In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a tumultuous session for the Maryland General Assembly, whose 2021 session ended at midnight on Monday, April 12. Among the many bills that passed, there were a number of significance to employers, including protection for essential workers in a catastrophic public health emergency, bereavement leave, workplace peace orders, an extension of the time in which to file complaints of discrimination with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, modifications to the mass layoff law, and requirements for gender diversity on boards and in executive management in order to qualify for certain state benefits, among other things.
On April 7, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor issued FAQs and five model notices for the COBRA premium subsidy provided by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which we discussed in our March 16, 2021 E-lert.
Every now and then I read a case where from the beginning when presented with the employer’s handling of a termination, I can see the wheels coming off – so to speak.
Such was the case when I read Matchko v. Kost Tire Distributors, Inc. The employer laid off (or was he terminated? – more on that later) its 73-year old District Manager, who had received several promotions, had never been disciplined, and had never received negative performance evaluations. He sued, alleging age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and state law.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many employers have permitted or mandated telework arrangements for their employees. As more people become vaccinated and the number of new COVID-19 cases declines, however, those employers will likely begin to recall their employees to the office. Unsurprisingly, many employees have become accustomed to working from home over the past year, and enjoy the ability to wake up, throw on athleisure, and do a couple loads of laundry as they go about their workday. This begs the question: is an employer obligated to permit an employee to telework simply because the employee finds working from home more preferable, desirable, or convenient than going to the office? A federal judge in the District of Columbia recently said “no.”
With the change in administration, the Department of Labor’s recently-issued Final Rule governing the treatment of tipped employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act was thrown into doubt. Following a formal delay of the Final Rule’s effective date of March 30, 2021, the Biden DOL has now announced that parts of the Final Rule will take effect on April 30, 2021, while other parts will be further delayed and revised, subject to public comment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance on workplace vaccination programs that reiterates and expands upon prior guidance on this topic, with the intent of increasing vaccine uptake among essential (and other) workers. According to the CDC, vaccinations benefit both employers and employees by keeping the workforce healthy, reducing absences, and improving both productivity and morale. The CDC offers specific tips on the following topics: vaccination options, on-site and off-site vaccinations, building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, determining when employees may be vaccinated, vaccine mandates and exemptions, best practices, other considerations, and reopening the workplace.
In addition to expanding and extending the tax credits that employers may opt to receive under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act for voluntarily providing paid COVID-19-related leave through September 30, 2021, which we discussed in our March 12, 2021 E-lert, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) contains several other important employment-related provisions: (1) an extension and expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program, with the creation of a new restaurant grant program; (2) continuation of enhanced unemployment insurance benefits; (3) a new COBRA premium subsidy; and (4) extension and expansion of the employee retention tax credit.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021, both expands and extends the tax credits that employers may opt to receive under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) for voluntarily providing paid COVID-19-related leave through September 30, 2021.
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced new, more relaxed COVID-19 protocols for fully-vaccinated individuals. Notably, among the guidance, the CDC stated that such individuals should continue to “[f]ollow guidance from individual employers.” But should employers modify their existing guidance to account for these new protocols?
With case rates declining and COVID vaccine options expanding, five States as of March 8, 2021 have announced the end of all pandemic-driven restrictions, including mask mandates. (The lifting of Texas’ ban takes place on March 10; eleven states never mandated face coverings.) The “mask wars” had been tamped down by State mandates, but détente has ended in the “open” States. What does this mean for workplaces?