How Are Employers Handling COVID-19 Today?

By Kris Janisch
Published Oct. 20, 2021

How Are Employers Handling COVID-19 Today?

Presented by GovDocs, the Oct. 20, 2021, Compliance and Coffee brought together HR and compliance professionals to discuss the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How are employers handling COVID-19 today?

“Monumental job.”

“This has been quite a ride.”

“If anyone doesn’t operate in California, you’re super lucky.”

Those were just some of the comments from participants of the latest Compliance and Coffee virtual roundtable.

Presented by GovDocs, the Oct. 20, 2021, Compliance and Coffee brought together HR and compliance professionals to discuss the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a wide-ranging and free-flowing discussion, these industry leaders talked about their organizations’ reaction to the myriad employment law compliance issues that have cropped up in recent months, including:

  • The federal vaccine mandate
  • PTO and vaccinations
  • Quarantine leaves
  • Emergency paid leave
  • Remote work policies

Here are some of the key takeaways.

Federal Vaccine Mandate: Waiting Game

None of the attendees said they had implemented a vaccine mandate, with most saying they are waiting on on the release of the federal vaccine mandate.

As a reminder, President Biden on Sept. 9, 2021, said he would direct the U.S. Department of Labor to issue an emergency rule that would require employers with more than 100 workers to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. Employees who don’t get the vaccine would have to undergo weekly testing to come to work.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sent the temporary emergency standard draft to the White House for review on Oct. 13, 2021. Since the Compliance and Coffee participants were taking a wait and see approach, they discussed what they are doing in the meantime.

Mostly, the group said they were taking steps now to deal with the finer points of the mandate, namely tracking which employees have received the vaccine and how to monitor testing, along with managing the confidential information received.

One HR leader at a major retailer said the upcoming hiring of temporary workers will add another layer to the complexity of monitoring vaccinated employees, not to mention potential medical and religious exemptions, and the potential for litigation.

PTO and the Vaccine

The discussion then turned to whether these companies are providing workers with paid time off (PTO) to get the vaccine everywhere or only where it is legally required.

There was a wide range of responses along with discussion about some of the more difficult states’ requirements.

One participant said her company rolled out a four-hour PTO incentive to receive the vaccine. However, in jurisdictions where such time off is mandated by local governments, they have had to use a separate code in their internal systems.

Another said his organization created a new PTO category, and in the difficult state of New York, they are giving workers eight total hours of PTO to receive the two vaccine shots. And they were already looking at more PTO for booster shots.

Still, some expressed concerns about the issues that come with PTO and the vaccine, including:

  • Fake vaccination cards
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) concerns
  • Extra time off for adverse reactions to the shot

Emergency Paid Leave

While many of the emergency paid leave laws related to COVID-19 have expired, some Compliance and Coffee participants said their companies have continued to pay it out.

Some jurisdictions have extended their emergency leave, and the participants expected more to do so, California specifically – although California has not yet taken that step. The difficulty of changing policies on the fly left many to opt to retain the emergency leave.

For one participant, the company has opted to be overly generous with COVID-19 related medical paid leave, starting with 30 days paid leave and unpaid leave afterwards. While there has been some abuse of the policy, those are treated on a one-off basis.

Others worried about the specifics of emergency paid leave laws, including the need to calculate average hours worked versus regular rate of pay, depending on the specific law’s requirements. While they are managing the best they can, most have been more generous than needed in order to streamline operations.

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Return to Work and Remote Policies

One consensus among the group was that all would eventually be moving to a hybrid work environment.

A handful are still completely remote, with policies being crafted for remote work when employees do return to the office in some capacity. These policies have a number of items under consideration, including:

  • Tax implications
  • Employees living in multiple states in a single year
  • Terminations and PTO payouts
  • How often employees must be in the office
  • “Reserving” office space

Plus, there are the costs associated with employees working from home. One company has decided on a monthly stipend; another did a flat $200 for equipment. Then there are the states that require business expense reimbursements for remote workers, adding another layer of complexity to the remote work puzzle.

Also of note, one participant said their company would likely build in an “accept additional expenses” policy for new hires who work remotely.

Other Considerations

Of course, the notes above don’t fully capture the breadth of the Compliance and Coffee discussion. Among the other items that remain top of mind for HR and compliance pros:

  • Masks: There is still employee pushback regarding mask-wearing requirements
  • Incentives: In Montana, where vaccination status is a protected category, employers must be careful about offering “coercive” incentives for the vaccine. Another business with locations in areas where there has been vaccine pushback was offering high-end company products to persuade workers
  • Accommodation requests: While none said they have received several accommodation requests, it remains a concern nonetheless

Compliance and Coffee

Facilitated by GovDocs, Compliance and Coffee is a virtual roundtable bringing together HR and compliance professionals to discuss the employment law issues of the day. Attend our events to network and interact, talk about the latest news and trends, and discuss what’s working (and what isn’t) in the world of employment law compliance. You don’t need to have all the answers – just come ready to engage in an informative discussion.

Keep an eye out for information about the next Compliance and Coffee. And head over to the GovDocs Employment Law Compliance Group on LinkedIn to continue the discussion.

This Employment Law News blog is intended for market awareness only, it is not to be used for legal advice or counsel.

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