To our clients and members of our business community,
As you know, we are living in unprecedented times. COVID-19 has changed the physiological, psychological, and financial landscape of the world almost overnight. The constant flow of information from sources globally makes it difficult for all of us to understand what it means to us individually and as a country.
We have established this page as a resource for employer information on the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on business and the workplace. Because the situation is fluid, we will update this site as quickly as information becomes available and our resources allow.
Barron L. Guss
President and CEO
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE ASSISTANCE
COVID-19 Quick Guide for employers considering options for their workforce
Unemployment for Business
Unemployment for Employees
The IRS Releases Clarification on the “Payroll Tax Credit” and What it Means to You
Rapidly changing laws require fast, informed action to minimize the financial hardship and emotional stress on businesses. A national leader on the subject, simplicityHR President and CEO Barron Guss offers guidance to Hawaii business leaders.
Below are several resources relating to loans available through the Small Business Administration. You can reach the SBA disaster assistance customer service center at 1-800-659-2955 or [email protected].
CARES ACT RESOURCE CENTER
Paycheck Protection Program Application
(Dept. of Treasury) 3/30/2020
Payroll Protection Program online application for businesses to be completed and submitted to any existing SBA lender.
Below are resources that will begin to help your business understand how the CARES Act will be put into effect and support you through the application process.
FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT (FFCRA)
Director of Benefits Services, Candice Wong of simplicityHR, explains what we know so far about the mandated paid leave provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
4/3/20 Hawaii payroll expert’s input to federal coronavirus aid will help employers stay afloat
(Pacific Business News)
3/31/20 State’s expanded, mandatory quarantine for inter-island travelers goes into effect
3/30/20 Gov. David Ige announces 14-day quarantine for interisland travelers in April, except for essential workers
3/20/20 Kaiser Permanente Temporary Care Delivery Changes due to COVID-19 (Kaiser Permanente – PDF)
Important information for Kaiser Permanente members regarding their services.
3/18/20 Bank of Hawaii Providing Assistance Programs In Response to COVID-19 Impacts
Bank of Hawaii has initiated two financial assistance programs to help Bank of Hawaii loan customers facing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
3/26/20 Secretary DeVos Directs FSA to Stop Wage Garnishment, Collections Actions for Student Loan Borrowers, Will Refund More Than $1.8 Billion to Students, Families (US Department of Education)
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced today that, due to the COVID-19 national emergency, the Department will halt collection actions and wage garnishments to provide additional assistance to borrowers. This flexibility will last for a period of at least 60 days from March 13, 2020.
3/25/20 IRS unveils new People First Initiative; COVID-19 effort temporarily adjusts, suspends key compliance program (IRS.gov)
IRS extends tax deadlines and takes unprecedented actions to ease the burden on people facing tax issues
3/20/20 SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program
Hawai‘i small businesses suffering financial losses due to the impact of COVID-19 can now file for low-interest working capital loans of up to $2 million from the Small Business Administration (SBA).
3/20/20 Coronavirus-related paid leave for workers and tax credits for small and midsize businesses to swiftly recover the cost of providing Coronavirus-related leave (IRS.gov)
IRS announces two new refundable payroll tax credits providing Coronavirus-related relief.
3/20/20 Income tax filing deadline moved to July 15 from April 15 (Honolulu Star Advertiser)
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the Trump administration has decided to push the income tax filing date to July 15 from April 15.
3/18/20 Trump Signs Coronavirus Relief Bill with Paid-Leave Mandate (SHRM.org)
Summary of HR-6201 by the Society of Human Resources Management.
3/18/20 OSHA Offers Employers ‘Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19’ (National Law Review)
An employer’s failure to develop and implement measures identified in the guidance may constitute a health and safety violation.
3/18/20 What You Should Know About the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19 (EEOC)
Updated pandemic preparedness in the workplace guidance includes answers to common employer questions about what to do after a pandemic has been declared, specific to COVID-19.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
With coronavirus concerns dominating the headlines, many employers are seeking guidance on what they can and cannot require of employees who may have been exposed to coronavirus (COVID-19). Our HR and safety experts are working with local employers on various coronavirus-related issues.
Below are some of the most frequently asked questions on:
What do we know about coronavirus COVID-19?
- It’s spread by droplets from coughing and sneezing, similar to the common cold.
- It has an incubation period of two weeks.
- It can live on surfaces for several days.
- Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions are at a higher risk for severe illness.
- There’s currently no effective treatment, only supportive care to help relieve symptoms.
What are the top preventative measures against the spread of COVID-19?
