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    Leading During a Pandemic
    COBRA Notices

American Rescue Plan Act COBRA Notices

Model General Notice and COBRA Continuation Coverage Election Notice

For use by group health plans for qualified beneficiaries who have qualifying events occurring from April 1, 2021 through September 30, 2021.

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Model Notice in Connection with Extended Election Period

For use by group health plans for qualified beneficiaries currently enrolled in COBRA continuation coverage, due to a reduction in hours or involuntary termination (Assistance Eligible Individuals), as well as those who would currently be Assistance Eligible Individuals if they had elected and/or maintained COBRA continuation coverage.

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Model Notice of Expiration of Premium Assistance

For use by group health plans to Assistance Eligible Individuals 15-45 days before their premium assistance expires.

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Model Alternative Notice

For use by insured coverage subject to state continuation requirements between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. Employers should check with their insurance carriers on the process to be used for state continuation coverage ("mini-COBRA").

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Summary of COBRA Premium Assistance Provisions under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

This should be included and sent with each copy of the Model General/Election Notice, Notice in Connection with Extended Election Period, and Model Alternative Notice.

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Legal Disclaimer: Payroll Experts is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a license attorney. Payroll Experts cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to this receipt.

News Brief

The American Rescue Plan Act​ 

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which is the latest bill to address the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19, has been signed into law. Most aspects of the law do not directly affect the HR function, but two of those that do—optional extension of sick and family leave and establishment of COBRA subsidies—are outlined below.


Optional Extension of Sick and Family Leaves

Part of ARPA is an extension of the current tax credit scheme for Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave (EFMLA) under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA required many employers to provide EPSL and EFMLA in 2020, but became optional when it was previously extended to cover January 1 through March 31, 2021.

The new extension under ARPA takes effect April 1, 2021, and lasts through September 30, 2021. Like the current version, it remains optional. In addition, tax credits are available but only to employers with fewer than 500 employees and up to certain caps. To receive the tax credit, employers are required to follow the original provisions of the FFCRA. For example, they can’t deny EPSL or EFMLA to an employee if they’re otherwise eligible, can’t terminate them for taking EPSL or EFMLA, and have to continue their health insurance during these leaves.


Reasons for Using EPSL and EFMLA

Starting on April 1, employees can take EPSL or EFMLA for the same set of reasons, which is a useful simplification. The following are acceptable reasons for taking these leaves:

  1. When quarantined or isolated subject to federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order
  2. When advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine because of COVID-19
  3. When the employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis; seeking or awaiting the results of a diagnostic test for, or a medical diagnosis of, COVID-19 because they have been exposed or because their employer has requested the test or diagnosis; or obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination or recovering from any injury, disability, illness, or condition related to the vaccination
  4. When caring for another person who is isolating or quarantining on government or doctor’s orders
  5. When caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19

Employees and employers will—in most cases—want to exhaust EPSL first, since it has a higher tax credit, except when used to care for others.

Legal Disclaimer: Payroll Experts is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a license attorney. Payroll Experts cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to this receipt.

Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) Changes

Here are the key changes to EPSL, in effect from April 1 through September 30, 2021:

  • Employees can take EPSL to get the COVID vaccine and to recover from any related side effects.
  • Employees can take EPSL when seeking or waiting for a COVID-19 diagnosis or test result if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or if the employer has asked them to get a diagnosis or test. (Previously, time spent waiting on test results was not necessarily covered, which seemed like an oversight.)
  • Employees will be eligible for a new bank of leave on April 1. Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours while part-time employees are entitled to a prorated amount. Unused hours from before April 1 will not carry over.
  • Employers can’t provide EPSL in a manner that favors highly compensated employees or full-time employees or that discriminates based on how long employees have worked for the employer. (Be aware that any inconsistencies in the granting of leave could potentially lead to a discrimination claim.)

Tax Credit 
Review

The tax credits available between April 1 and September 30 are the same as under the original FFCRA, except for the increased aggregate cap for EFMLA. Tax credits are available as described below, regardless of how much EPSL or EFMLA an employee used prior to April 1.

  • The credit available for EPSL when used for reasons 1, 2, or 3 (self-care) is up to 100% of an employee’s regular pay, with a limit of $511 per day.
  • The credit available for EPSL when used for reasons 4 or 5 (care for another) is up to 2/3 of an employee’s regular rate of pay, with a limit of $200 per day.
  • The credit available for EFMLA for any reason is up to 2/3 of an employee’s regular pay, with a limit of $200 per day and a cap of $12,000 per employee.

Employers can also claim a credit for their share of Medicare tax on the employee’s wages and the cost of maintaining the employee’s health insurance (qualified health plan expenses) during their absence.

