By Lee Allphin, Employer Advantage Founder and Chairman of the Board
During these trying times, employers have been asked to take on unprecedented new responsibilities. While struggling to keep their own operations viable, they are also expected to salvage jobs, provide health plans, and keep the workplace safe under complicated new rules and regulations. Further, business owners desperate for guidance have been made to wait for Congressional action and important decisions, like sources of funding and rules for the business-saving Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan Forgiveness.
There are many burning questions: What help is available? How long will it take to arrive? What can we do while we wait?
Countless companies are struggling for answers in the wake of COVID-19, perhaps none more so than smaller businesses, which are ill-equipped to play such a significant new role.
How Did We Get Here?
For more than 100 years, the United States government has been shifting responsibility of the social safety net to the employer. Laws and congressional acts task employers with record keeping, tax collection, job safety, retirement, health and welfare plans, unemployment, and so much more. This shift has been dramatically demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the government has recently taken measures to provide funding and guidance to employees and employers through various emergency acts, loans, and grants, the parameters for many of these have been confusing, and the agencies have been slow to respond to requests for clarification.
What Employers Should Be Doing While They Wait
- Monitor the PPP Loan Forgiveness Process: The Small Business Administration released its much-anticipated forgiveness application for borrowers who received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. Originally it proved so difficult for employers to complete the process that Congress was urged to rewrite the rules. It has been nearly two months since the program was signed into law and, since that time, lenders and borrowers alike have been anxiously waiting for the PPP merry-go-round to stop and for the Treasury Department or the SBA to provide clear direction to achieve loan forgiveness. For now, employers should brush up on the 11-page forgiveness application which provides favorable guidance to borrowers to maximize their PPP loan forgiveness.
- Make decisions on new and additional flexibility for Cafeteria Plan Elections and Carryovers: In response to the realization that many employees will have unanticipated medical and childcare challenges due to COVID-19, the IRS just provided employers with a number of optional amendments that can be made to Section 125 cafeteria plans, including related health plans and flexible spending accounts (FSAs). The agency guidance released on May 12 is significant as it allows you the option to let employees revoke, add, or change 2020 coverage elections now, instead of waiting until open enrollment, and without a qualifying status change.
- Review and prepare all workplace posters and premises notices: Specifically considering the coronavirus pandemic, employers whose facilities are currently closed can wait to have notices posted on federal labor law, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). We highly recommend not waiting until you reopen to have these posters ready and posted. Example: OSHA 300 logs.
- Implement New OSHA recordkeeping immediately: This new standard, which became effective on May 26, gives guidance to the importance of implementing preventive measures and contact tracing as employees return to the workplace. You should continue to focus on minimizing the risk of transmission in the workplace and develop a procedure to investigate the circumstances surrounding employees who test positive for COVID-19. Also be mindful of employee privacy during your investigation into the work-relatedness of a confirmed case of COVID-19.
- Strictly follow your State’s rules for reopening: After enduring two months of COVID-19 containment measures, including the shutdown of a broad range of business activities, all 50 U.S. states have now taken at least partial steps to reopen their economies. Rules vary across states, most of which are reopening in phases, with additional loosening steps dependent on progress in slowing the contagion. The easing of restrictions comes as state and local government officials weigh the economic aftermath of the shutdowns, including municipal budget shortfalls and unemployment claims that have totaled nearly 40 million over the last nine weeks. Be sure to review our article “BACK TO WORK | A Coronavirus Reopening Checklist for Employers” for best efforts in providing a safe workplace environment.
- Seek legal advice to limit operational liability, the right way: Before trying to limit liability related to potential COVID-19 cases contracted in the workplace, get legal advice. Many businesses are considering waivers for not only their employees, but also for customers. History has shown these to be somewhat limited in their effectiveness. Employers should consider the pros and cons before attempting to implement them. No waiver or other attempt at limiting liability can replace the need to maintain a safe workplace. Start by ensuring you are in strict compliance with local orders, state regulations, and guidance from government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and local health authorities. This an important strategy to employ while you wait.
We understand that you may have additional questions. Please contact us if you would like further assistance with COVID-19-related business challenges or any other employee administration and compliance responsibilities: Info@EmployerAdvantage.com | 800.467.3909
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A New Path to HR Bliss – Trusted for more than 30 years, Employer Advantage frees you from the administrative and compliance burdens of having employees so you can focus on your business success. Versatile enough for companies of all sizes, our unique service combines comprehensive management of your employee administration and compliance with the latest software solutions, tailored to meet your individual needs and company culture. Our full-service management of HR, payroll, health and benefits, workplace safety, and more, enhances your profitability while reducing the costs and risks associated with employment law compliance. We provide your employees with top-notch assistance and benefits that help you increase productivity, save time and money, and attract and retain a talented workforce. And for small and mid-sized businesses, we bring you economy of scale with access to Fortune-500-level benefits, specialty assistance, and savings that would not be possible to attain on your own. Headquartered in the Midwest and serving more than 400 companies and 10,000 worksite employees throughout the country, Employer Advantage is an IRS-Certified Professional Employer Organization (PEO) (C-PEO). Experienced, certified, and trusted. www.EmployerAdvantage.com