COVID-19: Employer Guidance

We will continue to update Oregon veterinarians with important developments regarding COVID-19 that impact the veterinary community. We are all in this together.

We encourage owners to consult with their attorney and/or accountant for practice-specific advice about how to implement the policies and programs described below.

Sample COVID-19 Leave Policy

Jennifer Bouman-Steagall JD has shared a sample COVID-19 policy that employers may customize for their individual practice needs. It includes a sample form for employees requesting leave from the practice under the Federal Paid Sick Leave or Emergency Paid Family Medical Leave programs.

Managing Veterinary Staff Who Have Confirmed or Suspected COVID-19 Infection or Exposure

  • In addition to medical advice or direction from the patient's healthcare provider and/or public health department, if you have specific questions about how a possible COVID-19 exposure or a confirmed case within your team or a team member's household could affect your practice, we encourage you to reach out to Dr. DeBess, State Public Health Veterinarian.
  • AVMA Guidance

Employer Q&A

Jennifer Bouman-Steagall JD answered some employer questions regarding staffing issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • What if an employee doesn't want to come to work because they're scared about COVID?
  • What options do we have if we find out that an employee is hosting group gatherings at their house despite the governor’s mandate?
  • Read her answers.

Sick & Paid Medical Leave

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) has two main provisions that impact employers—the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. The Act provides for reimbursement of private employers that have fewer than 500 employees with tax credits for the cost of providing employees with paid leave taken for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

FFCRA FAQ

Notice Required

Each covered employer must post notice of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requirements in a conspicuous place on its premises.

Employee Compensation Resources

You can use this as your own cheat sheet and/or you can give it to employees to help explain sources of compensation due to COVID-19 related events.

FMLA Expansion Act

The FMLA Expansion Act requires employers to provide paid leave if an employee is unable to work (or telework) due to a need for leave to care for a son or daughter under 18 years of age whose school or a place of care has been closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable, due to a public health emergency related to COVID-19. This Act took effect on April 1. Practices should also follow existing FMLA rules. This Act applies to employers with less than 500 employees. According to the Department of Labor FAQ, the only type of family and medical leave that is required to be paid leave is leave authorized under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act when such leave exceeds ten days and when needed to care for a child, as indicated above.

Emergency Sick Leave Act

This also took effect on April 1 and applies to employers with less than 500 employees. It requires an employer to provide its employees with paid leave for up to two weeks when the employee is unable to work or telework for any of the following reasons:

  • (1) A local, state or federal order limits the employee's ability to work;
  • (2) The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns (this could be because of the Employee or someone the Employee has contacted);
  • (3) The employee has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • (4) The employee is caring for someone subject to an order or advice described in (1) or (2) above;
  • (5) The employee is caring for a son or daughter whose school or daycare is closed or the child provider is unavailable due to COVID-19; and, the catchall,
  • (6) The employee is experiencing any condition substantially similar to a condition specified by the government as related to COVID-19.

Tax Credit Available to Employers Providing Leave Under FFCRA

From the FFRCA FAQ:

58. When does the small business exemption apply to exclude a small business from the provisions of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act?

An employer, including a religious or nonprofit organization, with fewer than 50 employees (small business) is exempt from providing (a) paid sick leave due to school or place of care closures or child care provider unavailability for COVID-19 related reasons and (b) expanded family and medical leave due to school or place of care closures or child care provider unavailability for COVID-19 related reasons when doing so would jeopardize the viability of the small business as a going concern. A small business may claim this exemption if an authorized officer of the business has determined that:

  1. The provision of paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave would result in the small business’s expenses and financial obligations exceeding available business revenues and cause the small business to cease operating at a minimal capacity;  
  2. The absence of the employee or employees requesting paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave would entail a substantial risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the small business because of their specialized skills, knowledge of the business, or responsibilities; or  
  3. There are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services provided by the employee or employees requesting paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, and these labor or services are needed for the small business to operate at a minimal capacity.

59. If I am a small business with fewer than 50 employees, am I exempt from the requirements to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave?

A small business is exempt from certain paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave requirements if providing an employee such leave would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern. This means a small business is exempt from mandated paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave requirements only if the:

  • employer employs fewer than 50 employees;
  • leave is requested because the child’s school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons; and
  • an authorized officer of the business has determined that at least one of the three conditions described in Question 58 is satisfied.

The Department encourages employers and employees to collaborate to reach the best solution for maintaining the business and ensuring employee safety.

The OVMA recommends that employers intending to use the small employer exemption seek advice from experienced Employment Law counsel prior to denying benefits.

Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources

In addition to traditional SBA funding programs, the CARES Act established several new temporary programs to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans Program

The Federal Small Business Administration (SBA) may be able to provide assistance through the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program. Congress approved up to $7 billion in low-interest disaster loans specifically to assist small businesses impacted by COVID-19. These loans can help small businesses meet financial obligations and cover operating expenses.

SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

We recommend that practice owners contact your banker ASAP to start the PPP process.

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is an SBA loan program that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis. It is designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.

You can apply through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating. Other regulated lenders will be available to make these loans once they are approved and enrolled in the program. You should consult with your local lender as to whether it is participating in the program.

The loan will be fully forgiven if the funds are used for payroll costs, interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities (due to likely high subscription, at least 75% of the forgiven amount must have been used for payroll). Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required. Neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees. Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels. Forgiveness will be reduced if full-time headcount declines, or if salaries and wages decrease.

