Within days of the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, employees who were observed as part of the mob entering the Capitol were discharged by their employers. Some of the individuals involved in the events at the Capitol were knowingly filmed as part of the insurrection (and many were seen posing for selfies).
On December 22, 2020, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell signed into law the CROWN Act (Calendar No. 33,184). The new law prohibits employment discrimination in the City of New Orleans based on hairstyles. The law is modeled after federal legislation introduced in January 2020—the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN Act)—designed to correct racial and cultural inequities by making hair discrimination illegal in the United States.
On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law Congress’s spending bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA), 2021, which included the Additional Coronavirus Response and Relief (ACRR) provisions that modified the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP, a loan program designed to provide a direct incentive to businesses to retain their employees, was enacted under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. PPP borrowers are eligible for loan forgiveness if the funds are used for eligible payroll and non-payroll costs.
A contentious issue during the recent presidential campaign was the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. No matter where one fell along the spectrum of supporters and critics, there was no denying the wide gulf of positions on the topic.
With daily COVID-19 case counts approaching 4,000 in Ontario, the Ontario provincial government announced on January 12, 2021, a state of emergency and a return to stricter lockdown measures that will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on January 14, 2021.
Employers will now have additional options to address participants’ unspent contributions to dependent care or health flexible spending accounts (FSAs) resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (H.R. 133, P.L. 116-260), signed into law on December 27, 2020, provides temporary relief for employees that were unable to spend down their dependent care and health FSAs by the end of the plan year and may otherwise forfeit these contributions.
On January 8, 2021, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) issued an updated version of its frequently asked questions (FAQs) guidance, “COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards Frequently Asked Questions,” about COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards. The FAQs address many issues about which employers had questions, including paid time off and exclusion pay.
On 4 January 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in England. The regulations allow the lockdown to continue until 31 March 2021, although the restrictions are expected to be reviewed in mid-February to allow for the possible reopening of schools. All of the United Kingdom is now under strict measures to curb the spread of the new fast-spreading COVID-19 variant—with Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland also in lockdown (although these countries are governed by separate rules).
On January 6, 2021, the Québec government announced new COVID-19 restrictions that will take effect from January 9, 2021, through February 8, 2021.
On January 4, 2021, the City of Toronto announced that employers and workplaces operating in Toronto’s public health unit will be subject to new reporting requirements regarding positive COVID-19 cases. In addition, Toronto Public Health announced that it will begin reporting data on workplace outbreaks effective January 7, 2021.
On December 9, 2020, Alberta’s Bill 47, the Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, 2020, received Royal Assent. The legislation replaces Alberta’s current Occupational Health and Safety Act in its entirety, and makes significant amendments to the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Act.
Cases of COVID-19 are continuing to rise in Mexico, with more than 1.45 million positive cases as of January 4, 2021, according to the Ministry of Health, and hospital occupancy rates still climbing. The worsening spread of COVID-19 has prompted the federal government to impose greater restrictions on activities in more states throughout the country according to the nation’s four-tiered “traffic light” pandemic monitoring system.
On December 31, 2020, the Government of Canada announced new restrictions that will apply to all airline passengers entering Canada.
On December 21, 2020, Congress passed a massive bill (H.R. 133) that would fund the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year (FY) 2021 while also providing $900 billion in COVID-19 economic relief for employers and individuals. President Trump signed the bill into law on December 27, 2020. Coming in at a total cost of $2.3 trillion and a page count approaching 6,000, in some ways it is easier to explain what is not in the bill, rather than what is covered by the bill. Nevertheless, here are some of the key provisions of the legislation of importance to employers.
Confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Mexico increased to more than 1.3 million as of December 18, 2020, according to Mexico’s Ministry of Health, prompting the federal government to designate the majority of states at high risk of spread of the virus according to the nation’s four-tiered “traffic light” pandemic monitoring system.
On December 9, 2020, Mexico’s Senate of the Republic approved amendments to Article 311 and added Chapter XII Bis of the Federal Labor Law (FLL), on teleworking. If President Andres Manuel López Obrador approves the bill, it will become effective the day after it is published in the Official Journal of the Federation (Diario Oficial de la Federación).
