On June 22, 2020, the White House issued the “Proclamation Suspending Entry of Aliens Who Present a Risk to the U.S. Labor Market Following the Coronavirus Outbreak” which is the latest in a series of U.S. immigration restrictions purportedly tied to the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on the American economy. READ MORE
I. Premium Pay and COVID-19
Although many Americans have suffered furloughs or job losses while those more fortunate are able to work, albeit remotely, workers deemed “essential” under state executive orders and federal guidelines continue to perform their job functions in public-facing circumstances outside of the home. State lawmakers across the country have introduced measures to provide premium or hazard pay to compensate essential workers for the heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19. In addition, the House of Representatives included a premium pay component in its latest COVID-19 response measure. These measures impose the benefits and obligations of additional pay upon different groups of workers and employers, respectively, despite the same overlapping legislative intent. Moreover, the measures raise several important legal questions regarding employment classification and state pre-emption laws. As many states begin to reopen their economies while both the public and private sectors face significant budget constraints, a question remains: will these premium pay measures be dismissed by lawmakers in light of the economic downturn or set the stage for further discussions on either the state or federal level in providing additional pay to those who continue to work during a declared public emergency. READ MORE
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to financially impact companies worldwide, employers have been working to implement creative compensation strategies to mitigate the financial impact on their workforce, continue to incentivize employees and reward on-site essential workers. While cash is king, equity awards have long been a key component of an overall compensation and benefits strategy for many companies, from small to large, private and public. In difficult economic times such as these, granting equity awards can help companies save cash while filling a compensation gap created by salary reductions, unpaid furloughs or decreased benefits. Equity awards could also soften the blow to employees losing their jobs due to layoffs and redundancies resulting from an employer’s Coronavirus-related financial losses and cost-cutting measures. READ MORE
As we recently reported, the DOL promulgated three new final rules regarding wage and hour issues last month. One of these rules brings a much-needed dose of clarity for certain employers on an unusually thorny issue: what exactly is a “retail or service establishment” for purposes of the “retail exemption” under Section 7(i) of the FLSA? This section exempts certain commissioned employees in “retail or service establishments” from the FLSA’s overtime compensation requirement, but the list of qualified employers has been notoriously confusing and vague. Effective May 19, 2020, the DOL’s final rule nixed its almost half-century old catalog of qualifying establishments and adopted a new and uniform framework for determining eligibility for the exemption. READ MORE
On May 26, 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) released its anxiously awaited Interim Guidelines for COVID-19 Antibody Testing (the “Guidelines”). As set forth in further detail below, the Guidelines make clear that COVID-19 antibody testing should not be used to make decisions about returning employees to the workplace.
While the Guidelines detail some encouraging data developed from early studies on antibody testing, several concerns remain. On the encouraging side, the CDC states in the Guidelines that “nearly all immune competent individuals” will develop an immune response following infection with COVID-19 and recurrence of COVID-19 illness “appears to be very uncommon,” suggesting that COVID-19 antibodies may confer at least some short-term immunity. Consistent with this observation, the Guidelines further note that in experiments involving primates, infection and subsequent development of antibodies resulted in protection from reinfection. Additionally, the Guidelines note that antibody development in humans correlates with a marked decrease in viral load in the respiratory tract. According to the CDC, taken together, these observations suggest that the presence of antibodies may decrease a person’s infectiousness and offer some level of protection from reinfection. However, the Guidelines make clear that definitive data are lacking and it remains uncertain whether individuals with antibodies are protected against reinfection with COVID-19, and if so, the duration of that protection and what concentration of antibodies is needed to confer protection.
In addition to these issues, the CDC raises several other concerns in the Guidelines regarding antibody testing. The Guidelines note that some antibody tests can lead to false positive results, when they react with the presence of antibodies to other coronaviruses like the common cold. Moreover, the CDC cautions that certain individuals may not develop detectable antibodies even after infection while others’ levels could wane over time to be undetectable. The timing of antibody tests can affect the result as well; as the CDC notes, the most useful antibodies for assessing antibody response are not present early in infection, and only become detectable 1-3 weeks after symptom onset. Thus, antibody test results may not definitively indicate the presence or absence of current or previous COVID-19 infection.
In light of the continuing uncertainty regarding these issues, the CDC affirmatively states that COVID-19 antibody testing results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.” The CDC specifically notes that although certain testing can have “high positive predictive value” indicating at least some degree of immunity, “until the durability and duration of immunity is established, it cannot be assumed that individuals with truly positive antibody test results are protected from future infection.” In addition to stating that employers should not use antibody testing to determine eligibility to return to the workplace, the CDC also recommends against using antibody testing to make decisions about admitting individuals to other congregate settings, such as schools, dormitories, or correctional facilities.
Finally, the CDC states that its Guidelines do not affect existing guidance from public health authorities and other governmental agencies on maintaining social distancing and using PPE in the workplace. The CDC notes that healthcare workers and first responders should continue to use PPE even if they test positive for COVID-19 antibodies. Further, while those who test positive for antibodies and do not have a recent history of “a COVID-19 compatible illness” have a low likelihood of active infection, they should still follow general recommendations to prevent the spread of infection.
While this area is rapidly evolving, employers now have affirmative guidance from the CDC that antibody testing should not be used to make decisions about bringing employees back to work. Since the EEOC has largely deferred to the CDC on this issue, employers who condition an employee’s return to work on a positive test for antibodies may be subject to claims by both the individual and the EEOC.
The COVID-19 crisis led to drastic changes in employment. Although measures have been taken by the German legislator and the government to secure jobs, staff cuts appear inevitable for many companies as the crisis progresses. The following blogpost explains how short-time work and layoffs relate to each other and what companies must do to effectively terminate employment.
Due to the pandemic-related increase in remote work, questions come up who will end up bearing additional costs – such as increased electricity costs and expenses for cell phone and internet plan. There is also a need for clarification regarding occupational health and safety when working remotely. READ MORE
Of the many new terms that we have learned as part of the current pandemic, ‘contact tracing’ is one that seems to offer some light at the end of the tunnel. READ MORE
When starting to take steps to return to a new normal where business continues, even as outbreaks may flare up, employee health and safety certainly are top of mind. Since many EU member states are loosening up COVID-19 lockdowns, employers need to know how to ensure a safe environment for their employees when they come back to the workplace. READ MORE
The German government has agreed on additional benefit packages worth billions. Companies that recently implemented short-time work and their employees are to profit from this.