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Practical Guidance for Employers Handling the Coronavirus

We know there is a lot of information (and misinformation) out there about the Coronavirus, officially named COVID-19, and how to handle the HR challenges that it is causing in the workplace. Our goal is to provide you with guidance on how to handle this as an employer — practical solutions for the impact the Coronavirus may have on your business.

We will continue to update this guidance as news changes, and in response to questions we receive from our members. Please bookmark this page to keep up-to-date on the latest HR guidance.

Table of Contents

1

Reopening Your Practice After COVID-19

2

Federal Coronavirus Relief & Legislative Guidance

3

Office Closures, Staff Furloughs, & Layoffs

4

If Your Employees Are Still Working

5

Unemployment Guidance

6

PTO, Vacation, & Sick Leave Guidance

7

Resources in Your State

8

Links to General Info and Guidance on Coronavirus / COVID-19

9

Additional Resources for Employers & Healthcare Professionals

1

Reopening Your Practice After COVID-19

2

Federal Coronavirus Relief & Legislative Guidance

3

Office Closures, Staff Furloughs, & Layoffs

4

If Your Employees Are Still Working

5

Unemployment Guidance

6

PTO, Vacation, & Sick Leave Guidance

7

Resources in Your State

8

Links to General Info and Guidance on Coronavirus / COVID-19

9

Additional Resources for Employers & Healthcare Professionals

Reopening Your Practice After COVID-19

As states continue to reopen their economies, employers are trying to figure out what it’s going to take to get back to “normal.”

Because this is a much more complicated subject than can be covered in brief on this page, we’ve actually built two entirely new resource page dedicated to this subject.

Read “How to Reopen Your Business After Coronavirus.”

Read “How to Handle Common COVID Concerns in Your Office.”

We’ve also opened access to our HR Vault document storage and sharing software. Sign up and use that program free for the life of your business. We’ve even preloaded those accounts with valuable Rehire and Reopen Documents.

Unlock Your Free HR Vault Now

Federal Coronavirus Relief & Legislative Guidance

Families First Coronavirus Response Act Guidance and FAQ

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was the first piece of emergency legislation passed by the federal government in response to the global outbreak of coronavirus/COVID-19.

You can read additional guidance and answers to specific questions in this post: Families First Coronavirus Response Act Guidance and FAQ.

Here’s a brief synopsis of some important points:

  • Available Benefits Include:
    • Up to 12 weeks of paid Family Medical Leave for those caring for a child who is home from school.
    • 2 weeks of Paid Sick Time for those diagnosed with or quarantined as a result of coronavirus.
    • Tax credits for employers paying emergency benefits.
  • Employers can receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for any leave payments made to employees under this law (including the cost of covering their health insurance premiums during leave). The IRS has implemented a system for prompt payment of tax credits.

  • Employees who have been temporarily furloughed due to an office closure or lack of work are not entitled to paid leave benefits under this law — they should seek unemployment benefits.
  • The legislation only applies to certain coronavirus related absences; not to lack of work due to business closure.
  • The law applies to all US employers with fewer than 500 employees.
  • Only specific employees who are sick/quarantined, caring for a sick/quarantined family member or a child whose school is closed are eligible for paid time off under the law. All other employees who experience lack of work due to the virus are eligible for unemployment, but not employer-sponsored paid time off under this law.
  • Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for an exemption from some of the requirements under the law.
  • Certain Healthcare provider and emergency response employees may be exempted from paid sick leave requirements.

The documents you need to rehire your team are already in your HR Vault.

Get free access for the life of your business!

The documents you need to rehire your team are already in your HR Vault.

Get free access for the life of your business!

CARES Act: SBA Loans and the Paycheck Protection Program

The federal government has passed the ‘third phase’ of emergency legislation, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), in response to the present outbreak of coronavirus/COVID-19. 

The 880-page piece of legislation includes information on available SBA loans for employers, what those funds can and cannot be used for, as well as the forgivability of those loans.

