Category Archives: COVID-19

FFCRA LEAVE TO EXPIRE

By: Sally A. Piefer

December 22, 2020

Last evening the legislature approved a new COVID-19 stimulus/relief bill. The bill is expected to be signed by the President soon.

Many employers have wondered whether the legislature would extend FFCRA leave, specifically the emergency paid sick leave (EPSL) and emergency family and medical leave (EFMLA) provisions as the new year approaches and as COVID-19 cases continue to rise through much of the United States.

As you will recall, the leave provisions of the FFCRA covered all employers with fewer than 500 employees, and provided two buckets of leave:

  • EFMLA which provided paid leave for employees who are unable to work (or telework) because they need leave to care for a child (under age 18) if the child’s elementary or secondary school or place of care has been closed or if the child care provider is unavailable because of a public health emergency.
  • Emergency Paid Sick Leave provided limited paid sick leave to employees who are unable to work (or telework) because of leave needed for any of the following reasons:
        1. The employee is subject to a quarantine or isolation related to COVID-19;
        2. The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
        3. The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
        4. The employee is caring for an individual subject to a state, federal or local quarantine or isolation related to COVID-19;
        5. The employee is caring for their child if the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions; or
        6. The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar conditions specified by the Secretary of HHS in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

To benefit employers, the FFCRA provided a refundable tax credit equal to 100% of the qualified sick leave wages paid by the employer – subject to the FFCRA’s maximum payments.

Tax Credits Provided for Voluntary Extension of Leave

Although the legislature did not officially extend the leave provisions – meaning the mandatory leave expires on December 31, 2020, employers covered by the FFCRA can voluntarily continue to provide the leave through March 31, 2021 and continue to receive the tax credit. The extension of the tax credit only applies to private employers – no provisions have extended the tax credit to public employers.

The extension of the tax credit also does not mean that an employee who already exhausted their EPSL will get another bank of EPSL. However, as drafted, it would appear that if an employer’s FMLA would restart before March 31, 2021, that employer would have to provide another new bank of EFMLA through March 31, 2021. Hopefully the DOL will soon issue guidance on how the new legislation affects EFMLA.

Employer Next Steps

Employers covered by the FFCRA will need to decide whether they will continue to provide EPSL and EFMLA through March 31, 2021. If you do decide to do so, it would make sense to let your employees know about the leave, and that the extension of leave will expire on March 31, 2021.

We will continue to monitor and provide further updates on COVID-19 developments. If you have questions, please contact Sally Piefer at 414-226-4818 or spiefer@lindner-marsack.com, or contact your regular Lindner & Marsack attorney.

 

The EEOC Releases Updated Guidance on Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations and Related Employment Laws

By: Oyvind Wistrom

On December 16, 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released updated guidance on the responsibilities and rights of employers and employees related to the COVID-19 vaccine, including mandatory employer vaccination programs.

The publication entitled “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” is available here.  The new EEOC guidance provides information to employers and employees about how mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations interact with the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

The EEOC guidance confirms that employers are allowed to implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees, with certain exceptions and caveats.  Some of the key takeaways from the EEOC include the following:

  • Employers are allowed to require employees to receive an FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine (once it becomes available) as a condition of employment or continued employment.
  • Employers must attempt to accommodate employees who, due to a medical disability under the ADA or sincerely-held religious beliefs under Title VII, decline or refuse to receive the vaccine.
  • If an employer determines, based on objective evidence, that the presence of an unvaccinated employee (i.e., employee who declines or refuses to be vaccinated because of a disability or sincerely-held religious reasons), presents a direct threat to the health and safety of other persons in the workplace that cannot be reduced or eliminated through a reasonable accommodation, the employer can exclude the employee from the workplace.
  • When an employer seeks to exclude an unvaccinated employee from the workplace due to a direct threat presented by his or her presence in the workplace, the employer may not automatically terminate the employee. Rather, the employer must attempt to accommodate the employee if he or she cannot receive the vaccine due to a disability or a sincerely held religious belief. Employers must assess four factors in making this determination: 1) the duration of the risk presented by the unvaccinated employee; 2) the nature and severity of the potential harm presented by the unvaccinated employee’s presence in the workplace; 3) the likelihood that harm will occur; and 4) how imminent that harm is to others in the workplace.
  • In determining whether a reasonable accommodation exists under the ADA, the employer should consider the feasibility of possible reasonable accommodations such as working remotely, transferring the employee to another worksite where he or she can work independently, or possibly placing the employee on a leave of absence. In so doing, the employer should consider the employee’s leave rights under the FFCRA (set to expire on December 31, 2020), both state and federal FMLA, as well as under general employment policies.
  • The administration of a COVID-19 vaccine by an employer (or by a third-party with which the employer has contracted to provide vaccinations) is not a “medical examination” under the ADA because the employer is not seeking information about the employee’s current health status. Requiring a vaccination also does not implicate the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) because an employee’s genetic information is not being used to make employment decisions and no genetic information is being sought.
  • Although the administration of the vaccine is not a “medical examination” under the ADA, the guidance notes that if a health care provider asks certain pre-vaccination screening questions to ensure there is no medical reason for a person not to receive the vaccine, these questions may constitute a “medical examination” under the ADA because they may solicit information about an employee’s disability. Therefore, any pre-vaccination screening questions that are disability-related must be job-related and consistent with business necessity, and responses should be maintained as confidential.
  • Employers are also permitted to require employees to provide proof that they received a COVID-19 vaccine. Such an inquiry is not a medical examination under the ADA because it is not likely to elicit information about an employee’s disability status.  However, an employer should be careful to ensure that employees do not disclose any medical information beyond proof of the vaccination and they should avoid asking why the employee did not receive the vaccination.

