is feasible at work.
You can also consider having employees return to work on a voluntary basis or establish waves, with the most critical employees among the first.
Designate a safety lead
Consider designating a point person for workplace safety and ensure compliance with federal and state occupational safety and health requirements.
Help employees feel safe about returning to work by communicating the steps you have taken to protect them and letting them know who they can contact with related concerns.
Prepare for potential employee concerns
Employees may have concerns about returning and those who refuse to report to work may have protections from adverse action.
For example, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employees may have the right to refuse to work if all of the following conditions are met:
- Where possible, they have asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so
- They genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists
- A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury
Provide leave as required
Employees may be entitled to leave under federal, state, and local rules for various situations related to COVID-19, even when the crisis begins to recede.
For instance, if an employee works for an employer with fewer than 500 employees and is unable to work because their child’s school is still closed, they would be entitled to paid leave under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Review policies, procedures, and supervisor training to ensure compliance with applicable federal, state, and local rules on leave.
Develop protocols for symptomatic employees
Develop workplace procedures for situations in which an employee is showing symptoms of COVID-19.
If an employee shows symptoms, act. Separate them from other employees, send them home immediately, and direct them to speak with their doctor. Proceed to notify other employees of possible exposure but maintain confidentiality and don’t reveal who had the symptoms.
Establish and communicate protocols for returning to work after being symptomatic, following CDC guidelines, and applicable laws.
Taking the right steps today may better position your organization when the economy and healthcare begin its recovery in a few months.
MTBC’s Group Purchasing Organization has a relationship with ADP so that our practice members can secure discounts on their HR, payroll and workforce needs. Tom is our account representative and can be reached through our GPO membership page.
State & Local Pay Laws, and Updates:
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