Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021: Updates to Paycheck Protection Program

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.

Use It, but Don’t Lose It: New Stimulus Law Extends Time to Spend Down 2020 Health FSA and Dependent Care Balances

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.

Cal/OSHA Clarifies COVID-19–Related Paid Time Off Requirements

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.

England Enters Third National Lockdown—What Are the New Rules?

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).

Mexico’s COVID-19 Traffic Light Monitoring System: News for January 4–17, 2021

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.

San Francisco Issues Mandatory Travel Quarantine Due to ‘Rapid Increase’ in COVID-19 Cases

On December 16, 2020, the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) issued Order of the Health Officer No. C19-17 due to a surge in COVID-19 cases that the department said could quickly “overwhelm hospitals” in the county, as well as the rest of California, unless the City took measures to try to control the virus’ spread. With some exceptions, the order requires “every person who travels to, moves to, or returns to the County [of San Francisco] after having been in any location outside of the Bay Area” to quarantine for a period of 10 days (240 hours) from a person’s time of arrival in the county.

Congress Includes COVID-19 Economic Relief Provisions for Employers and Individuals in Federal Government Funding Bill

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.

Mexico’s COVID-19 Traffic Light Monitoring System: News for December 22, 2020, to January 3, 2021

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.

 

Ontario Entering Province-Wide Shutdown on December 26, 2020

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.

Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave: Latest Updates Ahead of January 1, 2021, Effective Date

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.

Ontario Government Passes Regulation to Create Flexibility in the Hospitality, Tourism and Trade Show Industries

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).

Age Discrimination and COVID-19: What to Do When Employees Are in High-Risk Groups

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.

Reductions in Force and Partial Plan Terminations: Another Potential 2020 ‘Gotcha’

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.

California’s New COVID-19 Executive Order: How It Changes the Cal/OSHA Emergency Standard

Less than one month after the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board voted and approved an emergency COVID-19 regulation, Governor Newsom made changes to the regulation adding clarity and suspending the prescribed quarantine period of 14 days to the extent that the 14 days is longer than the quarantine period recommended by the California Department of Public Health.

Mexico’s COVID-19 Traffic Light Monitoring System: News for December 7, 2020, to December 20, 2020

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.

An Update on COVID-19–Related Protocols in Ontario, Québec, and British Columbia

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.

Oregon OSHA Finalizes Temporary COVID-19 Rule for All Workplaces

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.

Iowa Governor Issues Proclamation With Updated COVID-19 Measures

On November 16, 2020, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds issued a public health proclamation imposing public health measures on a variety of employers to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. The Iowa Department of Public Health also issued a brief summary of the proclamation. The proclamation went into effect on 12:01 a.m. on November 17, 2020, and will stay in effect until 11:59 p.m. on December 10, 2020.