Considerations for HR Leaders in the Era of Coronavirus

On this page, you will find a compilation of up-to-date information and thoughts to consider as an HR leader as you are managing through the rapidly changing situation related to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES
(as of March 26, 2020)
 
  • The overall situation is evolving rapidly, with initial federal legislation passing last week and the Senate now approving a $2 trillion emergency relief/stimulus bill.

  • As federal laws are clarified, many states are also in the process of rapidly considering legislation, especially related to sick leave.

  • Much legislation will likely require significant and rapid regulatory guidance by the US Department of Labor (DOL) and other agencies.  Normally this process takes time so we are in uncharted territory and employers may not have clear guidance on various topics.  Some initial high level guidance has now been released by the DOL, IRS and others (see below).

  • State by state changes are being made to unemployment compensation procedures: doing away with various face-to-face meetings and waiving eligibility periods.

  • Issues will get complicated as state and federal changes are layered on top of your existing programs. In short, document your reasoning and understand that the existence of a “public health crisis” will dictate short-term interpretation of many laws.

  • Ultimately, your ability to weather legislative evolution will influence your ability to take certain actions.

  • COVID-19 has impacted several facets of employment-based immigration to the United States. Consult with immigration counsel to ensure proper measures are taken to maintain the status of H-1B visa holders and international students along with other employees on non-immigrant visas.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act

  • The federal government has now adopted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The Act contains a wide range of provisions, including food and nutrition assistance and emergency paid leave. 

  • The bill introduces new requirements for Emergency FMLA and emergency paid sick leave, and generally impacts companies with fewer than 500 employees.

  • DOL has released initial regulatory guidance for this act, including clarification about counting employees (the Act generally applies to companies with fewer than 500 employees), calculation of pay for part-time and variable hour employees, calculation of regular rate of pay, and other administrative matters.

  1. Clarification is also provided that an employee who requests leave to stay home with a child due to coronavirus-related school or daycare closures may qualify for Paid Sick Leave AND Expanded FMLA for a total of up to 12 weeks of protected paid leave.

  2. DOL Guidance on COVID-19 and the Workplace can be found here.

  • The IRS has also released initial high level guidance, with promises of more detailed guidance to come.  (Under the Act, employers that are required to provide paid sick leave and expanded FMLA are eligible for refundable tax credits applied against the employer’s quarterly payroll tax return.)

  1. Payroll taxes available for retention include withheld federal income taxes, as well as employee and employer share of Social Security and Medicare taxes. 

  2. If there are insufficient amounts available via payroll taxes to cover the employer’s expenses related to the paid leave requirements, employers may file a request for an accelerated payment from the IRS and the IRS expects to process such requests in 2 weeks or less.

  3. IRS Guidance on Refundable Tax Credits can be found here

  • A SHRM webcast on the Act (paid membership required) will be held on Friday, March 27 at 11 a.m. Pacific.  Thus far, the SHRM webcasts have been a timely and practical source of information on the latest thinking regarding COVID-19. 

 

Federal Emergency Relief/Stimulus

  • The Senate has now passed the $2 trillion emergency Additional stimulus/legislation is expected to pass very shortly (as soon as later today - March 26).  The bill could still change, but is expected to contain numerous provisions impacting employees, businesses and state and local government.

  • Individual Assistance

  1. Direct payments of up to $1,200 for most individuals and $2,400 for most married couples filing jointly with an extra $500 for each child (phased out over $75K for individuals and $150K for married couples).

  2. Unemployment insurance would be expanded, increasing the maximum benefit by $600 per week for up to four months.  Benefits would be available to workers who are part-time, self-employed or part of the gig economy.  People who are still unemployed after 13 weeks of state benefits end could get an additional 13 weeks of help.

  3. Numerous provisions helping low-income individuals such as food assistance and help with avoiding eviction.

  4. Homeowners with federally-backed mortgages would be protected from foreclosure for as long as 180 days.

  5. Withdrawals from qualified retirement accounts for coronavirus-related purposes without penalty.

  6. Students with federal loans could suspend payments until October.

  • Business assistance: 

  1. Small businesses provided access to nearly $350 billion loan program to cover monthly expenses like payroll, rent and utilities.  Loans do not have to be repaid if businesses maintain their workforce. (Assistance retroactive to February 15 to help bring back workers who have already been laid off.)

  2. Financial assistance for hardest-hit industries, including passenger and cargo airlines.  

  3. Companies receiving assistance would be barred from raising the pay of certain executives or from buying back stock for a certain number of years.

  4. Companies that kept on workers despite a significant loss of revenue could get a tax credit.

  • Additional Assistance - numerous additional provisions including:

  1. Additional funding for hospitals and medical centers.

  2. Relaxation of various Medicare provisions and previous cuts.

  3. Rules for using and paying for telehealth services would be eased. 

  4. State and local government assistance.

  5. Child care programs would get a funding boost to help meet emergency staffing needs of health care workers and other critical workers.

 
 
The Nua Summary
  • Clients should carefully track the final developments 

  • These are potentially dire times for some employers who may not be able to manage a mass number of employees on sick pay once mandated. It is important for employers to consider this scenario now.

