Everyone is looking forward to the end of COVID-19 and life returning to normal. Right now the new “normal” is trying to find Clorox wipes and toilet paper at Costco while maintaining proper social distance. Home school became a reality overnight and employees scrambled to set up home offices in order to telecommute. Small business owners are now grappling with the emergency paid leave under the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Act). In the midst of this pandemic, small business owners are now scrambling with requirements that will affect their business and employees on April 18th, 2020.
The Act provides expanded paid leave specifically due to COVID-19 and dollar for dollar tax credits to employers. Employees can now take extended paid leave, but it’s not as simple as employees taking a few weeks off and being paid. The Department of Labor will begin enforcing paid leave obligations, so now is the time to make sure you understand this bill and how it affects your business.
On April 1st employers with fewer than 500 employees were legally required to offer paid emergency leave which only gives employers a few days to get their to-do checklist done. After April 18th business owners can no longer say, “I was confused and didn’t have time.” There is a lot to understand and seeking the advice of a trusted lawyer or accountant will ease your mind significantly. There are four essential items employers must do before April 18:
- Give employees a written policy on how they are keeping employees safe, providing flexible workplace environments, and handling emergency leave requests.
- Post in a public place the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act notice. This can be done by email to employees or posted on the company website.
- Put together a COVID-19 Employee Leave Request Form. In order to substantiate eligibility for paid leave and tax credits having a form ready to fill out will make it easier to fulfill the documentation requirement. It doesn’t matter who completes the leave request form, the employee, a supervisor, or another individual in management is fine. The point is to document the employee’s name, dates of requested leave, statement of the COVID-19 reason, and a statement that the employee is unable to work due to COVID-19.
- Ensure you have the proper documentation to make certain you, as the employer, will receive the promised tax credit from the government.
- In addition to the information needed for the Leave Request Form, an employer needs to document: how they determined the number of wages eligible for the sick leave, how the employer determined the amount of qualified health plan expenses that the employer allocated to wages, copies of completed 7200 forms, and copies of completed 941 Forms.
Just because an employee is requesting emergency leave doesn’t mean the employee qualifies. Dana Ball, a small business attorney, explains it’s important to know the requirements that financially bind you as a business owner. For example, if an employer does not have work or telework the employee is not entitled to paid leave. An employee must be demonstrating symptoms of COVID-19 defined by the CDC and actively seeking medical attention in order to qualify for emergency sick leave. Employees who have underlying health issues that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 could qualify for sick leave even if they don’t have the virus. Employees who were affected by the closures of schools and daycares may also qualify for paid leave.
“Small business owners should not end up in a legal mess because of a mistake.” Ball continues, “Each business is different which means your compliance obligations need to be addressed specifically to your operations. Proper documentation is one of the key components to establish you have alerted your employees of their rights and have properly responded to their leave request.”
In a time where everyone feels overwhelmed and trying to adjust to rapidly changing “new normals,” small business owners should reach out to trusted advisors to guide them through the complex issues they are navigating. These are not “business as usual times.” Small business owners need all the help and protection possible to ease uncertainty during this unprecedented time.
About Dana Ball Legal Services
Dana Ball is a former litigation attorney who used to sue businesses. She has seen too many good business owners end up in bad situations, so today she helps them avoid common legal mistakes that land them in court. Dana’s 20 years of experience brings value and relief to small business owners with practical advice they can immediately implement into their day-to-day operations. Dana has made the whole process of having access to a lawyer easy and affordable with set pricing, ongoing legal support, and monthly plans to spread out the costs of safeguarding the business. Dana works with clients who care about their business and want to avoid court.