2020 Midyear Updates: Stay Compliant During These Uncertain Times

Dear Clients, Colleagues, and Friends,

We hope you are all staying healthy and safe during these uncertain times. Over the past few months, our team has been busy supporting clients with tough decisions related to COVID-19 including leaves of absences, furloughs, and sadly, some layoffs. On the brighter side, we have clients that are weathering the storm or even thriving. Regardless, we wish you the best during these difficult times.

As always, contact your HR Matrix consultant or call our direct line (707.526.0877) if you need assistance or have questions.

1. FFCRA Leave for COVID-19-related reasons

The FFCRA provides paid leave and protected leave in certain circumstances for employees who are unable to work for qualifying reasons related to COVID-19 through 12/31/20. The Department of Labor’s website provides specifics of who qualifies and how pay is to be administered.

To Do: Post the FFCRA posting and scrutinize time off requests for reasons that qualify for FFCRA leave. 

2. Emergency Paid Sick Leave Ordinance – Santa Rosa 

On July 7, the City of Santa Rosa passed a local urgency ordinance temporarily expanding emergency paid sick leave for employees within Santa Rosa city limits. 

This ordinance expands the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which authorizes employers to provide 80 hours (pro rated for part-time employees) of paid sick leave time for COVID-19 related reasons if the employee:

  1. Is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order
  2. Has been advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider
  3. Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking medical diagnosis
  4. Is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or (2)
  5. Is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed due to COVID-19. Note: Employers 1) with fewer than 50 employees and 2) that are experiencing severe economic hardship, are not obligated to provide the benefit for employees needing to provide childcare.

Under the Federal Act, employers with less than 500 employees are required to provide this leave, and healthcare and emergency responder employers have the option to provide the leave or not. In addition, FFCRA applies a two-tiered maximum compensation rate, with a higher cap for employees caring for themselves and a lower cap for employees using the sick leave to care for someone with COVID-19.

The City ordinance, which immediately went into effect, augments FFCRA locally in the following ways:

  • Expands the Federal Act to include employees of businesses with 500 or more employees.
  • Expands the Federal Act to require inclusion of employees of healthcare providers and emergency responders.
  • Applies the highest compensation rate cap of the FFCRA for both caring for oneself and for someone else.
  • Is effective July 7 through December 31, 2020 (Federal Act applies prior to July 7).

See the full text of the ordinance here.

To Do: If your employees work in the city of Santa Rosa, ensure you are following the expanded ordinance for paid time off related to COVID-19.

3. Changes to Injury and Illness Prevention Programs (“IIPP”) due to COVID-19

Cal-OSHA is requiring employers to include COVID-19 prevention measures. See the Department of Industrial Relations website for details. 

To Do: Review and update your IIPP per Cal-OSHA requirements. We suggest calling your liability insurance broker of record, to request an update to your IIPP.

4. Policy Updates

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 status, employers may wish to update HR policies to reflect temporary provisions due to COVID-19. We suggest adding an addendum to your employee handbook that includes remote work guidelines, paid leave through FFCRA/local ordinances, and health & safety protocols. Let us know if we can help you in this area. 

5. FSA Changes

Due to COVID-19, the IRS is providing tax relief through increased flexibility for taxpayers in section 125 cafeteria plans: “An employer, in its discretion, may amend one or more of its § 125 cafeteria plans…to allow eligible employees to make prospective benefit election changes regarding employer-sponsored health coverage, a health FSA, or a dependent care assistance program.”

IRS Notice 2020-29 provides greater flexibility for taxpayers by:

  • extending claims periods for taxpayers to apply unused amounts remaining in a health FSA or dependent care assistance program for expenses incurred for those same qualified benefits through December 31, 2020.
  • expanding the ability of taxpayers to make mid-year elections for health coverage, health FSAs, and dependent care assistance programs, allowing them to respond to changes in needs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • applying earlier relief for high deductible health plans to cover expenses related to COVID-19, and a temporary exemption for telehealth services retroactively to January 1, 2020

See the IRS Publication for details: Notice 2020-29 (PDF) and this article for additional information.

To Do: Consult with your benefits broker on whether you will offer these options and how they will be deployed. If so, request your health insurance broker to provide you with employee communication that you can provide to all benefit eligible employees.

6. Paid Family Leave Insurance Increase

Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits through the EDD increased from six (6) to up to eight (8) weeks effective July 1, 2020.

To Do:

  • Update your handbook and leave letters 
  • Train your managers and leave administrators
  • Paid Family Leave (PFL) law requires employers to provide the Paid Family Leave (DE 2511) brochure only to new employees and employees who request leave to care for a seriously ill family member or bond with a new child.
  • This PFL notice is required to be posted in the workplace of employees who are covered by Unemployment Insurance and SDI. It is included with most all-in-one labor posters. Check to see if yours is up to date and replace/update as needed.

7. Religious/Age Discrimination Protections

The DFEH has updated employment regulations regarding religious creed and age discrimination protections to include:

“Pre-employment inquiries regarding an applicant’s availability for work on certain days and times shall not be used to ascertain the applicant’s religious creed, disability, or medical condition. In general, such inquiries must clearly communicate that an employee need not disclose any scheduling restrictions based on legally protected grounds, in language such as: ‘Other than time off for reasons related to your religion, a disability, or medical condition, are there any days or times when you are unavailable to work?’”

“Unless age is a bona fide occupational qualification for the position at issue, advertisements for employment that a reasonable person would interpret as an attempt to deter or limit employment of people age 40 and over are unlawful.”

For DFEH details, click here.

To Do:

  1. Review employment applications, employee handbooks, both online and hard copy, along with interview questions and recruitment practices and update accordingly. Train your managers on the new requirements.
  2. Remove any reference to age requirements and/or any other protected category, from your employment advertisements and/or applications
  3. Ensure your managers refrain from asking about age or any other protected category (train your managers on legal/Illegal questions

8. Minimum Wage Increases

Santa Rosa increased minimum wage on July 1, 2020: 

  • $15.00 for 26+ employees
  • $14.00 for 25 and fewer employees

Several other California cities have also increased minimum wage. 

To Do: If you have minimum wage employees, be sure you are using the correct rates for your size of business and for any employees meeting the threshold for time worked in a higher minimum wage city. Update your postings; here is one for Santa Rosa.

9. COVID-19 Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening

California’s newly released Employer Playbook For a Safe Reopening contains helpful resources and information for California employers.

10. Other changes that may affect you:

Please contact us if you need more information.

  • San Francisco Paid Parental leave increases to eight weeks on 7/1/20
  • Enforcement for the California Consumer Privacy Act began 7/1/20
  • Agricultural lighting requirements increase for night labor, 7/1/20
  • Wildfire smoke protections for employees still in effect through 9/22/20 and may be made permanent. Click here for DIR information

Contact your HR Matrix consultant or call our direct line (707.526.0877) if you need assistance or have questions.