Under the new CARES Act signed into law on Friday, March 28, 2020 unemployment benefits were expanded to provide assistance for more workers than are usually eligible for unemployment benefits (this includes self-employed people and part-time workers). In addition to state benefits, the Act also provides workers an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits.
In addition to the new federal law, some states have made changes in their unemployment insurance systems to help workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic as well. In North Carolina, Governor Cooper issued an executive order that makes it easier for workers displaced as a result of the COVID- 19 pandemic to receive unemployment insurance benefits. The changes waive several of the normal qualification standards for such benefits and should make it easier for temporarily displaced employees to qualify.
Specifically, the governor's order provides for the following:
Kristin Whalen, Attorney (NC)
In response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it is adopting a measure to assist applicants and petitioners who are responding to requests for evidence (RFEs) and notices of intent to deny (NOIDs) dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020.
For applicants and petitioners who receive an RFE or NOID dated between March 1 and May 1, 2020, any responses submitted within 60 calendar days after the response deadline set forth in the RFE or NOID will be considered by USCIS before any action is taken.
USCIS is adopting several measures to protect our workforce and community, and to minimize the immigration consequences for those seeking immigration benefits during this time.
USCIS will provide further updates as the situation develops and will continue to follow CDC guidance. Education and precautions are the strongest tools against COVID-19 infection. Please visit uscis.gov/coronavirus for latest facts and other USCIS updates.
The CARES Act has officially passed in the Senate and a vote is expected in the House on Friday, March 27th. If the Bill is signed into law as expected, $350 billion will be dedicated to preventing layoffs and business closures while workers stay home during the outbreak. Companies with 500 employees or fewer that maintain their payroll during coronavirus can receive up to 8 weeks of cash-flow assistance. If employers maintain payroll, the portion of the loans used to cover payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent, and utilities would be forgiven.
The CARES Act program covers businesses with 500 or fewer employees, unless the covered industry’s SBA size standard allows more than 500 employees. To identify the size standards for your industry, use the SBA’s Size Standards Tool (https://www.sba.gov/size-standards/).
The size standards are tested on an affiliate basis—aggregating the number of employees for all entities under common control—towards the size test. Affiliates of the applicant may include parent companies, subsidiaries, and any other related party with at least 50% ownership or contractual control.
In addition to meeting the numerical standards, your business must:
• Be a for-profit business of any legal structure
• Be independently owned and operated
• Not be nationally dominant in its field
• Be physically located and operate in the U.S. or its territories.
Clients are encouraged to contact BridgehouseLaw for guidance in determining whether their businesses may be eligible for assistance.
Madeline Person, Attorney (NC), BridgehouseLaw LLP | photo wikipedia
COVID-19 “CARES Act” bipartisan stimulus package being finalized in Congress will help small businesses
In the early morning on March 25, 2020, the White House and Senate finally reached an agreement on a $2 trillion package to respond to the current economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Though a deal has been struck on the key points of the Bill, many details are still being finalized. However, a few assumptions are possible based on the drafts being circulated during these final deliberations. Until the Bill is passed by both Senate and House, and signed by the President, it is subject to change.
The CARES Act includes direct economic relief for individuals through “recovery checks” based on past income earned and taxes paid.
The Business Relief allows a deferral of the employer’s share (6.2%) of the Social Security or Self-Employment tax. This can be paid over two years. In addition, some net operating losses from 2018, 2019, or 2020 will be eligible for a five-year carryback.
For many small businesses, the interruption loans and loan forgiveness through the SBA § 7(a) loan program may be the most relevant. If a company employs fewer than 500 employees, it may be eligible to receive an SBA loan amounting to a maximum of 2.5 months of payroll and related costs.
These “related costs” are expected to include salaries, health insurance, retirement contributions, mortgage payments, rent, utilities, and other debt obligations.
As long as the loan is used for payroll and related costs as defined in the final Bill, many companies will be eligible for loan forgiveness.
BridgehouseLaw will continue to update you with the latest developments in Congress.
Reinhard von Hennigs, Attorney (NC), Madeline Person, Attorney (NC), BridgehouseLaw LLP | photo aarp
Effective Thursday, March 26th at 8:00 am, non-essential businesses located in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina must discontinue operations, with the exception of work that can be completed remotely at employees’ residences. The Stay at Home Order will remain in effect for twenty-one days, or until April 16th.
Which businesses are exempt from this order? Which businesses qualify as “Essential”?
There are many businesses and operations essential to maintaining public health and safety. Accordingly, some of the most important exemptions from the order include:
• Healthcare, public health, law enforcement, public safety, and first responders
• Food and beverage manufacturing, production, and cultivation including agriculture
• Grocery and medicine retail
In addition, there are many specific exceptions that might qualify a business as “Essential.” For example, under § 20 of “Essential Businesses and Operations,” a business involved in the manufacture, distribution, and supply chain for critical products and industries qualifies as an essential business.
Specifically, “manufacturing companies, distributors, and supply chain companies producing and supplying essential products and services in and for industries such as pharmaceutical, technology, biotechnology, healthcare, chemicals and sanitization, waste pickup and disposal, agriculture, food and beverage, transportation, energy, steel and steel products, petroleum and fuel, mining, construction, national defense, communications, as well as products used by other Essential Businesses and Operations.”
Please contact us if you need guidance in determining whether or not your business qualifies as an Essential Business under one of the many exceptions.