With the first round of COVID-19 vaccines finally becoming available, and with several other possible vaccines on the horizon, employers need to carefully consider whether the implementation of a mandatory vaccination program is the right business decision, or whether the spread of the virus can be ameliorated through other methods or precautions.  The nature of the business, and the amount of interaction that is required between employees, customers, clients, and vendors should help guide the decision-making process of whether a mandatory vaccination program is necessary or appropriate.

If you have any questions about these guidelines or any other matter, please contact  Oyvind Wistrom or your Lindner & Marsack attorney at (414) 273-3910 to seek counsel.

Workers’ Compensation in a Post COVID World

Lindner & Marsack, as the Wisconsin firm member of the National Workers Compensation Defense Network, would like to invite you to this year’s NWCDN virtual annual conference. This year’s conference is “Workers’ Compensation in a Post COVID World.”  The day-long program will focus on both COVID and COVID inspired topics with presenters including a Director from the CDC, the Senior Contributing Editor for the AMA Guides, leaders of industry, the Plaintiffs’ bar and the judiciary from all over the country.

 

This free daylong seminar features not only the main stage speakers, but a second stage that includes panel discussions comprised of law firms from all over the country providing both COVID and non COVID state specific updates.  Click the registration link below and we look forward to “seeing” you on November 12, 2020.

 

Thursday, November 12, 2020,

COMPLIMENTARY VIRTUAL SEMINAR

from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST

 

Click here to Register Now!

Court Extends Temporary Restraining Order Blocking Wisconsin Governor From Releasing Names of Companies with Positive COVID Cases

By: Sally A. Piefer

Last week we reported that Governor Evers planned to release the names of more than 1,000 businesses who have had 2 or more employees test positive for COVID-19. The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) reported that it had been regularly urging the Governor to keep this information confidential. WMC claimed that a letter was sent to the Governor in July 2020 describing the legal implications of releasing the names of businesses who had COVID-positive cases among its employee ranks. WMC says that it reached out again to the Governor’s office, but received no response before it alerted its membership of the impending information release. On October 1, the WMC, along with two local chambers of commerce, filed suit and obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking the release of this information.

This morning a court hearing was conducted by Zoom. Based on the arguments of counsel, the Court decided to extend the TRO until the parties have had an opportunity to fully brief the issues and for the Court to make an informed decision. The next hearing is scheduled for November 30, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. The parties, along with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who intervened in the case, will be filing a variety of briefs between October 9th and November 6th.

We will continue to provide updated information as it becomes available. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Sally Piefer or your normal contact at Lindner & Marsack.

COURT ISSUES TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER PREVENTING WISCONSIN GOVERNOR FROM RELEASING NAMES OF BUSINESSES EXPERIENCING COVID CASES

By Sally Piefer

Yesterday we reported that, despite repeated requests from the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), Wisconsin’s Governor Evers was set to release to the public the names of Wisconsin businesses who have had at least 2 employees test positive for COVID. The release of business names was scheduled for Friday, October 2, 2020.

Yesterday, the WMC, along with two other local Chambers of Commerce, filed a lawsuit in Waukesha County Court on the issue. The WMC and the Chambers also sought a temporary restraining order (TRO), asking the Court to immediately prevent the Governor’s office from taking the proposed action.