Emergency Family Medical Leave (EFMLA) Changes

Here are the key changes to EFMLA, in effect from April 1 through September 30, 2021:

  • EFMLA can now be used for any EPSL reason, in addition to the original childcare reasons. This includes the two new EPSL reasons noted above.
  • The 10-day unpaid waiting period has been eliminated.
  • The cap on the reimbursable tax credit for EFMLA has been increased to $12,000 (from $10,000). This applies to all EFMLA taken by an employee, beginning April 1, 2020. This change accounts for the additional 10 days of paid time off—the daily cap of $200 remains the same.
  • The law isn’t clear as to whether employees are entitled to a new 12-week bank of EFMLA. We anticipate that the IRS, DOL, or both will provide guidance on this question soon. It is possible that an employee will be entitled to additional unpaid protected time off, even if they already received the maximum reimbursable amount during previous EFMLA leave(s). We will update our materials if and when new information is available.
  • Employers can’t provide EFMLA in a manner that favors highly compensated employees or full-time employees or that is based on how long employees have worked for the employer. (Again, be aware that any inconsistencies in the granting of leave could potentially lead to a discrimination claim.)

COBRA 
Subsidies

Another important aspect of the law employers should understand is the creation of COBRA subsidies.

Employees and families enrolled in the employer’s group health plans may lose coverage if the employee’s work hours are reduced or employment is terminated. They can elect to continue coverage under COBRA, but the high premium cost can make it difficult to afford this coverage.

ARPA provides a 100% COBRA subsidy if the employee’s work reduction or termination was involuntary. The subsidy applies for up to six months of coverage from April 2021 through September 2021 (unless the individual’s maximum COBRA period expires earlier).

For group plans subject to the federal COBRA rules, the employer will be required to pay the COBRA premium but then will be reimbursed through a refundable payroll tax credit.

Employers with fewer than 20 workers usually are exempt from the federal COBRA rules, but their group medical insurance plans may be subject to a state’s mini-COBRA law. In that case, it appears the subsidy will be administered by the carrier. The carrier will pay the premium and then be reimbursed by the government.

Employers will need to work with their group health plan carriers and vendors on how to administer the new subsidy provision. Although it takes effect April 1, 2021, employees who were terminated earlier but are still in their COBRA election window also are included. Federal guidance is expected to be released by April 10, including model notices that plans can tailor for their use.

Note that the COBRA subsidy doesn’t apply during FFCRA leaves because employees are entitled to maintain their health insurance during those leaves on the same terms as though they had continued to work. 

9 Compliance Requirements to Consider for a Remote Workforce

According to Gallup, the number of days employees are working remotely has doubled during the pandemic. Some companies are even considering making a remote work arrangements permanent. While there are no laws that exclusively apply to remote workplaces, remote work does come with additional compliance risks. Below is our general guidance for employers. 

Logging Hours & Preparing Paychecks

Make sure that employees are logging all of their time. Keep in mind that when working from home, the boundaries between work and home life are easy to blur. Employees may be racking up “off the clock” work, and even overtime, that they aren’t being paid for. While this may seem harmless enough in the moment, particularly if the employee isn’t complaining, unpaid wages can come back to bite you once the employee is on their way out the door.

Minimum Wage

Employees should be paid at least the minimum wage of the state where they physically work, whether this is a satellite office or their own home. Beyond that, it’s important to be aware that some cities and counties have even higher minimum wages than the state they are located in. In general, with most employment laws, you should follow the law that is most beneficial to the employee.

Breaks

Remote employees must take all required break and rest periods required by law, as if they were in the workplace.

Harassment Prevention Considerations

You may have employees working in a state that has a lower bar for what’s considered harassment or that requires harassment prevention training. You can find this information on the State Law pages on the HR Support Center.

Remote work also comes with additional opportunities for harassment (even if it doesn’t rise to the level of illegal harassment) such as employees wearing clothing that crosses the line into inappropriate, roommates in the background unaware that they are on camera, or visible objects that other employees may consider offensive. You can prevent these sorts of incidents by having clear, documented expectations about remote meetings, communicating those expectations to your employees, and holding everyone accountable to them. It also wouldn’t hurt to occasionally remind everyone to be mindful that they and what’s behind them are visible to coworkers when they’re on video. That said, going overboard with standards that you’re applying to employees’ private homes can cause anxiety and morale issues, so make sure your restrictions have some logical business-related explanation.

Workplace Posters

Many of the laws related to workplace posters were written decades before the internet, and so their requirements don’t always make sense given today’s technology.


The safest option to ensure you’re complying will all posting requirements in one fell swoop is to mail hard copies of any applicable workplace posters to remote employees and let them do what they like with the posters at their home office. If you have employees in multiple states, you should send each employee the required federal posters, plus any applicable to the state in which they work.


Alternatively, more risk-tolerant employers often provide these required notices and posters on a company website or employee self-service portal that employees can access. A number of newer posting laws expressly allow for electronic posting, but this option is not necessarily compliant with every posting law out there.

FMLA Eligibility

Remote employees who otherwise qualify will be eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if they report to or receive work assignments from a location that has 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius.


According to the FMLA regulations, the worksite for remote employees is “the site to which they are assigned as their home base, from which their work is assigned, or to which they report.” So, for example, if a remote employee working in Frisco, TX, reports to their company’s headquarters in Portland, OR, and that site in Portland has 65 employees working within a 75-mile radius, then the employee in Frisco may be eligible for FMLA. However, if the site in Portland has only 42 employees, then the remote employee would not be eligible for FMLA. The distance of the remote employee from the company’s headquarters is immaterial.