Promote hand hygiene and proper respiratory etiquette. The best defense against contracting the coronavirus is to practice good personal hygiene. Consider posting or sharing handwashing how-to information and providing hand sanitizer in common areas.
Clean and disinfect more frequently. COVID-19 can live on hard surfaces for a few days so regular sanitizing and disinfecting is essential. Many employers have already taken steps to increase cleaning frequency and are providing wipes and cleaning supplies to employees to clean their work spaces.
Minimize crowd exposure. Lower the risk of your workforce contracting COVID-19 by limiting group meetings and postponing events whenever possible.
What if my company has upcoming business-related travel?
As much as possible, avoid all non-essential business travel for the time being.
On March 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of State advised U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19.
On March 17, 2020, based on CDC recommendations, Governor Ige directed people in Hawaii to avoid all non-essential travel, including inter-island travel, with those returning to go into self-isolation for 14 days.
The CDC also mandates all travelers who have been in any Level 3 country or on cruise ship travel to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning.
Under OSHA regulations, employees have the right to refuse work that puts them at risk, including work-related travel, if it meets certain conditions.
Last updated 3/19/20
What kinds of communication should I be sending my employees?
Communicating clearly and frequently with employees demonstrates your company’s commitment to safety.
In addition to the latest guidance on preventative measures, proactive information about scheduling, leave options, and quarantines can help alleviate uncertainty and stress.
Combat misinformation, fear-mongering and gossip—prevalent on social media and in company lunchrooms—by only sharing information from official sources.
Should I be considering alternative work arrangements?
Yes. Wherever possible, make flexible work arrangements to eliminate the possibility of transmission. This may mean shift work, reduced hours, remote work, telework, or other arrangements.
If your business operations allow for remote work, ensure employees have the right equipment, can access relevant emails, files, and software, and can participate in virtual meetings from home.
IT measures should be put into place to minimize security breaches.
What are some of the long-term business plans I need to be considering?
Make plans to maintain business functions in case you experience higher than usual absenteeism.
What are the most critical operations and how can you change business practices to sustain them? Are there any operations that can temporarily be suspended?
You might consider hiring temporary staff. If you are working with a staffing agency, reiterate the importance of employees staying at home when sick.
You should also assess who your key staff members are and cross-train personnel to perform essential functions to keep your workplace running smoothly.
The information in this section will change when the Families First Coronavirus Response Act goes into effect on April 1, 2020. FFCRA Summarized – PDF
Am I legally allowed to ask an employee where they are planning to travel on their personal vacation?
Absolutely. As a precautionary measure, many Hawaii businesses and schools have already started asking people to notify them of any travel including interisland, mainland and international travel.
Take time to understand the risks associated with these locations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has three levels of Travel Advisory Notices:
- Warning Level 3 (Red): Avoid all non-essential travel to this destination.
- Alert Level 2 (Yellow): Practice enhanced precautions for this destination.
- Watch Level 1 (Green): Practice usual precautions for this destination.
For the latest information, monitor CDC coronavirus travel advisories.
Can I require an employee to stay home after a personal trip to a high-risk area?
Yes, employers are within their rights to require employees who have traveled to high-risk areas to stay home. As long as this policy is applied to all employees and doesn’t single out employees based on a protected characteristic, such as only requesting nationals from a specific country to stay home.
As of March 19, 2020, the U.S. Department of State advised U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19 and the CDC may require self-quarantine for 14 days after returning from a country with a Level 3 Travel Health Notice.
In case travel-related quarantine is federally or state-mandated, employees who aren’t able to telework may qualify for paid sick leave under the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act which goes into effect on or before April 2, 2020. FFCRA Summarized – PDF
How do workers’ compensation, temporary disability insurance, and unemployment figure into quarantine requirements?
- If employees contract the coronavirus during the course of their employment, they may qualify for workers’ compensation.
- If quarantine is mandated due to illness from personal travel, employees may qualify for sick leave and/or temporary disability insurance (TDI) benefits.
- If employers require self-quarantine by employees who are asymptomatic and available to work, but have traveled to areas under a travel watch, they may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Be sure to consult with your human resources advisors as you make quarantine-related employment decisions.
Am I required to pay an employee who is under quarantine or self-quarantine?
From an HR perspective, this depends on the employee’s status as exempt or non-exempt. It also depends on if the employee is medically required to stay home under a mandated quarantine, or if they are being asked to stay home and self-quarantine but are asymptomatic. This may determine the type of leave that can be used.
If it’s an hourly, non-exempt employee and they’ve exhausted their sick leave, if the employer doesn’t allow them to use vacation, they may need to go unpaid.