The Waukesha County judge granted the TRO request late on Thursday afternoon. The Order reads:

Upon the motion of Plaintiffs Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Muskego Area Chamber of Commerce, and New Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 813.025 and for good cause shown;

It is hereby Ordered that Defendants Tony Evers, Andrea Palm, and Joel Brennan, and their officers, agents, and employees (collectively referred to as “Defendants”), are temporarily restrained from releasing any information relating to businesses whose employees have tested positive for COVID-19 or who contract tracing has shown close connections.

This Order shall remain in effect for 5 days unless extended after notice and hearing.

The Court will likely be scheduling a hearing on the request for a preliminary injunction either next week or the week after. Typically, TRO’s can be in effect for up to 5 days, unless extended by agreement of the parties. We will continue to keep you abreast of further developments on this issue. Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Sally Piefer or your normal contact at Lindner & Marsack.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Reports Wisconsin Governor to Release Names of Companies with Positive COVID Cases

By: Sally A. Piefer

Yesterday afternoon, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) notified its members that Governor Evers plans to release the names of more than 1,000 businesses who have had 2 or more employees test positive for COVID-19. The release is reportedly scheduled to occur tomorrow, Friday, October 2, 2020.

During the summer, Governor Evers said publicly that his administration would not release business names where employees tested positive for COVID because it was “information that’s not public.” In addition, during a September press event, Governor Evers is reported to have acknowledged that releasing the information could pose privacy issues.

The WMC has been regularly urging the Governor to keep this information confidential. WMC retained legal counsel who wrote a letter to the Governor in July 2020 describing the legal implications of releasing the names of businesses who had COVID-positive cases among its employee ranks. WMC says that it reached out again to the Governor’s office yesterday, but received no response before it alerted its membership of the impending information release.

We will continue to provide updated information as it becomes available.

If you have questions, please contact Sally Piefer or your normal Lindner & Marsack attorney.

DOL PROVIDES CLARIFICATION ON FFCRA PAID LEAVE PROVISIONS

By: Samantha J. Wood and Sally Piefer

Last month, the federal district court for the Southern District of New York struck down several regulations issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and its two major provisions, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLA). More information regarding this decision can be found here. Since this decision was issued, it remained unclear how the decision would impact employers outside of the Southern District of New York.

Thankfully, last week the DOL provided employers with some guidance by revising its FFCRA regulations and clarifying the following:

Work Availability

The FFCRA provides paid leave to employees who are “unable to work (or telework)” because of a need to care for a child. The DOL’s earlier regulations indicated that employees were not entitled to the paid leave if the employer “does not have work” for the employee to perform.

The DOL has reaffirmed that an employee may take FFCRA leave only to the extent that a qualifying reason for such leave is the “but-for” cause of his or her inability to work. In other words, an employee is only entitled to FFCRA leave when the employer has work available for the employee to perform but s/he cannot perform it “because of” a qualifying reason.  If there is no work for an individual to perform due to circumstances other than a qualifying reason for leave, such as a temporary or permanent worksite closure, the employee is not eligible for FFCRA leave. However, employers may not make work unavailable in an effort to deny FFCRA leave; indeed, altering an employee’s schedule in an adverse manner because the employee requests or takes FFCRA leave would likely constitute impermissible retaliation.

Intermittent Leave

The DOL has also reaffirmed its earlier regulations regarding intermittent leave.  Specifically, employees are permitted to take intermittent leave under the EFMLA or the EPSLA only if the employer consents to the use of such intermittent leave.

Health Care Provider Exception

In an effort to prevent disruptions to the health care system’s capacity to respond to COVID-19, the FFCRA also allows employers to exclude from coverage “health care providers” or “emergency responders.”

The DOL’s earlier regulations broadly defined a “health care provider” to include “anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, Employer, or entity” including “any permanent or temporary institution, facility, location, or site where medical services are provided that are similar to such institutions.” In addition, the regulations further expanded the definition to include the following: (1) any individual employed by an entity that contracts with any of these institutions described above to provide services or to maintain the operation of the facility where that individual’s services support the operation of the facility; (2) anyone employed by any entity that provides medical services, produces medical products, or is otherwise involved in the making of COVID-19 related medical equipment, tests, drugs, vaccines, diagnostic vehicles, or treatments; and (3) any individual that the highest official of a State or territory, including the District of Columbia, determines is a health care provider necessary for that State’s or territory’s or the District of Columbia’s response to COVID-19.

