Navigating the different types of leave available for employees can quickly get confusing. FMLA, ADA, Company Leave, FFCRA, PTO, STD, LTD – it’s a sea of acronyms, each with their own set of rules and guidelines that often overlap or weave together. Keeping track of the various types of leave available can be challenging, but employers would be best suited to strategize which leaves may be applicable to them and develop policies around them. Because employees will inevitably need to take time off, employers need to have a basic knowledge of laws and policies that protect both the employee and protect the company.
Types of Leave
Generally, when looking at the wide variety of time the employee can take off, employers should understand that there are two main functions of defining leave: How does the employee receive pay and How long must the employer hold the employee’s job and/or benefits? Both of these items are very clearly defined in the federal FMLA regulations applicable to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Outside of the standard FMLA, employers are encouraged to have a company leave policy which defines these same benefits.
Where FMLA protects the employee for not only their own health condition, but that of their immediate family member, the ADA may protect just the employee by providing a reasonable accommodation, which could include a short-term leave of absence. The ADA doesn’t require employers to hold the employee’s job or their benefits nor does it require continuation of pay. However, the employee may be eligible to use Short-Term or Long-Term Disability along with company Paid Time Off, Sick Time and or Vacation time during this absence.
Because these leaves can stack together, employers need to closely evaluate every situation to determine what different leave options may apply.
What to Do Now
Take a moment to review your current employee handbook to ensure that you have a clearly defined FMLA policy if applicable. Even if you are subject to FMLA, all companies should also have a leave policy defined for those employees who are either not yet eligible for FMLA or where FMLA doesn’t apply. In that company leave policy, the employer can define whether the leave is paid or unpaid and how long the employee is allowed to remain on the company benefit plan during leave. Additionally, the employer can define how long they will hold the employee’s job during leave. It is important to be consistent with these guidelines to prevent discriminatory practices.
As more and more states begin to loosen their stay at home restrictions, the question many business owners have right now is, “When can we get our employees back to work, and how do we do so, safely?” Many companies were able to transition to a remote working environment and subsequently have seen their employees really step up to the plate and become very productive working from home. As a result, numerous businesses are making the decision to allow their employees continue to work from home even as regulations begin to allow a return to work. St. Louis County specifically stated that if a business has been able to efficiently operate remotely, they should consider allowing employees to continue to work from home for a little longer.
Getting back on the job
However, not all business can operate remotely and may be eager to get their employees back to work as soon as possible. First and foremost, those businesses must follow the protocol outlined in the applicable reopening guidelines as directed by their states or counties. This could include limited staff or patrons in the building, or enhanced cleaning and employee health screenings. In order to effectively follow these guidelines, employers may choose to allow employees back in waves, or stagger office hours, thus, limiting the exposure each employee has to other coworkers. This may be a great solution for the manufacturing industry where employees work closely to one another.
Safety and Sanitization
Not only may enhanced sanitization be required, it can also help ease employee’s minds when returning. Sanitizing shared or frequently used work surfaces multiple times per day will help reduce potential exposure to the virus. We recommend providing access to hand sanitizer or hand washing stations for employees. Many companies are requiring all employees who return to work, wear masks and/or gloves to help protect themselves. Though it is not a requirement, it’s recommended that if the organization is requiring employees to wear masks and gloves, those should be supplied by the company. Furthermore, management should also consider putting new policies in place for all employees returning to work, so staff is aware of these expectations and mandates prior to returning to work.
Health Screenings and Considerations
As businesses reopen, they may be required to perform daily health screenings under applicable legislation, or they may choose to do so in an effort to protect staff. These screenings can include daily health questions to confirm the employee is not exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 and has not been around anyone with those symptoms. It could also include taking the temperatures of staff or visitors. This may cause an issue with privacy concerns, so employers should take great caution with those administering these tests and protecting the data. Employers do have the right to refuse work to anyone who is sick with COVID-19-like symptoms.
The environment employees are returning to may look very different from the environment they left a few months ago. The dynamic in the office will be a little foreign and helping employees get back into the swing of things and adjusting to the changes, is important. Reminding and enforcing guidelines on sanitization, masks, social distancing, and health screenings can help ease concerns of employees apprehensive of returning. However, there may be employees who are simply too scared to return, and these situations should be handled carefully. Overall, employers should strive to provide peace of mind to know staff and remind them the primary concern is employee safety.
As we continue to navigate this uncharted territory as a society, we will start to learn more about what works best and create new best practices for our businesses. Below are some helpful links from the CDC and OSHA that will help you make informed decisions on how to proceed with safely opening your businesses and getting back to work. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
Supporting Your Employees Through COVID-19
To say these are uncertain times is an understatement. COVID-19 has our nation on edge and your employee’s well-being and safety is your top priority. Many employees are teleworking for the first time, isolated from co-workers, friends and family. Disruption of their daily routine can cause anxiety and stress – physically, mentally, and financially. It is imperative that business owners and managers step back, remain calm, and show support for their employees.
As the world health community continues to closely monitor the Coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19 companies are wondering how this will impact their employees and business. At this time, no one truly knows how severe this outbreak will be, however, given the uncertainty of Coronavirus’s path, we recommend taking proactive steps in your workplace. This is not only to prevent the spread of illness but also to establish policies which define how you will handle long term illnesses.
Protect Yourself and Those Around You
First and foremost, ask your employees to assist in taking steps to reduce the transmission of communicable diseases in the workplace. Employees should be reminded of the following:
- Stay home when they are sick.
- Wash their hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
- Cover their mouth with tissues whenever they sneeze or cough, and immediately discard used tissues in the trash. If a tissue is not available, use the “vampire sneeze” by sneezing or coughing into their elbow versus their hands.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces, including their phone, keyboards or remote.