If the employee is salaried and exempt, depending on whether they’ve worked during the week, they may be entitled to an entire week’s worth of pay.
If an employee has vacation and/or sick leave on the books, a period of mandated or self-quarantine is a time when employers would want to allow them to use their time off.
Businesses should decide how flexible to be with leave policies, given the current situation.
What if an employee’s family member falls ill or is placed on quarantine?
Additional cases of the coronavirus will be confirmed in the community as testing becomes more widely available. More people will be called upon as caregivers to affected loved ones.
Now is a good time to review your leave policies regarding employee’s family members who are ill. If your company is a covered employer, employees may qualify for protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the Hawaii Family Leave Law (HFLL).
My employee is showing symptoms of illness, what should I do?
Actively encourage sick people to stay home
Sick employees should be advised to stay at home. You may need to remind your managers to lead by example. If managers are regularly putting in long hours while completely under the weather, many staff will follow suit.
Among the CDC’s recommendations for employers, is the advice to not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick or trying to return to work, due to strain on the healthcare system. Employers should review their current policies and determine their level of flexibility, while balancing the needs of their operations and well-being of their workplace.
Employers are within their rights to send employees showing signs of illness home.
Depending on that employee’s status as exempt or non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act, that leave may be paid or unpaid.
Be aware that employees who have used up their paid time off or don’t have paid leave available may not want to take time off, especially if they are not experiencing severe symptoms.
Cases of coronavirus are likely to be confirmed in the community as testing becomes more widely available. More people will be called upon as caregivers to affected loved ones and many may qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the Hawaii Family Leave Law (HFLL).
I have an employee who tested positive. How do I inform employees while maintaining their confidentiality?
In the event that one of your employees is confirmed to have COVID-19 (or any other disability), keep in mind that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to:
- Treat this information as a confidential medical record.
- Engage in an interactive process with them.
- Provide reasonable accommodations.
Confidential medical information may only be shared in very limited circumstances. However, employers do have an obligation to inform other employees of their possible exposure so they can take proper measures.
To safeguard privacy:
- Be sure to exclude the affected employee’s name from all communication to other employees regarding the incident.
- Don’t indicate that someone is out sick on a schedule that other employees can see. Simply note that they are out of the office or unavailable.
Am I allowed to take my employees' temperature?
Yes, you can take the body temperature of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
New EEOC guidance issued March 18, 2020 states:
“Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.”
See also: EEOC: Employers Now May Take Employees’ Temperatures (SHRM)
Does the new law that recently passed (H.R. 6201) apply to me?
If you are an employer with less than 500 employees, then yes, at least some portions of the new law will apply to your business.
This means you could be required to pay your employees Emergency Sick Leave or paid Family and Medical Leave related to time off directly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but you will also be eligible for an immediate payroll tax credit.
The bill was signed into law on March 18th and is expected to go into effect on April 1. The Department of Labor issued guidance on March 24th and is expected to issue model notices and forms on March 25th.
What’s the difference between furlough, layoff, and reduction-in-force?
The terms furlough, layoff and reduction in force are similar, but each has a different outcome.
Furlough usually means a reduction in hours or taking a certain amount of unpaid time off. It may be required of all employees, or essential employees may be exempt. Furloughed employees can usually keep their medical benefits.
Layoffs happen when an employer separates and employee from payroll. This can be temporary or permanent. A laid-off employee’s medical benefits will usually end.
Reduction-in-force (RIF) occurs when an employer eliminates a position with no intention of replacing it in the near future. A layoff can eventually turn into a RIF. A RIFed employee’s medical benefits will end.
In all three cases, the employee can typically collect insurance benefits. A furloughed employee can usually collect partial unemployment, even if they’re still employed.
Do I need to terminate (lay off) my employees in order for them to receive unemployment benefits?
No. Employers may choose to keep employees on payroll (still employed), even if they temporarily won’t be working any hours.
These employees may still apply for unemployment benefits since they are experiencing a reduction in hours. In these cases, when the employee files their claim, they should report “Still employed, reduction of hours” as the reason why they are filing. As long as they meet all other eligibility requirements they should be able to collect unemployment.
The State of Hawaii Unemployment Division will make the final decision regarding your employee’s eligibility.
Can I maintain my employees’ health insurance even though they’ve experienced a reduction of hours?
Yes, you should be able to continue health insurance for your non-terminated employees during this temporary reduction of hours.
Under normal circumstances your health insurance carrier allows only eligible employees to remain enrolled in the plans, but during these unprecedented times, most health insurance carriers are offering flexibility and allowing employers to maintain coverage, as long as premiums continue to be paid.
We recommend you check with your carrier if you have additional questions.