In light of the federal district court’s challenge to the broad definition, the DOL has narrowed the definition of “health care provider,” to include (1) employees who meet the definition of “health care provider” under the Family and Medical Leave Act regulations (physicians and others who make medical diagnoses); or (2) those who are employed to provide diagnostic services, preventative services, treatment services or other services that are integrated with and necessary to the provisions of patient care, which, if not provided, would adversely impact patient care. Employers who originally exempted employees under the broad health care provider definition will need to re-evaluate whether they can continue to exclude their employees from coverage.

Advance Notice of Need for Leave

The FFCRA permits employers to require employees to follow reasonable notice procedures to receive FFCRA leave. The DOL’s earlier regulations provided that “prior to” taking leave, the employee must provide the employer the reason for leave, the duration of the leave, and if applicable the authorized person who ordered isolation or quarantine.

The DOL has revised this requirement to require employees taking FFCRA leave to provide their employers with notice of leave as soon as practicable, when the necessity for such leave is foreseeable. While this will generally mean that employees are required to provide notice before taking leave, there may be some instances where leave is not foreseeable and prior notice is not practicable.

Additionally, the DOL clarified that the documentation required from the employee for FFCRA leave also need not be given “prior to” taking FFCRA leave, but is only required as soon as practicable, which in most cases will be when the employee provides notice of the need for leave.

Conclusion

In light of the DOL’s revised regulations, employers must modify their practices to ensure compliance with the narrower health care provider exception and the more flexible notice and documentation requirements.

If you have any questions about these new regulations, please contact your Lindner & Marsack attorney or the Firm at (414) 273-3910 to seek counsel.

Take a Break from Covid: Back to Basics (Part 2 of 3)

Register Now for the Upcoming Complimentary Webinar on September 22, 2020

The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN) invites you to attend a webinar on September 22, 2020 at 10:00 am (CST). NWCDN lawyers from four adjacent midwestern states, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are partnering to present a three part series of webinars entitled “Back to Basics.” Attorney Chelsie Springstead from our office will be among the presenters in this second of three webinars.  Look for part three coming up later this year.

With most adjusters handling claims from multiple jurisdictions, this series is a must! The webinar will focus on compensability of claims, factors of entitlement, types of work injuries, causation issues, and defenses. These topics will be covered by utilization of factual hypotheticals which will highlight similarities and differences between each of the four states.

Lindner & Marsack is proud to be a founding member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN) where our own Doug Feldman serves as the current Treasurer.  In an effort to provide up to date legal information addressing workers’ compensation law across the nation in this ever-changing environment, NWCDN teamed up with WorkersCompensation.com to offer complimentary webinars.

Registration is complimentary.  Click here now to reserve your spot!

Federal Court Throws Employers a Curve Ball on the FFCRA Paid Leave Provisions

By Sally Piefer  

A decision from a federal district court in New York may very well have changed several key regulations implementing the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). This decision could impact many employers across the country, right as schools are determining whether they will hold in-person class or whether they will remain virtual for the foreseeable future. The uncertainty for employers and employees continues.

By way of background, on March 18, 2020, President Trump signed the FFCRA into law. Two key provisions affect employers – the Emergency Family & Medical Leave Act (EFMLA) and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA). Together these Acts required employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide certain paid leave to employees. The EFMLA provided employees with up to 12 weeks of paid protected leave if unable to work because a dependent child’s school or day care was closed or where the child’s caregiver was unavailable due to COVID-19. The EPSLA also provided, among other things, up to two weeks of paid leave for a parent to care for a dependent child whose school day care is closed or whose caregiver was unavailable due to COVID-19. In April, the Department of Labor (DOL) released regulations applicable to the FFCRA.

The State of New York challenged several of the regulations, alleging that the DOL exceeded its authority under the Administrative Procedure Act. The district court agreed, striking down the following provisions.

Work Availability 

The EFMLA and EPSLA both provide paid leave to employees who are “unable to work (or telework)” because of a need to care for a child. The DOL’s final regulations indicated that employees were not entitled to the paid leave if the employer “does not have work” for the employee to perform. This provision was interpreted to mean that if a business had closed due to COVID or an employee was furloughed, he or she was not entitled to paid leave because the employer did not have work.

The district court concluded that the DOL’s regulations were inconsistent with the text of the law. First, the district court concluded that the DOL’s regulations treated the six qualifying reasons for EPLSA leave differently, and DOL failed to explain this anomaly. The court further concluded that the differential treatment was contrary to the language of the legislation. The district court concluded that the DOL’s regulation impermissibly narrowed the scope of the legislation. Accordingly, the district court determined that an employee is eligible for paid leave regardless of whether the employer has work available for the employee.

