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Opinion: COVID-19 impacts workplace policies, payroll tax

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President Donald Trump on Aug. 8 issued an executive order concerning deferring payroll tax in order to provide immediate assistance to those suffering financially due to COVID-19 issues. In addition, the Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently provided guidance regarding coronavirus and pregnancy, back-to-school matters, underlying medical conditions and banning employees from entering the workplace.

Deferring payroll tax
In Trump’s executive order, “Memorandum on Deferring Payroll Tax Obligations in Light of the Ongoing COVID-19 Disaster,” a company may defer employee “old age, survivors and disability” insurance payroll taxes from Sept. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020. The deferred taxes must be paid during the time period of Jan. 1, 2021, to April 30, 2021. Bear in mind, if an associate resigns or is on an unpaid leave of absence, the business is exposed to tax liabilities and remains responsible for paying the deferred taxes. The organization is permitted to establish a collection procedure, such as issuing a promissory note or maintaining a credit card on file.

Back-to-school issues
If a team member is unable to work or telework due to a bona fide need for leave to care for a child whose school is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, he may qualify for paid sick leave and/or unpaid family and medical leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. If the child’s school is open every day, but students alternate between in-person attendance and remote learning, the school is effectively closed to the child on the days they’re unable to attend in person. If the parent has FFCRA leave time available, they are eligible to take leave on the days when the child is remote learning. They must need the leave to actually care for a child during that time. Also, they must affirm that no other suitable person is available to do so. If the school gives a choice between having a child attend in person or remotely, and they sign up for the remote learning alternative, the child’s school is not considered closed. Therefore, the family is not eligible for FFCRA.

Guidance on medical conditions
The worker or their health care provider must alert the corporation that the laborer needs a reasonable accommodation for a reason related to a medical condition the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states may put them at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The enterprise may not initiate excluding them or taking any adverse action, even if genuinely concerned about their health.

The one exception is if the worker poses a direct threat to their health that is not eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. The firm must begin an interactive discussion with the staff member to determine if they are an individual with a disability and if there is a reasonable accommodation that can be provided without creating an undue hardship for the company. Accommodations for those who request reduced contact with others may include permitting telework, designing one-way aisles, using plexiglass or other barriers, moving the location of where the employee performs work and providing protective gear beyond what is already offered to all associates.

Ruling on pregnancy
Even if sincerely concerned about an individual, the business is not allowed to single out a pregnant woman for adverse employment actions, such as mandating telework. A pregnancy is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, if she makes a request for reasonable accommodation due to a pregnancy-related medical condition, the organization must begin the interactive discussion since the condition may be considered a disability.

Guidance on barring workers
A corporation is allowed to ask all laborers entering the workplace about any of the following regarding COVID-19: diagnosis, symptoms, testing, exposure, close contact and recent travel. An enterprise is permitted to perform temperature checks. A firm may prohibit staff members from entering the workplace due to temperature or answers to questions, based upon CDC guidelines. Under current circumstances, the ADA is allowing a company to ban employees from the workplace if they decline to have their temperatures taken or refuse to answer the questions.

Review existing forms, policies and procedures to ensure compliance with updates regarding the recent coronavirus-related payroll, FFCRA and ADA issues.

Lynne Haggerman holds a master of science in industrial organizational psychology and is president/owner of Lynne Haggerman & Associates LLC, a Springfield firm specializing in management training, retained search, outplacement and human resource consulting. She can be reached at lynne@lynnehaggerman.com.

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