Verifying I-9's

In normal circumstances, the physical presence requirement of the Employment Eligibility Verification, Form I-9, requires that employers, or an authorized representative, physically examine, in the employee’s physical presence, the unexpired document(s) the employee presents from the Lists of Acceptable Documents to complete the Documents fields in Form I-9’s Section 2.

However, in March, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) temporarily suspended the physical presence requirement for employers and workplaces that are operating remotely due to COVID-19 related precautions. In other words, employers with employees taking physical proximity precautions due to COVID-19 (and operating remotely) are not required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. Inspection should instead be done remotely. As of the date of this newsletter, this temporary rule is still in effect.

Equipment

n some states, an employer is required either to provide employees with the tools and items necessary to complete the job or to reimburse employees for these expenses. However, workstation equipment like desks and chairs is usually not included in this category of necessary items.


That said, an employee might request a device or some form of furniture as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so they can perform the essential functions of their job. In such cases, you would consider it like any other ADA request. Allowing them to take home their ergonomic office chair, for example, would probably not be an undue hardship and therefore something you should do.

Deciding Who Can Work from Home

You may offer different benefits or terms of employment to different groups of employees as long as the distinction is based on non-discriminatory criteria. For instance, a telecommuting option or requirement can be based on the type of work performed, employee classification (exempt v. non-exempt), or location of the office or the employee. You should be able to support the business justification for allowing or requiring certain groups to telecommute.

Legal Disclaimer: Payroll Experts is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a license attorney. Payroll Experts cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to this receipt.

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3 Tips to Make Online Training Successful Long Term

Online trainings can be a useful tool for developing talent, but they can also end up being a waste of time and resources, even if the content and presentation are good. The difference between effective and ineffective training often comes down to whether employees are able to absorb and retain the information they receive.

There are lot of obstacles to absorption and retention of trainings. Busy employees may listen to a webinar while they work on other things, catching only tidbits here and there. Or they may put a training video off until they’ve finished a project and are too exhausted to give it due attention.

To avoid these training pitfalls, consider these three tips:

Follow the AGES Model


The NeuroLeadership Institute argues that we learn quickly and retain information best when we focus on one topic (attention), actively connect what we learn to what we already know (generation), experience positive feelings while learning (emotion), and space our intake of information (spacing). For example, cramming training on multiples topics into a tight two-day workshop would be much less effective than spreading that training out over a few weeks. You can learn more about the AGES Model here

Give Employees Time to Reflect and Practice the Skills They've Learned

 In some professions, like music and athletics, you spend most of your work time learning, building, and reinforcing skills before the big performance, whether it’s a concert, game, or race. Good performance necessitates constant practice. But in most professions, practice seems like a luxury you can’t afford because you’re expected to be performing during your work time. This is one reason trainings fail to deliver results. To master new skills, employees need time to focus on building those skills. That means some work time needs to be set aside post-training for them to reflect on and practice what they’ve learned.

Align Trainings with the Present Needs and Future Goals of Both the Company and the Employee

When assessing employee training goals, consider what additional knowledge and skills would enable them to do their jobs better now, but also set them up for success in their future careers. Employees are more likely to be excited by and personally invested in their training if they understand their personal return on that investment. If they don’t recognize its value, it won’t have any value to them.

Legal Disclaimer: Payroll Experts is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a license attorney. Payroll Experts cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to this receipt.

Leading During a Pandemic

No one knows what the workplace is going to look like in three months. COVID-19 continues to spread. School reopening and attendance plans remain tenuous. Further action from Congress is uncertain. Official rules from the Department of Labor might even be struck down in court, further adding to the confusion about what employers are supposed to be doing.

Leading an organization right now can feel like driving to a destination you’re not sure exists on a road that’s changing right before you.

In this situation, we need to accept that the typical ways of leading a team may not prove successful. The simple question of what success looks like right now isn’t easy to answer with either clarity or consistency. For instance, conventional wisdom around goal setting says that goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART goals). But the pandemic has made it much more difficult to pin any of these down. Think of the movie studio executives attempting to calculate the risks of releasing a feature film on a streaming service instead of in movie theaters. Or grocery store employees trying to mandate mask wearing and social distancing when some vocal customers don’t want to cooperate. What success looks like in these situations is not at all clear.

While it’s unlikely that leaders can bring true clarity and certainty to the present moment, there are leadership practices that can help promote the well-being of the organization and its people. We recommend the following:

Ensure Employees are Healthy & Safe

 Stay up to date with the latest safety guidelines. Provide employees with adequate PPE, cleaning supplies, and safety training, and prioritize their health and safety when making business decisions. If your employees are doing fine working from home, don’t feel pressure to return them to the office just because that’s the way things used to be. If they want to take extra measures to protect themselves at work, allow it. If they suggest modifications that they feel will make everyone safer, seriously consider investing in those changes.

Enforce the Rules

Employees desire and deserve safety (and OSHA requires it) and are looking to their leaders to create and maintain stability. Although you may have some “squeaky wheels” who are vocal about not wanting to follow the rules — whether that’s wearing a mask in the office or turning on their video for Zoom meetings — consistency will be essential to keeping the workplace both safe and orderly during these strange times. Enforcing company rules and policies, along with the rules of your state or locality, will increase both safety and overall trust in leadership.