From the AVMA—The PPP loan forgiveness application clarifies many of the common questions from borrowers, while providing details on additional requirements for loan forgiveness, including:

  • Borrowers have the option to pick and choose which non-payroll costs to submit for forgiveness.
  • Worksheets are provided to calculate total loan forgiveness amount. Loan forgiveness amount will not be reduced if an employer is unable to rehire workers who have rejected a good-faith written offer to return, were fired for cause, or parted voluntarily. 
  • Details for calculating average full-time-equivalent employees (FTEs) are available in the application, including options for determining the appropriate covered period. 
  • There is a safe harbor for borrowers that would not decrease forgiveness for full time equivalent employees (FTE) and salaries/wages that were reduced between February 15, 2020 and April 26, 2020, but restored by June 30, 2020. 
  • The application includes documentation requirements that borrowers must submit with the forgiveness application.
  • The SBA requires that borrowers retain records for six years following forgiveness or full loan repayment.
  • Because policy discussions about PPP and the loan forgiveness criteria are ongoing, retroactive changes by Congress or the Administration are possible. Therefore, it may be advantageous to use the repayment deferral and apply for forgiveness at a later date. Veterinarians should review the forgiveness application and consult with appropriate advisors regarding loan forgiveness.

Additional Resources

Employee Retention Tax Credit

The CARES Act includes an Employee Retention Tax Credit, a fully refundable tax credit for employers equal to 50 percent of qualified wages (including allocable qualified health plan expenses) that eligible employers pay their employees. It applies to qualified wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021. The maximum amount of qualified wages taken into account with respect to each employee for all calendar quarters is $10,000, so that the maximum credit for an eligible employer for qualified wages paid to any employee is $5,000. The tax credit is available to small businesses who do not participate in the Paycheck Protection Program, and businesses of all sizes who had to fully or partially suspend operations at the direction of the government due to the COVID-19 outbreak or have gross receipts that are 50% less than the same quarter the previous year, until they reach 80% of their gross receipts. This is a refundable payroll tax credit, and the IRS will provide employers with methods to request advance refunds to get the money back faster.

Unemployment

The Oregon Employment Department is working with partner agencies nationwide and the U.S. Department of Labor to ask for additional unemployment benefits options related to COVID-19. If you must conduct layoffs or close your business temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your employees can file for unemployment.

Related to layoffs and employee unemployment claims, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the CARES Act and its Paycheck Protection Plan. Indeed, as Joe Carlisle of Buckley Law PC explains, the guidance from the Small Business Administration and Treasury Department continues to evolve. Under the PPP, certain CARES Act loan proceeds may be eligible for forgiveness, but the amount of forgiveness is dependent, in part, on employers retaining or rehiring employees. However, because the Federal Government provided an additional $600 in unemployment benefits, some employers found that former employees declined rehire offers because the employee was receiving more in unemployment. As a result, employers who received CARES Act loans risked not being able to receive full loan forgiveness. The SBA and Treasury, however, recently clarified that employers who document efforts to rehire will not be penalized in terms of loan forgiveness. The SBA and Treasury also warned employees that they might risk their unemployment benefits if they refuse rehire. So, a word to the wise: if you are an employee and refuse rehire, you could risk losing your unemployment.

Furloughed Employees

Joe Carslile of Buckley Law PC urges employers to be mindful of a ticking clock when it comes to furloughed employees. Under Oregon law, employers have a limited amount of time following an employee’s termination to provide the employee with a final paycheck. In addressing an issue related to a local fast-food restaurant chain, BOLI stated its position that when a furloughed employee has not worked for 35 days, BOLI considers the employment to have been terminated for purposes of an employer’s obligations to provide a final paycheck. Even if those employees received payment for all time worked prior to furlough, the employer may not have paid the employee for their accrued paid time off believing that they could be brought back to work in the near future. 

Under BOLI’s position, if the employer has a policy by which it pays employees for accrued paid time off upon termination, an employee who has been furloughed and not worked for 35 days is entitled to payment of their accrued paid time off.  Further, BOLI’s position appears to be that the payment must be made within 24 hours of the 35th day of furlough. The penalty alone for not paying the employee could be as much as 8 times the employee’s regular daily wages for a 30-day period. However, an employer can limit the penalty to an amount equal to what is owed if the employer makes payment before or within 12 days of receiving a demand for payment from the employee. Obviously, this may come as a surprise to employers, especially those who were trying to do the right thing for their employees. Depending on your circumstances, it may be best to pay any eligible accrued paid time off upon the 36th day of furlough or as soon after the 36th day as possible to avoid or limit potential penalties.

Disease Response Business Planning Information

Visit the CDC’s COVID-19 Business Response Web site for additional detailed information about COVID-19 planning considerations and information on how your clinic can develop an infectious disease outbreak plan to help guide your team as you seek to protect human health as well as to provide veterinary services to the community during this public health crisis.

Employee Health & Workplace Safety

Wellness

Personal Protection

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60%-95% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid contact with sick people and stay home if you're sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
  • Outside of your home and in public, stay at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Follow workplace physical distancing requirements.
  • Follow all public health or government requirements to avoid gatherings of multiple people.
  • Follow stay at home/shelter in place orders.
  • Stay home from work if you have symptoms of acute respiratory illness until you are free of fever (<100.4° F using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (such as cough suppressants), or until a physician or public health official clears you.

Workplace Risk Reduction

  • Ask employees and clients to adhere to the personal protection steps above.
  • As the most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough, employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness should be advised to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (<100.4° F using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (such as cough suppressants).
  • CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately.
  • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance, Oregon law and new national legislation.
  • Share your plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
  • Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained.
  • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
  • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
  • Provide disposable antiseptic wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, telephones, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
  • Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
  • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Updated: 2020-05-22 07:00:00

Author: Oregon Veterinary Medical Association