Health Care Provider Exception 

Both provisions of the FFCRA also allowed employers to exclude from coverage “health care providers.” The DOL’s definition of a “health care provider” that may be exempted was broadly defined to include “anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, post-secondary educational institution offering health care instruction, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution, Employer, or entity” including “any permanent or temporary institution, facility, location, or site where medical services are provided that are similar to such institutions.”

In DOL’s Q&A, the broadly-worded definition includes:

  1. Any individual employed by an entity that contracts with any of these institutions described above to provide services or to maintain the operation of the facility where that individual’s services support the operation of the facility;
  2. Anyone employed by any entity that provides medical services, produces medical products, or is otherwise involved in the making of COVID-19 related medical equipment, tests, drugs, vaccines, diagnostic vehicles, or treatments; and
  3. Any individual that the highest official of a State or territory, including the District of Columbia, determines is a health care provider necessary for that State’s or territory’s or the District of Columbia’s response to COVID-19.

The State of New York challenged this provision because the DOL’s determination of whether an employee was excluded was based on what the employer’s business was, and not on the job functions of the employee. Again, the district court agreed, finding the DOL’s expansive definition impermissible.

Intermittent Leave 

Under the DOL’s regulations, employees were permitted to take intermittent leave for EFMLA with the consent of the employer. The regulations also allowed employees to take intermittent leave for some EPSL provisions—again with the consent of the employer.

The State of New York challenged the intermittent leave rules because Congress never mentioned intermittent leave in the legislation, and the constraints on intermittent leave in the DOL’s rules were inconsistent with the underlying intent of the FFCRA. The district court struck down the intermittent leave provisions because they applied only in certain conditions—and only if agreed to by the employer.

Advance Notice of Need for Leave 

The final challenge to the DOL’s regulations was to the requirement that prior to taking leave, the employee must provide the employer the reason for leave, the duration of the leave, and if applicable the authorized person who ordered isolation or quarantine. The State of New York argued that the advance notice provisions were inconsistent with the legislation. For example, the text of the EFMLA only required advance notice of leave “as is practicable.” Similarly, the text of the EPSLA allowed an employer to require employees to follow reasonable notice procedures.

The district court agreed and held that the DOL’s regulations required different and more stringent notice requirements, and that the regulation could not stand because it was inconsistent with the statute’s unambiguous notice provisions.

Employer Take-Aways

At this point it remains a bit unclear how this decision will impact employers outside the area covered by the Southern District of New York. Generally, decisions from a district court create precedent in that district—but not in other parts of the county. If the decision is strictly limited to the Southern District of New York, it could, however, pave the way for similar lawsuits challenging the DOL regulations throughout the country. A court in Wisconsin need not follow a New York court’s lead, so there is uncertainty as to whether other courts will reach the same decision as the Southern District of New York.

The DOL has not yet indicated whether it will challenge the decision, and if it does, whether it will seek a stay of the district court’s decision pending resolution in the Court of Appeals. It is also possible that DOL could amend the regulations or modify its guidance. Finally, if the legislature believes the district court got it wrong, it is possible that the legislature could amend the FFCRA to specifically overrule the district court’s decision.

What is clear at this point is that the decision leaves employers across the country (other than those in the Southern District of New York) in a state of uncertainty. Employers will need to determine whether they will follow the district court’s decision or whether they will continue to follow the DOL’s regulations.

We will continue to monitor these important issues. Should you have any specific questions that are not addressed, please contact your Lindner & Marsack attorney or the Firm at (414) 273-3910 to seek counsel.

Take a Break from Covid: Back to Basics (Part 1 of 3)

 

Register Now for the Upcoming Complimentary Webinar on August 13, 2020

 

The National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN) invites you to attend a webinar on August 13, 2020 at 10:00 am (CST). NWCDN lawyers from four adjacent midwestern states, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are partnering to present a three part series of webinars entitled “Back to Basics.” Attorney Melissa Stone from our office will be among the presenters in this first part of three webinars.  Look for parts two and three coming up in September and October.

With most adjusters handling claims from multiple jurisdictions, this series is a must. The first webinar will focus on the front end of a claim with tips on forms, penalties, investigation, IMEs, surveillance, social media and more. The speakers will compare and contrast the differences and similarities in these states.

Lindner & Marsack is proud to be a founding member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network (NWCDN) where our own Doug Feldman serves as the current Treasurer.  In an effort to provide up to date legal information addressing workers’ compensation law across the nation in this ever-changing environment, NWCDN teamed up with WorkersCompensation.com to offer complimentary webinars.

Registration is complimentary.  Click here now to reserve your spot!