Be Compassionate & Fair

The mental and physical stress of the pandemic is affecting people differently, so they may need different treatment. This doesn’t mean bending the safety rules for those who don’t like them or letting employees overlook basic online etiquette because they’re stressed out. It does, however, mean adjusting your expectations when employees are in a caregiving role, sick themselves, lonely, anxious, dealing with children who are home 24/7 for the foreseeable future, living with unruly pets, or all of the above. Productivity may be down, and it may stay that way for quite some time. If it’s any consolation, nearly every organization in the nation is dealing with the same issues right now. Even for companies whose profits are up, productivity, morale, and scheduling are a struggle. Good leaders will accept the situation and set about making it as workable as it can be for employees and the organization as a whole.

Focus on the Overall Mission

Analysis from Gallup indicates that people in a crisis look to their leaders for trust, compassion, stability, and hope. We’ve already talked about the first three, but don’t underestimate the need for hope right now. Do what you can to reach out proactively to employees and ensure they understand how their work is connected to the mission and success of the organization. Remind everyone of what you’re all doing and why you’re doing it. Hard numbers and specific projections are still important, but they may not be the most important thing to highlight at this time. Where numbers fail, knowing that at the end of the day (month, or year) your organizations will still be able to deliver a quality product or service that will make the lives of your clients and customers better can go a long way toward instilling hope.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act Notice- FAQS
Federal Labor Law Posting Update- Employee Rights
Pandemic Flu and the Family and Medical Leave Act: Q&A's
Remote Hires- I-9 Compliance & Requirements
Paycheck Protection Program: sba.gov
CARES Act- Full Bill Here: congress.gov
Guide to the CARES Act & Small Business Resources: sbc.senate.gov
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources: cdc.gov

The Struggle to Hire and What Businesses Can Do About It

If you’re finding it difficult to hire employees, you’re not alone. Bloomberg reports that many small businesses are struggling to find people who currently want to work—in fact, 42% say they have jobs they can’t fill. The number of people quitting jobs right now is also higher than average. 

One culprit is likely COVID-19. For reasons related to the pandemic, a number of people are choosing not to work right now. They don’t want to risk getting sick, they have children at home, or they may be able to get by for now on unemployment insurance.

Some small businesses with positions to fill have turned to gimmicks like signing bonuses and free food, but these recruiting tactics are unlikely to be effective long term. They don’t address the risks, challenges, and needs people have right now. 

Fortunately for employers looking to hire, the problem of people choosing not to work isn’t fundamentally different than the problem of people choosing to work somewhere else. In both cases, the would-be employer has to convince prospective hires that working for them is better than the alternatives, and then they have to live up to those promises. 


To be sure, those who choose not to work are missing out on many benefits. A job provides not only a paycheck, but also opportunities for employees to do meaningful work, contribute to their community, make friends, develop skills, receive training, advance their career, and fund their retirement. If someone isn’t working, they’re missing out on these and other opportunities. Employers may be able to leverage these benefits to appeal to those who have removed themselves from the workforce and convince them that work is worth it.

Safety, Flexibility, and Pay

Before employers can use benefits like friendship and skill-building to lure applicants, they must first address safety, flexibility, and pay; in a hierarchy of employment needs, these are foundational.

While vaccinations are proceeding at an encouraging rate and all adults are now eligible, COVID-19 remains a serious threat. It will be some time before people getting their shots now develop immunity to the virus, and they may worry about infecting friends and family who are unable or unwilling to get the vaccine. Because of these fears, some people aren’t going to work, period, and there’s nothing employers can do to persuade them. Others, however, may be open to working if they feel confident enough that the job won’t put them or those they care about in danger.

Flexibility is another key component for many potential applicants, much more so now that in-person school and childcare have become scarce. Since younger children cannot be left to fend for themselves while parents are at work, something has to give. Employers that provide flexibility—either through the initial scheduling of shifts or the ability to rearrange working hours on the fly—will likely receive more applicants and have a lower rate of turnover.

Other potential employees may be willing to work if they feel the pay is worth the risk and sufficient to cover the costs of working (transportation, childcare, insurance premiums, etc.).

Of course, most businesses don’t relish the idea of paying employees higher-than-usual wages, but there’s good reason to believe that increased pay is a good investment, especially for people in traditionally lower-paying jobs. When people are preoccupied with bills, debts, and other forms of scarcity, they tend to be less productive and make more mistakes. But, when scarcity isn’t taxing their mental bandwidth, they’re able to be more productive, make fewer mistakes, and increase business profitability. Increases in pay can pay for themselves. 


Career Development Opportunities

It may be that the positions an employer needs to fill don’t come with an exciting career path or teach the kind of skills that employees are likely to put on future resumes. But that’s not set in stone. Both the employer and the employee choose what skills are learned and used in every position.

Imagine, for a moment, a local deli that needs to hire a person to take orders at the register. The job market might consider this job “low skill,” but the owner of this deli doesn’t think of the job that way or advertise it that way.

