Author: Liana R. Abreu

OSHA Releases New Workplace Guidance on COVID-19

On January 21, 2021, President Biden issued the Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety (“Executive Order”) directing, among other things, that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issue, within two weeks, revised guidance to employers on workplace safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, consider establishing emergency temporary standards for workplace COVID-19 protections, and, if needed, issue such standards by March 15, 2021. The Executive Order also requires that OSHA launch a national program to focus its enforcement efforts on those violations that place the greatest number of employees at serious risk or conflict with anti-retaliation principles and publicize its efforts through a multilingual outreach campaign to inform employees of their rights under OSHA’s applicable regulations, with special emphasis on communities hit hardest by COVID-19. On January 29, 2021, as directed by the Executive Order, OSHA issued new guidance, entitled Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigation and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace (the “Guidance”). The Guidance, which is supplemented by industry-specific measures, provides recommendations to assist employers in creating and maintaining safe and healthy workplaces, while also describing OSHA’s current safety and health standards. The new Guidance is not substantially different from previous OSHA guidance, but it sets a different tone – signaling greater support for OSHA enforcement. Importantly, the Guidance...

FFCRA Benefits Become Optional and Unemployment Benefits Change With New Stimulus Package

On December 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the fourth major COVID-19 response bill into law. The stimulus package includes focused relief in a variety of areas (see our December 21, 2020 post), but two important elements are worth highlighting for employers. First, there have been several changes to pandemic-related unemployment insurance benefits since guidelines were first provided last spring. Second, the emergency paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave benefits provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), explained here, expired on December 31, 2020 and were not extended, but employers who opt to offer them remain eligible for tax credits. Unemployment Insurance (UI) Benefits Supplement and Extension The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) provided eligible recipients of state unemployment benefits with an additional $600 per week in federal benefits, which expired in July 2020. The new stimulus package provides eligible individuals who are already collecting state-provided unemployment benefits with an additional $300 per week in federal benefits ($300 less than the last stimulus relief package) for up to 11 weeks through March 14, 2021. These payments, however, are not retroactive to July 2020. The new stimulus package also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs. PUA provides benefits to individuals...

The U.S. DOL Issues Updated Guidance on CARES Act Unemployment Programs

Since our March 28, 2020 post, “Phase Three COVID-19 Response Bill Now Law: What it Means for Businesses and Employees,” the United States Department of Labor (DOL) has issued three additional Unemployment Insurance Program Letters (UIPL), No. 15-20, No. 16-20, and No. 17-20, to provide additional guidance to states on the administration of the three unemployment insurance programs available under the CARES Act. UIPL No. 15-20 UIPL No. 15-20, issued on April 4, 2020, addresses Section 2104 of the CARES Act—Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits—which provides “eligible” individuals who are already collecting state-provided unemployment benefits an additional $600 per week in federal benefits through July 31, 2020. Who is eligible for the additional $600 FPUC payments? Individuals collecting regular unemployment compensation under state programs, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Extended Benefits (EB), Short-Time Compensation (STC), Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA), Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), and Payments under the Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) program. FPUC is not available, however, for those receiving “additional benefits” (referred to as “extended benefits” by state UC programs) that extend the duration of benefits during high unemployment to those in approved training programs who have exhausted benefits, or for several other reasons. Individuals must be eligible for and receiving benefits under the above programs in order to be...

Employers Must Act Fast: Families First Coronavirus Response Act Signed Into Law

To follow up on our recent blog post, “Workplace Planning for Coronavirus Concerns,” we are summarizing for our clients the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which President Trump signed into law on March 18, 2020. The House of Representative passed an earlier bill on March 14, but – two days later – revisited and significantly altered the bill on March 16, before sending it to the Senate for consideration. On March 18, the Senate passed the revised House version with no changes, and, that same day, the amended bill was signed into law. The FFCRA takes effect not later than April 2, 2020 (15 days after its enactment) and expires on December 31, 2020. With respect to employers, it contains certain provisions of particular note, including the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, discussed below. Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (“Emergency FMLA” or the “Act”) applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees (“covered employers”). Employees who have been employed by a covered employer for 30 calendar days are eligible for up to 12 weeks of emergency paid family medical leave due to a “qualifying need” arising from “a public health emergency” with respect to COVID-19...

UPDATE: Mandatory Nondiscrimination Policies, Training and Reporting: Proposed New Jersey Legislation Would Impose New Obligations on Employers and Lengthen the Limitations Period

On February 18, 2020, Governor Phil Murphy continued his quest to enhance employee protections in New Jersey by announcing proposed legislation aimed at strengthening New Jersey’s already-expansive prohibitions against harassment and discrimination in the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). According to the proposed legislative findings, the bill was designed to “reject the norms of yesterday that overlooked workplace harassment and discrimination as business as usual.” The proposed legislation comes on the heels of a report released by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR) this month, Preventing and Eliminating Sexual Harassment in New Jersey, the result of a trio of public hearings held in September 2019. Employers are already scrambling to keep up with legislation directed at protecting call center employees, cracking down on misclassification, and expanding the rights of employees affected by a mass layoff or plant closing. Here are the highlights from the proposed legislation: Expanded Definition of Employee. Domestic workers and unpaid interns would be added to the definition of “employees” under the NJLAD and there are specific provisions governing domestic workers. Extended Time for Filing Claims. The current two-year statute of limitations applicable to claims brought under the NJLAD would be extended to three years. And, the time to file a complaint with the DCR would be extended from...

New Jersey Call Center Jobs Act: Potential Headaches for Employers

On January 21, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the New Jersey Call Center Jobs Act (“Act”). A copy of the Act may be found here. The new law, designed to provide protection to call center employees in the State, includes strict notice requirements along with penalties for New Jersey employers relocating a call center overseas, or transferring call center operations out of state. Under the Act, New Jersey call centers that employ at least 50 full-time employees or at least 50 workers who in the aggregate work 1,500 or more hours per week (excluding overtime) must maintain staffing levels capable of handling at least 65% of the employer’s customer volume of telephone calls, emails, or “other electronic communications” (“customer communications”) when measured against the previous six month average volume of communications originating from New Jersey callers or locations. If a call center’s staffing level falls below the required minimum levels, the employer must immediately notify the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development (“Commissioner”). In addition, any employer that relocates a call center, or transfers one or more of its operations comprising at least 20% of the call center’s total volume of customer communications as measured against the previous 12 month average volume to a foreign country, must notify the Commissioner 90 days...

The Power of New York’s Borrowing Statute

On October 11, 2016, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, First Department, decided 2138747 Ontario, Inc. v. Samsung C&T Corp., et al., which serves as a reminder to attorneys that New York’s borrowing statute applies even where the parties agreed to a New York choice-of-law provision. The borrowing statute, CPLR 202, provides that, when a non-New York resident sues on a cause of action accruing outside New York, the complaint must be filed timely under the statute of limitations of both New York and the jurisdiction where the cause of action accrued. The statute’s underlying objective is to prevent forum shopping by nonresident plaintiffs. In Ontario, the plaintiff, a corporation formed under the law of Ontario, Canada, was a creditor of SkyPower Corporation, a bankrupt Canadian renewable energy developer. SkyPower’s bankruptcy trustee assigned to the plaintiff all of its claims against the defendants. The plaintiff then sought damages against the defendants for a breach of a nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement (NDA), which contained a broad New York choice-of-law provision. The plaintiff’s complaint was untimely under Ontario’s two-year statute of limitations but was timely under New York’s six-year statute of limitations. The trial court found that Ontario’s two-year statute of limitations applied and dismissed the case. The Appellate Division affirmed. Although the court found...