CEDR Solutions is not able to offer guidance to employers on the subject of small business loans, so you will need to work with your CPA or bank to determine your business’ best course of action with respect to the CARES Act.

Still, we’ve provided a brief summary of the legislation and how it applies to your business on our blog.

Click Here to Read the CARES Act/PPP Loan Blog

Unemployment Eligibility Drastically Expanded Under the CARES Act

The federal government has extended the availability of unemployment benefits to cover many individuals who would not otherwise have coverage during the current pandemic. This includes coverage for parents who have to take care of children, coverage for the self-employed, coverage for individuals who have yet to start a new job, and more. Read the full blog for details.

Click Here to Read About Expanded Unemployment Benefits

What Other Resources and Benefits are Available for Employers and Employees Affected by the Coronavirus?

Unemployment Benefits

The federal government has greatly expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act for employees who have been impacted by COVID-19. 

We recommend checking your state department of labor websites for more information, and generally encouraging your employees to seek out those resources in the event that a situation calls for employee leave, a reduction in work hours, or a temporary closure of your business.

Paid Family Leave

If your state has any type of a paid family or medical leave program, it’s likely that employees can receive benefits from that program if they or a family member is ill or quarantined due to the coronavirus.

Office Closures, Staff Furloughs, & Layoffs

What if the office needs to close?

As a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, the majority of our members were forced to temporarily close their offices. And, as the virus continues to surge, many are worried they may have to close again.

If you are facing a temporary closure due to potential exposure or government mandate, if feasible and practical, employees should be authorized to work from home.

Obviously healthcare providers can’t see patients this way, but at minimum you may have administrative tasks such as billing, insurance, and fielding phone calls, that can be set up remotely for a period of time.

If your employees do not have experience working from home, then this will take some preparation. For this reason, we would recommend creating a remote work plan now that takes into consideration things like supplies (e.g. number of company laptops), systems security, and a list of duties that can be performed remotely.

Having a work-from-home option also helps employees continue to have an income during a full or partial office closure.

Pay your non-exempt employees for any time they spend performing work from home or going into the office to complete tasks (someone may need to pick up the mail).

Your exempt employees must be paid in full for any days on which they perform work. If your salaried exempt employees are going to be working significantly reduced hours for the foreseeable future, we are able to help our CEDR members with making a pay structure change during this time.

If the office is closed and employees are not working from home, their first question will be, “Are you going to pay us?” As usual you can make their sick/vacation/PTO time available for use. At the very least, make sure to comply with any written office closure policy you may have.

Legally. you do not need to pay a non-exempt employee when they are not working. When it comes to your exempt employees, if you are closing for part of a week you need to pay their full salary for that week. If it is a full, week-long closure, exempt employees do not need to be paid.

We encourage you to inform your staff that they can file for unemployment during a temporary work closure.

There’s often concern from employers about their unemployment taxes going up from employees collecting benefits. Remember that this is insurance that you already pay for, and if there were a situation where employees should be able to get benefits from insurance this is certainly it.

We are also seeing most states waive the normal unemployment waiting periods, requirements that individuals be actively looking for other work, and often not charging employer accounts for unemployment benefits being used due to COVID-19.

For a letter you can send to your employees to announce a temporary office closure, check the Master Folder of your HR Vault.

If you are not a CEDR Member and have not yet signed up for that software, you can get Free HR Vault access here.

Not a CEDR Member?

Get additional guidance and updates in our private Facebook Group

If I close my office and my employees are not working, I can’t afford to pay everyone’s full salaries. Can I pay them a reduced rate?

We had a CEDR member pose this question, and we think it’s a great idea.

Having to shut down your business for a period of time is a financial strain for you, but it’s also a very serious financial issue for your staff who has to pay their rent, buy food, and support their families. It would be amazing if you could continue to pay everyone’s full salaries during an office closure, but we know that isn’t feasible for many companies particularly if it’s an extended period of time.