Now, the owner doesn’t use the gimmick of giving the job a fancier title than what it entails; instead, they set the job up to provide skills training for more advanced positions in customer service or sales. In the first few days, the new hire will learn the menu and the layout of the register, but then, in the lulls between rushes, they’ll learn techniques for talking to customers, de-escalating tense situations, upselling, and the like—training that people in customer service and sales would expect to receive. Later, the new hire might even learn some of the ins and outs of starting and running a small business.

This owner knows that high employee turnover is simply the nature of the business and that employees will, sooner or later, take their training and skills to other jobs. And that’s the point. The aim here is to cultivate a reputation in the community as an excellent place for customers to grab a meal and an excellent place for employees to start learning marketable skills they’ll use throughout their careers, increasing the size of both the applicant pool and the deli’s profits.



Attractive Job Postings & Hiring Processes

Poorly written job postings can prove a serious obstacle to getting applicants. It’s important, as Katrina Kibben reminds us, that recruiters and hiring managers understand what they’re looking for in a new hire and write job postings that are simple and effective. 

If an employer offers some or all of the benefits discussed above, they should showcase them in their postings with concrete examples and as part of an engaging story. For instance, instead of the deli owner writing, “We teach valuable skills,” they can explain that down time will be filled with instruction on sales and de-escalation techniques. And instead of saying, “We offer flexibility,” an employer can advertise that employees have of a range of shifts to choose from on a weekly basis, or will be able to complete their work at any time of day, so long as weekly deadlines are met.

But no amount of training opportunities will mean a thing if a business’s hiring process is a chore for applicants to get through. The more minutes it takes to complete an application, the more applicants will decide it isn’t worth it. The longer a candidate has to wait for an offer, the more likely they’ll turn down that job offer—sometimes, as Adam Karpiak illustrates
, even when they don’t have another job lined up.

Legal Disclaimer: Payroll Experts is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a license attorney. Payroll Experts cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to this receipt.

Support the Mental Health of Your Employees During COVID-19

When social distancing and self-quarantine are needed to limit and control the spread of the disease, continued social connectedness to maintain recovery are critical. Access vital virtual recovery resources below!

Virtual Recovery Resources

CDC Guidance for Reopening Buildings

As office buildings begin to reopen, employers can take steps to create a safe and healthy workplace and protect workers and clients. The CDC recommends starting by creating a COVID-19 workplace health and safety plan.

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Resuming Business Toolkit: COVID-19

This toolkit, provided by the CDC, is designed to assist employers in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and lowering the impact in their workplace when reintegrating employees into non-healthcare business settings. 

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Give Your Employees Access to Their Earned Wages Before Payday!

Allow employees still working during COVID-19 to access their wages before payday. The system looks at daily pay vs. time worked along with maximums you set to determine how much pay can be taken ahead of time. Simply download the app! No interest, monthly maintenance or usage fees. Once an employee signs up and pushes earnings ahead of check-date, funds will be made available on a VISA debit card with no fees for: POS transactions, ATM transactions, account transfers, or online transactions.

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Sample Employee Notice- Face Coverings

Note to employers: State and local laws and orders may provide different or additional requirements for employers regarding masks or face coverings, including guidance on whether employers must provide and pay for them, who must maintain and clean them, and more. Review applicable mandates to ensure compliance. 

Download Sample Notice Here

Help Bring Your Employees Back to Work Safely: COVID-19 Digital Screening

A Company Nurse Solution

Safely and confidently ease your team back to the workplace with COVID-19 digital screening and triage guidance! Screen employees before they return to the workplace with the most up-to-date CDC guidelines, so you can be sure that they are healthy and ready to return to the workplace!

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Sample Welcome Back Letter

Welcome your employee's back to work and acknowledge the changes you have made to further ensure workplace safety and protocols. Access a sample letter below. Be sure to adjust language as necessary and check state & local public health guidance as you formulate return to work plans for your organization.

Download Sample Notice Here

Pandemic Response Training Courses

Available Now!

Ensure you and your team have the right tools to navigate uncertainty by having access to pandemic response training's. Ten courses are available and range from managing in a crisis to forging ahead with perseverance and resilience!

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Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19

Access OSHA's guide below to assure safe and healthful working conditions as you reopen the workplace.

Access Guide Here

Key Practices to Keep the Workplace Safe

Create and Issue a Written Safety Policy

Create and issue a written safety policy for employees to read and acknowledge. Employees should know that they will be held accountable to the policy and can be disciplined regardless of whether they sign it.

Provide Employees with a Form

Provide employees with a form (either paper or digital) so they can document and report their safety concerns. This promotes employee involvement in proactive safety assessments of the workplace. For this practice to work, employees need to feel comfortable raising concerns and confident those concerns will be addressed. You can make the submission process anonymous to increase the likelihood that it is used.

Avoid Keeping Safety Violations Hidden

Do not create safety incentive programs or reward employees when there are no reported incidents, as these rewards can encourage employees to keep safety violations hidden.

Provide Hassle-Free Paid Sick Leave

Provide paid sick leave and make requesting leave hassle-free. When sick employees are worried about a smaller paycheck or are required to find a substitute to cover their shift, they may feel pressured to come in to work while infectious, putting colleagues and customers at risk.

