Updated: Jun 10, 2020
The Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a host of new legislation and executive orders at both the federal and state levels. Complying with these new rules, while facing an uncertain future, has left many business owners feeling like they are throwing darts at a dart board that is around a corner. The widespread change, uncertainty, and fear is often described as unprecedented.
While reference to our present time as “unprecedented” may seem cliché at this point, it still holds special meaning in terms of the law. Business owners and lawyers rely on precedent and prior interpretation of laws to guide their conduct in the workplace and in the marketplace. When there is no precedent, as is the case with new legislation and orders, business owners are left struggling to know whether they are exposing themselves to the risk of non-compliance and future litigation.
The benefits provided under the Family First Coronavirus Act (FFCRA) are likely to be particularly ripe for disputes between employers and employees. The FFCRA provides two significant benefits for employees. First, the act provides full-time and part-time employees with paid emergency sick leave when the employee is unable to work due to specific circumstances related to Coronavirus. Second, the FFCRA expands Family Medical Leave Act protections for employees who are impacted by Coronavirus. There are specific qualifying reasons for use of the expanded protection as well as employer qualification requirements. Like traditional FMLA, these expanded protections present an opportunity for misinterpretation and employment disputes. Employer compliance and qualifying for tax credit under the FFCRA requires a solid understanding of the Act including when an employee qualifies for FFCRA benefits, when an employer is subject to FFCRA provisions, and whether an employer qualifies for FFCRA tax credits.
Other areas that pose challenges for business owners include employees who may have underlying health issues or disabilities that place them in a Coronavirus high-risk category. Under some circumstances, the Americans With Disabilities Act could come into play if the effected employee seeks special workplace accommodations. Similarly, employers may find themselves dealing with a worker who is reluctant to return to work after having stay at home orders lifted.
The legal challenges associated with Coronavirus are not limited to recent legislation. Health departments across the United States are providing guidelines and orders for businesses to follow to prevent community spread of Coronavirus. Many of these recommendations and orders leave room for business owners to develop their own strategies for compliance. However, inadequate health and safety protocols on the part of a business owner could lead to cease and desist letters from a local health department or legal sanctions.
The Coronavirus has and will continue to raise legal issues for business owners. Mitigating risk and creating a positive work environment starts with a solid understanding of the new laws and orders accompanied by well thought out workplace procedures, policies, and rules. Training employees, regular communication, and ensuring compliance with new workplace rules can go a long way in avoiding disputes and creating a healthy and positive workplace.
Coronavirus will impact business well into the future. Waiting the pandemic out in hopes of returning to “business as usual” is not likely to be an effective strategy. To ensure their future viability, business owners should proceed thoughtfully, efficiently, and most importantly, with a solid understanding of new legislation and government orders.