Since the employees are not actually working, you aren’t obligated to pay wages so the normal rules about rates of pay don’t apply. You could pay everyone for their normal number of workweek hours but at a reduced rate of pay. Alternatively, you could issue a set amount to everyone as a per diem or stipend to help them pay their bills.

Read More About Making Changes to Pay in Our Guide to Reopening Your Business After Coronavirus

What happens to health insurance if I am closed?

This video, created by our Solution Center Manager, Grace, gives great insight regarding what happens to health insurance if exploring these options between paying out PTO, laying off employees entirely or just temporarily reducing hours:

Watch the “What Happens to Insurance if I Close” Video

We recommend asking your health plan administrator about this. Ideally, your team would be able to stay on their health insurance, especially considering we’re experiencing a health pandemic, but how that can work really depends on the details of your plan.

If you are continuing their insurance, you should have a plan in place for how employees will pay for their portion of the health insurance premiums. They can submit payments to you each month, or you can retroactively collect the payments from their future payroll.

The risk there, of course, is that you do not know when or even if your entire team will be back to work full-time. CEDR members can work with CEDR to document the health premium payment plan with their teams.

If Your Employees Are Still Working

Possible Exposure in Your Office, Employee Travel, and Emergency Leave

If your office is currently open and you have questions about possible COVID exposure, employee travel, emergency leave, or paying employees when they are not working, check our newest coronavirus resource page:

Read “How to Handle COVID Exposure in Your Office”

How do I pay my salaried employees who are working during my business slowdown?

If you have salaried employees who are working but have reduced hours, then your pay obligation depends on whether they are exempt or nonexempt.

If they are exempt salaried employees (typically a high level manager, not eligible for OT), then they need to be paid their full regular salary if they perform any work during a workweek when you are closed. However if you know that hours will be significantly reduced for some time, you can move them into non-exempt hourly status.

Download a free Template ‘Exempt-to-Non-Exempt’ Letter.

If they are salaried but still non-exempt (clock hours, get OT), then you are only legally obligated to pay them for hours actually worked so you can also switch them to hourly or prorate their salaries.

Download a free Template ‘Salary-to-Hourly- Letter.

If employees are working, should I have them sign something where they acknowledge there is a risk of exposure, and waive any liability against me?

We have received several requests from our members for an employee consent or waiver form for employees who are continuing to work in the office during this pandemic. It is our position that that type of document is not a great idea, could create liability, and is ineffective. We are not providing this form to anyone, but we are seeing that there are some floating out there coming from other sources.

Here is a video explanation on this topic from Grace Godlasky, our Solution Center Manager.

Though we have a heightened issue in our workplaces, we would advise you not to depart from the basics when it comes to a safe workplace. Here’s why:

  • An employee cannot waive their rights to a safe workplace. It is your responsibility to keep them safe.
  • An employee cannot release you from liability under employment laws or OSHA regulations.
  • A consent form may be used later to imply that employees are less safe in the workplace than they are in the general population. Or it could send a signal that you are not able to understand or follow CDC guidelines and were aware of this fact in advance.
  • A consent form may also imply that employees are not entitled to file a claim for worker’s compensation or file an OSHA complaint — both of which are protected activity under public policy.

We believe that, as long as you are following your professional association and CDC guidelines, and you are not performing procedures outside of those guidelines, your worker’s compensation insurance is your best protection.

We also encourage you to remind your employees each and every day of the CDC guidelines, go over protocols for seeing emergency patients, and document that you did so.

Can I take my employees’ temperatures to make sure they don’t have a fever while working?

At this time, yes. Normally this is not permitted under the ADA, but when there’s a pandemic the ADA will defer to CDC guidance. The CDC is now recommending monitoring the temperature of healthcare professionals.

Can we ask our employees questions about whether or not they are practicing social distancing, working at other places where they are exposed to COVID-19, or ask if their spouse is working in an occupation where they might be exposed?