Promote Psychological Safety

Promote psychological safety by taking steps to ensure people feel safe to speak up about their concerns.

Allow Employees to Rest & Recharge

Give employees permission and time to rest and recharge. When a workplace situation causes someone to have a fight-or-flight response, it may be best for them to step away from the situation before they say or do something they may regret or that causes more harm. Make sure employees know that they can remove themselves from an overly stressful situation, without punishment or retaliation.

Forward OSHA's QuickTakes
​Newsletter

Forward OSHA's QuickTakes online newsletter to employees.

Offer Monthly Safety or Wellness Trainings

Offer monthly 10-minute safety or wellness trainings. Trainings could be on anything from how to get a good night’s sleep to safe driving techniques. Promote employee involvement by asking various employees to facilitate them.

Talk to Your Worker's Compensation Carrier

Talk to your workers’ compensation carrier. You can get good safety tips, trainings, and ideas from them, and you may be able to get write-offs. Like you, they want to keep costs down, so they’ll likely appreciate your efforts to make safety a priority and do what they can to help. 

How to Help Employees Communicate More Effectively

In an ideal world, communication would be easy. We'd immediately know exactly what to say or write. Emails, Slack messages, and reply threads would practically write themselves. And there'd be no confusion about what anyone meant, ever. 


Of course, communication never works that way. We stare at the computer screen trying to decide how to begin an email. We misspeak or garble our words. We don’t always convey exactly what we intend. We misunderstand, overlook, or forget information we’ve been given. We also sometimes read emotions into words that weren’t what the writer was feeling. Or we pack our speech with such an emotional punch that it distracts from the point we’re trying to make.


Written communication often exacerbates these issues, a fact that has many leaders worried since more people are working remotely and relying on the written word to do their jobs. It's 

no secret that we spend far too much time on email and other communication tools.


Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need to hire a writing coach to teach your employees better writing skills—although this can in some cases be a good idea. You can significantly improve communication in your organization by asking your employees to consider the following practices in their written communications:

Break up long sentences and paragraphs.

A big unbroken block of text is likely to befuddle your reader before they even get to the first word. Long sentences and paragraphs also make comprehension and retention of information much more difficult. Note the differences in these two communications:

Sample 1: I support the goals outlined in the proposal you sent to me yesterday, especially the need to better define appropriate metrics around the solicitation of customer satisfaction scores, and I want to thank you for the thought you gave to proposing workable solutions, but I’m not sure if all of the proposed solutions will work at this time. Let’s discuss it all at our next check-in.

Sample 2: Thank you for sending the proposal yesterday. I appreciate the thought you put into it. I agree with you about the goals, especially what you wrote about customer satisfaction scores. The solutions you proposed, however, may be a challenge to implement right away. Let’s discuss the proposal at our next check-in.

These samples provide the same information, but the second is easier to follow and digest. 

Avoid unnecessary details.

While some context is useful, too much can overwhelm the reader and add to the time it takes for the communication to be written, read, and acted on.

Sample 1: I ran into Lindsay in the lunchroom and asked her about the Paterson deal. She asked me to follow up with her after her lunch break, which I did, and she gave me permission to start on the outline. She seemed a little aggravated that I interrupted her lunch. Anyway, I need to respond to a few emails before I get started on it, but I will get to it after and have it to you and her by close of business today.

Sample 2: I got the go ahead from Lindsay on the Paterson deal. I’m working on the outline and will email it to you and her by close of business today.

The first sample likely has too much information. The writer may have felt like including the extra details because they felt bad about asking Lindsay to work on her lunch break, but unless there’s a good reason for the recipient to know those details, they’re best left out. 

Use clear, concrete terms.

Vague words, convoluted ideas, and broad generalizations make for easy miscommunication. Your reader will be more likely to understand your meaning if your language is specific. Remember too that just because something is clear to you doesn’t necessarily mean it will be clear to your reader. Compare these two statements:

Sample 1: Would you be able to review the thing I sent you earlier?

Sample 2: Here’s the letter for Anil I told you about this morning. Would you be able to proofread it for typos by the end of the day?

The first sample is likely to cause confusion and frustration if the recipient has recently received a lot of “things” from the writer or other people. In contrast, the second sample makes the context and the requested task clear to the reader.



Save difficult or emotionally intense conversations for calls, video conferences, or in-person meetings.

These conversations usually require more finesse than written text can provide. If you anticipate a strong emotional response to what you have to say, or if you believe the person with whom you’ll be communicating may read strong emotions into what you have to say, don’t write to them. Talk it through instead. Let them hear your voice and listen carefully to theirs. 
















Provide context and direction when adding someone to a conversation.

Most of us have had the experience of receiving a forwarded email that we’re not immediately sure what to do with. Should we keep it as a reference? Read through the thread? Respond in some way? We haven’t been told. Don’t do this. You should clue the reader in to what the conversation entails and what they need to know and do in response. Compare:

Sample 1: Please see below. What do you think?

Sample 2: Please read through the conversation below and note the product request from Oliver. Is that something you can add to your work this week?


The first sample is likely to prompt the recipient to weigh in on the wrong subject or ask the writer for clarification before responding, wasting valuable time either way. The second sample gives clear instruction, saving time.




