COVID-19: Navigating the (Slow) Return to Normal

April 27, 2021 11:02 am

In Fresno County and surrounding areas, we’re seeing encouraging signs of a return to mostly-normal life. Vaccinations are ongoing, and the decrease in COVID cases has brought us into the state’s Orange Tier for the first time.

While we’re all thankful for these steps in the right direction, there continue to be questions about the interplay of state/local regulations and federal guidance. Below is a brief list of FAQs based on recent client inquiries.

Q: I heard about a White House announcement concerning new tax credits…are there new incentives for paid time off when employees receive COVID-19 vaccinations?

A: Effective March 29, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) extended employers’ ability to receive payroll tax credits for Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) payments to employees through September 30. The Act also added two new qualifying reasons for using EPSL: time off work to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, and recovering from vaccination symptoms/side effects. Strangely, almost a month later, President Biden has made an announcement about tax credit incentives for employees to be vaccinated. A variety of media sources are reporting this as breaking news, but there are no new tax credits or incentives at this time. If your company is paying EPSL (or state Supplemental Paid Sick Leave) when employees have a qualifying reason for time off, including receiving vaccinations, you’re already on the right track.

Q: I had to lay off several people due to the shut-downs last year. Now that I am ready to hire more employees, are there any rules to be aware of?

A: On April 16, 2021, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 93, which gives specific rehire and retention requirements for certain types of businesses. Covered employers include: hotels, private clubs, airport hospitality operations and service providers, and employers that provide commercial janitorial, maintenance, or security services. Under the law, within five business days of establishing an open position, an employer must provide a written job offer to all qualified employees who had been laid off due to COVID-19. The former employee(s) must be given five business days to respond. If multiple people respond to offers for a single position, the person who had the most seniority with the company must be given preference for rehire. Employees who had been terminated for disciplinary reasons, as opposed to a COVID-related layoff, do not need to be included. If your company is covered by this new law, please contact one of our Consultants with any questions you have.

Q: The CDC says that fully-vaccinated people can gather without masks and do not have to quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure. If everyone in our office is vaccinated, can we reduce or eliminate our COVID safety protocols?

A: The CDC provides non-binding recommendations to individuals, which is very different from the regulations imposed by our state and local government agencies. The requirements to conduct daily health screenings, wear face coverings when within six feet of others, and exclude exposed employees from work are set forth by County Public Health Departments and Cal/OSHA, and have not yet been rescinded. On a similar note, the Fresno County Board of Supervisors announced the end of its local emergency order, but this is a largely symbolic effort that has no impact on employers’ required safety measures. These agencies take the CDC guidance seriously, and we hope to see a ripple effect of lifted regulations over time. But employers are wise to stay patient and avoid costly violations until we see official regulatory changes.

Q: I read about a notice that must be given to employees regarding federal COBRA subsidies. Am I supposed to post that with my Labor Law posters or include it in my onboarding materials?

A: The American Rescue Plan Act also includes a 100% COBRA subsidy for employees who lost health care coverage due to an involuntary termination or a reduction in hours. Eligible individuals can receive subsidized coverage from April 1 through September 30, 2021. The U.S. Department of Labor issued a requirement to notify qualified beneficiaries no later than May 31, 2021, and provided a model notice that may be used. If your company uses a third party administrator for COBRA elections, we suggest checking to be sure they are providing notice to all potentially eligible individuals. You may also include the model notice in your exit paperwork for terminated employees, and provide it to those who lose coverage due to reduction in hours through September 30.

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