We know as we receive more information that the impact of social distancing is very important to stop the curve. Instead of directly asking employees these questions (which could inadvertently appear to be stigmatizing or possibly retaliatory), we recommend letting staff know in general that taking precautions is important to you. 

If they believe they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, are feeling sick, or are in a position where their family member might have been exposed, ask them to let you know immediately. Consider offering those employees leave, if requested. Here is guidance from the CDC for business owners.

Store and share documents.
Collect digital signatures.
Reopen your practice the smart way

Store and share documents.
Collect digital signatures.
Reopen your practice the smart way

What should I do now to be prepared for or to prevent infection at the office?

We highly recommend reviewing the CDC’s guidance for employers. The CDC has been firmly established as a go-to reference for coronavirus preparation and facts. OSHA guidelines are also very informative for employers on this issue, particularly in the healthcare field.

Here are some practical steps you can take now to prevent an infection in the workplace:

  • Remind all employees to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, and to cover their nose with the inside of their elbow when they sneeze. The CDC has educational materials about basic safeguards that may want to distribute or hang up in the office.
  • Make sure each employee has hand sanitizer readily available, and remind them to actually use it!
  • Make sure each employee has disinfectant wipes easily available so they can clean their workstation at the end of each day (keyboard, phone headsets, light switches, etc.) You may also want to add regular wipe downs of things like doors and railings as a part of your routine.
  • Make sure employees are strictly following all clinical sanitation/cleaning protocols in accordance with existing OSHA standards. We recommend checking for any updates from OSHA on a regular basis.
  • Check in with janitorial staff about what they clean to fill in any gaps as needed, e.g. sanitizing door knobs and push plates on doors, cleaning the chairs in the waiting room, etc.

These may seem like you’re simply covering the basics, but for now reinforcing healthy measures is the best thing you can do.

Encourage your team to use their sick days as a strategic and preventive measure.

We know that having even one employee out of the office can put a strain on the rest of the team. But coming into work sick can result in the rest of your staff, and even your patients/customers, getting sick as well.

So, while we’re in the flu season and facing the unknowns of the coronavirus, you may want to err on the safe side and encourage staff to stay home if they are getting sick, have come into contact with someone with the virus, or need to care for a sick family member.

Contingency planning

Unfortunately, despite any preventative measures you take you could still end up with a lot of sick staff or even having to shut down the office. Do yourself a favor and take some time now to plan for how you would handle that should it come up. Perhaps put together a flow chart that identifies the essential functions of each position and who would take over those functions should the primary person need to stay at home and can’t work.

If you’re thinking this is extreme, keep in mind that you never know what might happen to your business – fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, public health issues, and more are all real things that happen to real businesses. Every business owner should have some form of a contingency plan in place so that you’re not caught completely unprepared. Your team will be looking to you for answers, and your patients and customers will be wanting to know what you’re doing.

Here are some factors to consider when creating a contingency plan for an outbreak where the office has to close or go with limited staff:

  • Determine essential items that need to get done, even if you are short staffed or the business is shut down. Paying bills, getting the mail, contacting vendors, patients, clients, etc. all needs to happen. List out those tasks, and who would be responsible for each of them.
  • Plan for staff coverage. For example, if Team Member A is out, then Team Member B will step in to cover that department or essential tasks.
  • Plan for how clients/patients will be notified if you need to reschedule appointments.
  • Determine what work can be done remotely, and by who, and what equipment they will need. Remember that remote employees must still follow HIPAA protocols for accessing and securing access to PHI.

We recommend a scheduled daily check in with your team. Here at CEDR, we are all working remotely for the foreseeable future. Our leadership team has a video conference several times a week to to discuss any updates about how we want to operate internally and how we are advising our members. Our managers check in with each member of their team on a regular basis to help keep them engaged.