On December 21, 2020, the Ontario government announced province-wide shutdown measures, similar to those recently enacted by the governments of Alberta, Québec, and Manitoba. The government cited the “alarming rate” at which COVID-19 cases are increasing due to travel between public health regions that are subject to different levels of restriction, and the strain on the healthcare system as the driving forces behind the province-wide shutdown.
Just as the whirlwind of 2020 winds down, Massachusetts employers are preparing for what is perhaps the most significant legislative update for worker leave in the past five years. On January 1, 2021, the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFML) will begin providing benefits to eligible workers for qualifying reasons. As the effective date approaches, employers may want to be aware of their obligations under the law and the latest guidance issued by the DFML. The DFML will continue to issue guidance as the effective date approaches. Here is an overview of this new leave program along with recent updates and answers to frequently asked questions.
From December 17, 2020 until January 10, 2021, the province of Québec is imposing special restrictions to curb activities that are contributing to rising COVID-19 cases.
On December 17, 2020, the government of the Province of Ontario enacted Regulation 764/20, which will permit unions and employers in the hospitality, tourism, and trade show industries to negotiate for greater flexibility in the application of termination pay, severance, recall rights and other related matters under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA).
The Ontario government recently enacted Ontario Regulation 228/20, which created an “infectious disease emergency leave” for employees who are off work due to COVID-19. As a result of a very recent regulation, Ontario Regulation 765/20, the period for this infectious disease emergency leave has been extended until July 3, 2021.
On December 16, 2020, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued revised COVID-19 guidance addressing questions related to the administration of COVID-19 vaccinations to employees. Section K of the guidance now addresses several common questions employers have raised with respect to the now-available COVID-19 vaccine.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) addressed age discrimination issues related to COVID-19. Based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) explanation that individuals 65 years of age and older are at a higher risk for having a severe case of COVID-19 if they contract the virus, the EEOC encouraged employers to offer maximum flexibility to individuals in this age group. This flexibility was intended to offer older employees a way to continue to work even if they did not feel safe in the workplace.
Alberta is the most recent Canadian province to enact enhanced public health measures in response to rapidly rising COVID-19 case numbers. These new restrictions are aimed at limiting social gatherings, which are the greatest source of virus transmission in the province.
Employers in all industries have faced unprecedented business challenges during 2020, and responding to those challenges has often entailed adjustments to the size and composition of workforces through targeted or broader-based reductions in force. As we finally face the end of this seemingly interminable year, it is important to consider some of the less-obvious consequences of reductions in force on tax-qualified retirement plans. In particular, a frequent “gotcha” for employers that have made significant workforce reductions during a year (or, in some cases, over a period of years) is the so-called “partial plan termination.” Failing to spot a partial plan termination can lead to costly and time-consuming plan repair work, but if an employer is alert to the circumstances in which one can occur, the potential pain of a partial plan termination can be readily avoided.
Earlier this year, New York State enacted a statewide paid sick leave (PSL) law, which took effect on September 30, 2020. Entitlement to use leave under the law begins on January 1, 2021, and, the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) has published PSL guidance and answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). In order to provide greater clarity concerning the requirements of the law, on December 9, 2020, the NYSDOL published proposed regulations.
In an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, the Mexican federal government implemented a “traffic light” monitoring system in June 2020 to alert residents to the epidemiological risks in each of the country’s 32 states and provide guidance on restrictions on certain activities. The bimonthly monitoring system is aligned with health protocols to guide Mexico’s states through the country’s phased reopening plan. Below is a map for the period of November 23, 2020, to December 6, 2020, indicating the COVID-19 risk level in each of Mexico’s 32 states.
Canada is experiencing an increased number of daily COVID-19 infections in what appears to be a “second wave.” In response to higher positivity rates and increased hospitalisations, some provinces have passed strict public health orders to limit the spread of COVID-19. This article discusses the workplace impacts of measures implemented in Ontario, Québec, and British Columbia.
In Harrisburg Area Community College v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, No. 654 C.D. 2019, (October 29, 2020), the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recently examined the interaction between Pennsylvania’s Medical Marijuana Act (MMA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). Specifically, the court addressed whether the PHRA’s prohibition against disability discrimination required a college to accommodate a student’s lawful use of medical marijuana under the MMA.
On November 6, 2020, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA), the state plan responsible for overseeing workplace safety and health in the state of Oregon, released its final COVID-19 temporary rule. The temporary rule is effective November 16, 2020, through May 4, 2021, unless revised or repealed before that date.