  • Employers should begin to think about creative ways to manage the potential financial impact, such as structuring and planning furloughs and the like- be careful to coordinate with sick pay obligations and new legislation. In general, the new relief legislation (assuming it passes shortly) will significantly expand the short-term protections available for employees - this may influence your decisions about next steps.) Always consult with legal counsel. 

  • It is critical to record your reasoning when making decisions that are unprecedented and the regulatory guidance is unclear, especially ADA - [in general, follows public health guidance and the worse the situation gets the more flexibility you have]

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (Updated as of March 26, 2020)
 
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
 

General

  • This is a time for HR professionals to really step up and show authentic leadership.  HR has a chance to show a multiskilled approach that arguably no one else in the company is equipped for.

  • A chance to show HR’s impact on operations - HR professionals are executives that help the company run, not just back office support.

  • Begin NOW to document which jobs are essential in service of employee health and safety and business continuity.

  • There is much uncertainty related to the OSHA impact

  1. Already seeing OSHA complaints: a) discharge for refusing to do hazardous job; b) complaints about inadequate training for non-routine tasks including cleaning, sanitization etc.

  2. Infectious diseases acquired in the workplace could be reportable, but standard will likely require something more than just “I was exposed at work” - expect insurers to fight worker’s compensation claims that something is work related

Employee communications & culture
 

  • Create a centralized team (5-7 people) for communicating with employees, including representation from the business, internal communications, and HR. Meet regularly to monitor the situation, be the main source of information for employees.

  • Over-communicate, act fast, and be accurate.

  • Make sure to engage with managers so they can support their teams and direct them to the right information.

  • Address practical issues; will I get paid, will my benefits continue, should I come to work? Do not assume employees know about their benefits or what is there to support them.

  • Ensure communication is two-way. Learn from employee questions and feedback.  Share information and develop consistent answers. 

  • Reassess frequently and adapt/share.  These are fast moving circumstances and conditions will change rapidly.

  • This is a key moment for influencing employees’ attitudes to their company. 

  1. Don’t forget your role as a “marketing function” for future employee behavior/outlook.

  2. Reassure employees that you are aware of their nervousness and taking actions that will encourage them to come back once safe.  

  3. Be clear with employees about the efforts you are making to increase social separation (e.g., identity checkpoints, lunchroom distancing rules, clock-in procedures, etc.)

Managing a Global Remote Workforce:

  • Be aware that different regions of the world are at different stages and it can be frustrating to impose global standards.

  • Consider how you respond based upon employee segmentation.  The solution is different for different employee groups.

  • Consider supporting other key needs remotely.  E.g. companies moving all training online, some companies promoting online fitness classes.

  • Time to revisit WFH policies.  Look at reimbursement policies for mobile, broadband, internet as well as equipment etc.  Provide employees with a WFH best practices playbook.

  • Look at childcare/elderly care policies and options during this WFH situation

  • Review expat policies, especially medical and medevac type programs.

  • Be flexible.  Some companies allowing non-local workers to WFH in their home country

  • Understand and continue to monitor the VPN/technology bandwidth situation

If Work from Home is Not an Option:

  • Splitting essential at work roles into teams.  Restrict access and do not allow teams to interact/infect each other.

  • For operational sites with curfew restrictions etc. develop programs to potentially house employees.  E.g. some bringing in mattresses to set-up on site or contracted with hotel companies nearby etc.

  • Prevent infection spreading at work.  Number of companies take temperature prior to coming to work - some required to do it.  One company provided thermometers to all employees.

Useful resources
 

SHRM

[paywall/membership may be required]

Significant number of updates/resources/samples. SHRM is also planning a number of upcoming webcasts on issues such as global travel and how to keep hiring initiatives going.

 

U.S. Department of Labor

Wealth of resources including Wages, Hours and Leave, Workplace Safety and Unemployment Insurance


California Labor & Workforce Development Agency

Many state-specific resources including a summary of benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19.

 
Contact

The Nua Group Leadership team is here to help and support our clients and fellow members of the HR Community. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of us for support.

Gerry Murphy

  • LinkedIn

Gerry is an actuary and consultant with over 28 years experience in working with companies on global rewards projects.

Joe Farris

  • LinkedIn

Joe has worked both in consulting and as a head of HR with a particular focus on compensation and total rewards projects.

Elizabeth Scott

  • LinkedIn

Elizabeth is an experienced HR executive with over 20 years experience in managing and leading HR functions.

Chris Renz

  • LinkedIn

Chris has deep expertise in employee benefits and wellbeing, having held senior consulting roles working with clients across industries.

About Nua Group

Nua Group LLC is a San Francisco-based human resource consulting firm specializing in total rewards and HR effectiveness. We bring objectivity, value and expert advice to clients.  

Our contact details

Address: Nua Group LLC, 201 California Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, CA 94111

Email: hello@nuahr.com

Nua Insurance Solutions: CA License No. 0L78240

  • LinkedIn - White Circle
  • Twitter - White Circle
  • Facebook - White Circle

Quick links

Read our website Terms of Use and Privacy Policy

© 2019, Nua Group. All rights reserved.