Finally, communicate to your team that you are keeping your eye on this and taking extra precautions. Encourage them to come to you with concerns, and with any ideas they may have. The goal here is to be prepared with preventative measures, and ensure your team feels supported and looked after.

What about my patients / clients / customers / vendors?

Since CEDR is an HR company, we are only addressing the business impact of COVID-19 on you as an employer. We work with hundreds of employers in the healthcare industry, so we know that there are related concerns that go beyond your employees. That does get outside the scope of our expertise, so we recommend seeking separate guidance on those topics. To get you started, here are some resources that may be useful to your business:

Unemployment Guidance

Updates to State Unemployment Eligibility & Application Info

As you probably know, there has been a nationwide rush to collect unemployment as millions of employees now find themselves out of work due to the current outbreak of novel coronavirus. 

As a result, we’ve received numerous questions about who qualifies for UI benefits, how benefit eligibility has been altered on a state-by-state basis, and where to go to apply for those benefits.

To make it easy to find answers to these questions quickly, we’ve created a PDF with guidance on emergency UI updates and eligibility for all 50 states. Download that document using the link below.

Click Here to Download the State Unemployment Update PDF

My employee lives in another state, where do they apply for unemployment?

If an employee is applying for unemployment, either because they are not working or because of significantly reduced hours, they apply for UI in the state where they live.

Can I get unemployment as an owner?

If your business pays you as an employee and your pay runs through payroll taxes, then you may be eligible. Your CPA may have more specifics on this for you based on your pay set up.

Can a part time employee get unemployment?

Unemployment eligibility will be determined by the state, using a number of factors. If any employee has reduced hours or is not receiving hours, they should apply for unemployment.

Can employees still receive unemployment if I give them some hours?

Employees can receive unemployment if they are not working at all, and if they have significantly reduced hours. Their eligibility and amount of benefits is determined by the state. If they are receiving income from you, they will need to report it, and the state will determine if that adjusts the amount of UI they receive.

Not a CEDR Member?

Get additional guidance and updates in our private Facebook Group

How much unemployment can an employee receive?

Each state has their own formula for  determining UI benefit eligibility and amounts. We aren’t able to determine those amounts for you.

Where do my employees go to apply for unemployment?

We have provided a list of state-specific resources on this page, including links to your state’s unemployment offices.

Click here to find a list of resources in your state.

PTO, Vacation, & Sick Leave Guidance

Do I have to let my employees use PTO while my business is closed?

It is generally up to you whether you allow employees to use their PTO, vacation, or sick time during a closure. Note that if your state, city, or county has a mandatory sick pay law, then you may need to allow employees to use their sick hours upon request.

If, however, you are telling them this is an official layoff, they are being separated from employment, and they may be rehired later, then you need to follow your state law and written policies about whether unused paid time off is cashed out.

Click Here to Download CEDR’s Final Pay Guide for All 50 States

Do my employees have to use PTO before they can collect unemployment?

Each state determines eligibility criteria for unemployment, including whether any accrued paid time off benefits need to be used before receiving benefits. We are not expecting states to require this of employers who are only temporarily closing or reducing hours but, again, this is up to each state.

Resources in Your State

Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington, D.C.

Washington State

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

Get regular updates on this and other topics at

hr base camp!

Links to General Info and Guidance on Coronavirus/COVID-19

Your free rehire checklist
Is in your hr vault

Your Free Rehire Checklist is in your hr vault

Additional Resources for Employers & Healthcare Professionals

Get regular updates on this and other topics at

hr base camp!

We will continue to update this guidance as news changes, and in response to questions we receive from our members. Please bookmark this page to keep up-to-date on the latest HR guidance.

If you would like to submit a question related to how the current coronavirus outbreak affects your business, please send it to support@cedrsolutions.com

For media inquiries, or to schedule an interview with CEO Paul Edwards and/or other CEDR Solutions representatives, send an email with the subject line “Media Inquiry” to press@cedrsolutions.com.

Post updated July 23, 2020. Originally published March 3, 2020.