Within the workplace, employers should take measures to routinely clean common surfaces like door handles, coffee pots or copy machines or possibly provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the workplace and in common areas. You may even elect to offer cleaning sprays or wipes for employees to use to disinfect objects that often get overlooked like their telephone, monitors and keyboards.
Alternate Work Options
This is also a good time to evaluate travel and determine if it is really necessary. Although it may not always be possible, encourage employees to use telephone or video conferencing versus traveling to a remote worksite – not only could this save the company money, but it could also prevent key employees from becoming sick and missing time. Furthermore, review which positions, if any, can work remotely. You may not have a policy that routinely allows work-from-home, but this could be something that your organization may want to consider, especially if someone does show symptoms of illness. Allowing employees to work from home may prevent the spread of illness through the department. Establishing a remote work program can be done by informing employees telecommuting will be considered on a case-by-case basis for positions with primary job duties that can be performed remotely.
Even with all these measures in place, it’s still very possible that employees will get sick. Take this opportunity to review your sick time or PTO policy and examine the option of granting additional time, or allowing employees to borrow time from next year, in the event of a serious health threat. Reminding your employees of the company’s sick or PTO policy is recommended because it is important employees understand these policies are designed for them to stay home for short-term illnesses. These policies are in place not only so the employee can stay home to get better, but also so they don’t spread their germs throughout the office. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employees remain at home until they are fever free (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C) for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. Also remind employees they should not report to work if they are experiencing symptoms such as fever (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C), cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue. If you choose to send employees home who exhibit these symptoms, we would recommend advising your staff in advance that employees who report to work ill will be sent home in accordance with these health guidelines.
FMLA Guidelines and the WARN Act
Cornerstone also recommends familiarizing yourself with appropriate state or federal laws and your company’s policies concerning long term illnesses. If your organization has 50 or more employees FMLA guidelines prevail, but if your company falls under that threshold or certain employees do not yet qualify for FMLA, we recommend establishing a leave policy for employees who will be out longer than just a few days. Your policy should define whether the leave is paid or unpaid, how long the company will hold the employee’s job and how long the employee will be allowed to remain active on benefits.
In the event COVID-19 escalates so greatly that it impacts business operations or global commerce, you may be faced with temporary shut downs, layoffs or even permanent downsizing. Before making any decisions regarding layoffs, closures or terminations, familiarize yourself with laws that may protect employees in these instances like the WARN Act, which requires a minimum of 60 days’ notice in advance of plant closure or mass layoff. In addition to the federal WARN Act, there may be similar state or local laws defining notice requirements that must be adhered to.
We recommend establishing these preventative measures so that your organization has a procedure in place in advance of anyone getting ill.
For additional information, contact Bethany Holliday.
The Importance of Benefits
According to a recent survey, about one-third of all job seekers begin their search to find better pay and benefits. This not only indicates the importance of well-structured benefits when it comes to recruiting top talent, but also when it comes to retaining the talent you already have.
A great internship is a first step towards a successful career, and we are committed to giving college students real, valuable experience in a variety of fields through our hands-on summer internship program.
Our 2019 summer interns bring a variety of business and finance interests and skill sets with them, and we are so excited to help them grow over the next several weeks.
Courtney Long will be graduating in December with a major in Finance from the University of Central Missouri. She is from the suburbs south of Chicago.
Her long-term career goal is to someday own an investment property or to renovate a property – but before that time comes, she hopes to get a job in either the banking or insurance industry after graduation. She loves going on hikes, preferably in the mountains, but the Missouri Ozark mountains work just fine. She is excited to start working with such a large wonderful group of people!
We’re all familiar with the down-sides of cigarette and tobacco use – it increases health risks, raises medical costs, and it often lowers productivity in the workplace. It’s costly for the employer and the individual smoking, so many companies are implementing no-smoking policies and even minimizing the number of smokers they hire. As a risk management and human resources company, Cornerstone Insurance Group decided to weigh in on this important topic.
We recommend that a company’s human resources department implements a zero-tolerance harassment policy for the workplace. As we discussed in our last blog post on sexual harassment, employees should have clear guidelines on how to identify and report sexual harassment to the human resources department, and be encouraged to do so.
All employees have the right to work in an environment that is free of sexual harassment or any form of discrimination. It is up to leadership and the human resources department to meet the requirements of Title VII of the of the Civil Rights Act to maintain a harassment and discrimination-free workplace.
Terminations are unpleasant, but avoiding them can lead to bigger issues in your workplace, including lower morale and efficiency.
As a human resources company with over 50 years of experience, Cornerstone Insurance Group has gained valuable insight into how best to handle terminations within any organization.
Developing policies for discipline and termination is a great way to prevent employee claims, especially when the policies are clearly communicated to new hires and maintained throughout the company.
The experts at Cornerstone Insurance Group have over 50 years of experience in Human Resources and compliance solutions, and have seen how the lack of a solid disciplinary policy can negatively impact an organization.
Awareness of the various types of employee claims will help strengthen your human resources strategy and prepare your company for any possible litigation.
Employees can make internal, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or Human Rights Campaign complaints, or file a lawsuit against the employer with a formal Complaint and Summons. As experts in human resources and risk management, Cornerstone Insurance Group wants to help your team gain the knowledge they need to be prepared.
Lawsuits are expensive and time consuming. When employees take legal action, it can also cause emotional discomfort and tension in the workplace.
In hopes of avoiding any business interruption related to employee discipline, companies may discontinue a relationship with a troublesome employee immediately — but a snap decision can lead to more problems down the road.
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