Legal Disclaimer: Payroll Experts is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a license attorney. Payroll Experts cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to this receipt.

Four Steps to Take When an Employee is Diagnosed with COVID-19

As COVID-19 infection rates continue to climb, it's imperative that organizations respond quickly when an employee is diagnosed. Here are the steps employers should take:

Notify Employees

Employees should be notified of potential exposure in the workplace, but they should not be told who is sick. Employees won't like that they can't gauge their own risk, but the ADA requires this type of information remain confidential. Don't worry if employees figure it out on their own, but make sure you're not the one to reveal the information.

Assess the Risk

If there was close contact for a prolonged period (about six feet or less for 15 minutes or more over the course of 24 hours), exposed employees should quarantine. If you aren't confident in your risk assessment, call your local or state health authority to help you determine which employees should quarantine.

Disinfect Areas

The CDC recommends the following practices: 

  • Close off areas used by the person who is sick for 24 hours, if possible.
  • Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area.
  • Clean/disinfect areas and items used by the person who is sick. 

Determine When

Sick employees should work with their healthcare provider to determine when to return to the workplace. Generally, an employee will be okay to return when at least 2 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of medication, and other symptoms have improved, and at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared or since the positive test result, if the employee is asymptomatic.

Back-to-School: Frequently Asked Questions about Leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

Q. My employee’s child’s school is operating on an alternate day (or other hybrid-attendance) basis. The school is open each day, but students alternate between days attending school in person and days participating in remote learning. They are permitted to attend school only on their allotted in-person attendance days. Can the employee take paid leave under the FFCRA in these circumstances?

A. Yes, employees are eligible to take paid leave under the FFCRA on days when their child is not permitted to attend school in person and must instead engage in remote learning, as long as the employee needs the leave to actually care for their child during that time and only if no other suitable person is available to do so. For purposes of the FFCRA, the child’s school is effectively “closed” on days they cannot attend in person, so employees may take leave as needed on those days.

Q. Some schools are letting parents choose between having their child attend in person or participate in a remote learning program for the fall. Some of my employees want to take the remote-only option because they are worried that children will catch COVID-19 and bring it home to the family. Can they take paid leave under the FFCRA in these circumstances?

A. No, the employee is not eligible to take paid leave under the FFCRA because their child’s school is not “closed” due to COVID-19 related reasons; it is open for their child to attend. If the child’s school is physically open, but an employee has chosen for the child to remain home, they are not entitled to FFCRA leave.


If, however, the choice was between a hybrid schedule and a remote-only option, the employee would still be eligible to take paid leave on the days when the child would be doing remote-learning regardless (because the school is effectively “closed” to the child on those days). For instance, if an employee had a choice between three days in school and two days at home or a fully remote program, and chose the fully remote program, they’d still be entitled to use FFCRA leave for the two days the child would have been schooling from home.

Also, if child is under a quarantine order or has been advised by a health care provider to self-isolate or self-quarantine, the employee may be eligible to take Emergency Paid Sick Leave under the FFCRA to care for them.


Q. Can we set up childcare or tutoring in the workplace?

A.  While it may be possible (and we applaud the creativity), you’d want to consult with an attorney or someone else in your state that is familiar with the kind of licensing and insurance that would be required to do this. Even if you were only allowing children in the workplace occasionally, and they remained under the control of their parent, you’d want to check with your general liability carrier to make sure that it would cover incidents that involved a visiting child. 

Q. Can I deny leave to an employee who has high schoolers who should be able to take care of themselves during the day?

A. No. However, if the child or children are 15 or older, you should require that the employee provide a statement or affirmation that there are special circumstances that cause the older child to need their care. They do not need to provide any further information beyond that statement (such as what the special circumstances are). If you feel it necessary, you can remind all employees that it is fraudulent to take FFCRA leave if they are not unable to work as a result of the care they will be providing.

Q. Can we require proof that the school or place of care is closed?

A. No. You can and should (for IRS documentation) require the names and ages of the child or children being cared for and the name of the school, place of care, or caregiver that is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19. You should also require a signed statement that the employee is unable to work because they need to provide care for the child or children. Finally, if the child or children are 15 or older, the employee needs to indicate that there are special circumstances (but doesn’t need to explain them).


We don’t encourage independent sleuthing to verify what an employee tells you, but if you feel that’s necessary, be very careful of doing anything that could infringe on an employee’s right to privacy. Also be consistent in verifying this kind of information—if you are only fact-checking certain employees, you’ll open yourself up to complaints of unfair treatment.

Q. Can I ask an employee to look for outside childcare?

A. You can ask or encourage employees to look for other options, but you can’t require any proof that they have done so and you can’t deny leave because you think they didn’t try. In this case, all an employee needs to provide in a request for FFCRA leave is a statement that no other suitable person will be taking care of the child when they have requested leave for that purpose. Ultimately, who is “suitable” will be up to a parent.

