Category: Coronavirus
Jul 22, 2020


Lawmakers are racing the clock to get a deal done to negotiate and pass another federal coronavirus relief package that is expected to carry a price tag of at least $1 trillion.  The House is scheduled to be in Washington through the end of the month, though they could delay their departure.  The Senate is set to be in through August 7.  Republican leaders and President Donald Trump met this week to discuss priorities. 



Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that liability protection for businesses, schools, and other entities that reopen amid the pandemic must be part of any new coronavirus relief package.  McConnell has previously said that the liability protection will be retroactive to December 2019 and run through 2024 or the end of the Dept. of Health and Human Services emergency coronavirus declaration, whichever is later.  At least five states (North Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming) have passed legislation that would protect employers from liability exposure who open in good faith and comply with the law.



Trump made it clear that reopening schools in-person is a top priority.  The proposal includes an injection of money to states for education to ensure schools can reopen safely, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said.  State governors and state education departments across the country are grappling with whether to hold in-person classes this fall as coronavirus cases are increasing throughout the United States.  Florida ordered schools to reopen for in-person instruction and teachers sued to block Florida’s school reopening mandate.  Check here to see each state’s plan for reopening schools.



Republican leaders have also stated that coronavirus testing and contact tracing, a revised version of the enhanced unemployment benefits, extending the program providing loans to small businesses, and another round of stimulus checks are also a priority in the relief package.  Trump is pushing to include a payroll tax cut in this package.



Any bill will have to get through both the Republican-held Senate and the Democratic-controlled House.  The House passed a sweeping $3 trillion relief package in May, but Senate Republicans dismissed it as unrealistic.  Sticking points that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cited include federal assistance for state and local governments, investments in communities of color hit hard by the pandemic, and hazard pay.  So far, lawmakers have approved more than $3 trillion in coronavirus relief through previous bills.


Double Jeopardy



As more workplaces reopen, the U.S. Dept. of Labor has published additional guidance for workers and employers on how the protections and requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) affect the workplace during the pandemic.



The guidance offered insights on specific issues related to COVID-19.  Specifically, in regards to FLSA, it noted that safe workplace standards under the Occupational Safety and Health Act do not apply to home offices, but employers must still record any work-related injuries or illnesses incurred in the home office.  It also clarified that hazard pay is not required under the FLSA.  In regards to the FMLA, the guidance noted that COVID-19 does not automatically meet the statutory definition of a serious health condition, so employers must make a case-by-case determination as to whether the FMLA applies.  The FFCRA guidance clarified that an employee is only entitled to 80 hours of FFCRA Emergency Paid Sick Leave (E-PSL) in total.


Making Our Way Around the Country



Governor Ned Lamont (D-CT) announced Friday afternoon he will sign an executive order creating a presumption that essential workers who contracted COVID-19 during the earliest days of the pandemic are eligible for workers’ compensation.  He did not define what period will be covered but mostly like would cover the period from mid-March to May 20, when Lemont ordered a shutdown.  Gov. Lamont also pledged Monday to add teeth, including a $1,000 fine, to his 14-day quarantine policy for travelers coming to Connecticut from coronavirus hot spots around the nation.  Lamont stated that he will issue an executive order not guidance.  The administration’s list of “hot-spot” states has grown steadily as infection rates have swelled.



The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued new optional forms that employers can use for the administration of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The updated forms address the issues of eligibility for leave, the designation of leave, and the certification needed from an employee’s health care provider.  In its press release, the DOL announced that the forms are “simpler and easier to understand for employers, leave administrators, healthcare providers, and employees seeking leave.” Among the changes announced by the DOL are boxes that can be checked instead of requiring written responses, and electronic signature features. The DOL anticipates that this will reduce the amount of time it takes a healthcare provider to provide information, and help leave administrators review and communicate information to employees more directly and with greater clarity, reducing the likelihood of violations.  The DOL also published a Request for Information (RFI) in the Federal Register seeking the public’s feedback on the law’s administration and use.



The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that the 2020 Trucking Safety Summit will be held virtually on August 5, 2020. The meeting’s focus will be to finding ways to improve the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles on the nation’s roadways. The virtual meeting will provide motor carriers, drivers, safety technology developers and users, Federal and State partners, and safety advocacy groups an opportunity to share their ideas on improving trucking safety. The event will be hosted virtually by FMCSA from the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters building in Washington, D.C. The virtual public meeting will be held Wednesday, August 5, 2020, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., EDT, and will include a brief public comment period in the mid to late afternoon. A full agenda of the meeting is available online.


WHAT IS 988?

The Federal Communications Committee unanimously approved the creation of a new national three-digit suicide prevention hotline, 988.  It will take two years to implement and voice service companies will be mandated to have the 988 hotline by July 16, 2022.  According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the nation’s suicide rates are at the highest point since World War II.  As the pandemic continues, stay connected and stay safe.  And a happy birthday to Alex Trebek who turned 80 today!


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