Q. Can I deny leave if I think or know an employee is lying about the need to care for a child?

A. There is significant risk in denying a request for FFCRA leave if an employee has provided the appropriate documentation. That said, if you believe the request is fraudulent, you should have a discussion with the employee before granting or denying leave. If it turns out that they were submitting a fraudulent request—and you have sufficient evidence to support that—you can take disciplinary action if it seems appropriate. If, after discussion, you think their request is more likely than not legitimate, you should grant it.


Be careful of disciplining an employee who requests leave but doesn’t meet the necessary criteria. These leave entitlements can be confusing, and it would be unlawful retaliation to discipline an employee who was attempting to use their right to leave in good faith.   

Q. If an employee’s stay-at-home spouse is sick with COVID-19 and unable to care for their children, can they take FFCRA leave to do so?

A. Yes, the children’s regular care provider (the stay-at-home spouse) is unavailable because of COVID-19, so the employee would be able to use either EPSL or EFMLA to provide care while their spouse is not able to do so.

Q. What if an employee won’t fill out the required FFCRA documentation?

A. The earliest an employer can require notice is after the first workday of FFCRA leave. (The regulations require employees to provide notice of their need for school closure leave as soon as practicable, but there are no consequences if the employee doesn't do so.) If, after the first workday, the employee does not provide sufficient documentation to support their request for leave, they must be notified of the problem and given an opportunity to provide what is needed. If the employee still does not provide completed documentation after being given a reasonable opportunity to do so, then the employer is not required to provide FFCRA leave. 

Q. Can we terminate an employee who is unable to work because they need to care for a child but have used up their leave under the FFCRA?

A. Assuming that no other leave laws apply, termination is an option. But you may want to instead consider offering the employee an unpaid personal leave of absence or revisiting whether a flexible or part-time work schedule would be better than losing the employee entirely. Recruiting, hiring, and training are all expensive undertakings, so if there’s a way to keep an employee around—even if they need some time off—that is likely better for your bottom line.


If you do decide to terminate an employee who is out of leave, make sure you can be consistent in that response going forward. If you are flexible with some employees while firing others, you will open yourself up to claims of discrimination.   

Q. What if we find out after we’ve granted and paid for an employee’s leave that it was fraudulent? Do we make them pay us back or report them to the IRS?

A. There is not yet clear guidance about how to handle this situation, so we recommend calling your local Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor. They are generally very responsive and may be able to provide some guidance based on your situation. 

Legal Disclaimer: Payroll Experts is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a license attorney. Payroll Experts cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to this receipt.

9 Work Trends That HR Leaders Can't Ignore

According to Gartner, these are the top 9 trends that will shape work this year and HR leaders are watching them closely.

Read Gartner Article

No. 1: Employers will shift from managing the employee experience to managing the life experience of their employees.

According to Gartner's 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, employees reported better (over 20%) mental and physical health when employers supported their life experiences. Supportive employers also saw an increase in the number of high performing employees. 

No. 2: More companies will adopt a stance on societal and political issues.


2020 Gartner research shows that 74% of employees expect their employer to be more actively involved in cultural debates. They are predicting that CEOs will have to be more responsive in order to retain and attract top talent.

No. 3: The gender-wage gap will continue to increase as employees return to the workplace.

A recent survey revealed that 64% of managers believe in-office employees perform higher than remote workers. A 2019-2020 Gartner survey gathered just the opposite where full-time remote workers were 5% more likely to perform higher than full-time in-office employees. If managers continue to retain a bias toward in-office employee's and if men are more likely to work from the office, it's possible to see managers over-rewarding those employees.

No. 4: New regulations will limit employee monitoring.

A result to the pandemic has led organizations to implement new technology to passively track and monitor their workforce. Many of these companies have yet to determine how to balance employee privacy with the technology, increasing employee frustration. Gartner predicts that in 2021, new state and local regulations will begin to put limits on what employers are able to track.

No. 5: Flexibility will shift from location to time.

Gartner's 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey revealed that companies with flexibility regarding when, where and how much employees worked, had a high performing workforce of 55% in comparison to organizations with a standard 40-hour work week (36%).

No. 6: Leading companies will make bulk purchases of the COVID-19 vaccine for employees- and will be sued over COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements.

Some employers will use the COVID-19 vaccine as a differentiator to attract and retain talent. Gartner predicts that in tandem, those that make the vaccine a requirement may later be sued. 

No. 7: Mental health support will expand.

Self-care and the importance of mental health has been emphasized more than ever. Gartner predicts that employers will expand mental health benefits and introduce "collective mental health days". 

No. 8: Employers will "rent" talent to fill the skills gap.

In an effort to meet changing needs, employers are listing more skills on job requisitions. Some companies will pay a premium for those skills and others will expand their use of contingent and contract hiring.

No. 9: Jurisdictions will compete to attract talent rather than trying to get companies to relocate.

The new era of remote and hybrid work means that where an employee lives will be less tie to where their employer is located. This break in where employees live and where they work will lead states and cities to start using their tax policies to incentivize talent to relocate to their jurisdiction rather than giving tax credits to large companies to relocate.

Legal Disclaimer: Payroll Experts is not engaged in the practice of law. The content in this article should not be construed as legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions concerning your situation or the information you have obtained, you should consult with a license attorney. Payroll Experts cannot be held legally accountable for actions related to this receipt.

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