Even if a business does not qualify as Essential, the Order permits non-essential businesses to continue Minimum Basic Operations. Minimum Basic Operations include the minimum necessary activities to:
Essential Businesses and businesses continuing Minimum Basic Operations must always comply with Social Distancing Requirements, where possible:
In the event that your business qualifies as essential under one of the exceptions, we recommend that your staff be equipped with a letter stating the specific justification for the business qualifying as essential under the Order. BridgehouseLaw can assist in drafting such a Letter.
For Further Reference:
Mecklenburg County ‘Stay at Home’ Order: https://www.mecknc.gov/news/Documents/Mecklenburg%20County%20Stay%20at%20Home%20Orders.pdf
Mecklenburg County’s Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the Order:
USCIS has suspended its operations until at least April 1st – including premium processing of all I-129 and I-140 petitions. Scheduled appointments and interviews are postponed and notice from USCIS should be received confirming postponement. Similarly, the U.S. State Department (DOS) has suspended immigrant and nonimmigrant visa application appointments at all consular posts.
DOS has indicated that exceptions may exist for the purposes of obtaining a visa overseas but that the relevant, issuing embassy or consulate should be contacted directly.
Additionally, current visa holders subject to I-94 periods of admission may be able to request an extension of stay for up to 30 days if unable to depart the U.S. for COVID-19-related reasons. Specifically, this possible extension is currently available for those admitted through JFK International Airport or Newark Liberty International Airport.
Lastly, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has provided that “flexibility” will be granted in relation to I-9 compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that employers implementing restrictions on physical presence of employees will not be required to review the employee’s identity and employment authorization documents in the employee’s physical presence. However, Section 2 documents must be inspected remotely with three business days, and copies of such documents must still be obtained, inspected, and retained. “COVID-19” should be entered as the reason for delayed physical inspection in the Section 2 “Additional Information” field once physical inspection takes place after normal operations resume. Upon physical inspection, “documents physically examined” and the inspection date should be entered in the same field, or Section 3 as appropriate.
DHS’s guidance on I-9 compliance is valid for 60 days from March 20, 2020, or three business days after termination of the National Emergency, whichever is first. To use this option, employers must have written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee. Upon the return of normal business operations, employees onboarded using remote verification must report to the employer within three business days for in-person verification.
Further, and quite importantly, the above “flexibility” will only be afforded to those operating remotely. Where employees are physically present at work, no exceptions to I-9 compliance have been provided. However, if a business is closed, then the Form I-9 requirements are tolled because, it is not considered a “business day” for Form I-9 purposes. Again, the employer should note this on the Form I-9 and ideally in an attached memo if it would otherwise appear that the form was not timely completed.
Andrew Howe, Attorney (NC) BridgehouseLaw LLP
The current pandemic brought on by the COVID-19 virus has impacted supply chains; the ability to move around freely; and in some cases has shut down manufacturing entirely. Government actions including declaring states of emergency, closing borders and shelter in place orders may be the types of events that often fall within the parameters of Force Majeure clauses that can be dismissed as “boilerplate language” in most commercial contracts.
Force Majeure (pronounced fors ma-zehr) is defined as an event or effect that can be neither anticipated nor controlled. The term includes both acts of nature and acts of people. These types of provisions typically allocate the risk of loss if performance by the parties becomes impossible or impracticable.
Under the current circumstances it is recommended that companies review such provisions closely for any commercial contracts to which they are a party. They may also want to conduct a review of their standard Terms and Conditions to determine whether or not they adequately protect the company during these uncertain times. The force majeure event may trigger notice requirements and can determine what actions the other party may be permitted to take under an agreement. Depending on the type of agreement, some provisions allow for a party to terminate a contract in the event that performance is delayed or hindered for a specified amount of time. Contact BridgehouseLaw if you have questions about your commercial contracts or how your Company may be impacted by Force Majeure events.
Kristin Whalen, Attorney (NC), BridgehouseLaw LLP
The US immigration Service USCIS announced on March 20, 2020 that, due to the ongoing COVID-19 National Emergency announced by President Trump on March 13, 2020, they will accept all benefit forms and documents with reproduced original signatures.
These Employment Issues come from frequent questions we get every day from our clients. Here is a quick answer. Feel free to send me your question via pn.
1. Is it legal to ask an employee to work from home or leave work if they show signs of infection?
An employer can ask an employee to seek medical attention and get tested if they present with symptoms for COVID-19. Similarly, an employer may require an employee to go home if the employee displays COVID-19 symptoms.
2. What should an employer do if an employee tests positive of COVID-19?
Ask the employee that tested positive to identify any individuals who worked in proximity (three to six feet) of them in the past 14 days.
Further, send any employee who may have come in contact with the infected employee home for 14 days to stem any spread of the virus. Do not identify by name the infected employee because you could risk violating confidentiality laws.
Suspected but unconfirmed COVID-19 cases should be treated in the same way – as a “confirmed” case when evaluating which employees should be sent home, but also communicate with those employees that they may have been exposed to an employee showing symptoms that suggest a COVID-19 diagnosis.
3. What should an employer do if an employee, after interacting with clients, customers, and vendors, tests positive for COVID-19?
An employer should follow the recommendation presented in #2. Further, the employer should communicate with clients, customers, and vendors that came into close contact with the employee, informing them of a suspected case.
4. Does an employer have a duty to report suspected or confirmed cases of an COVID-19 among its employees?
No, an employer does not have any obligation to report a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19—as the healthcare provider diagnosing the positive test is a mandatory reporter to the CDC.
5. Can an employee refuse to come to work out fear of being infected with COVID-19?
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employees are only allowed to refuse to work if they believe they are in imminent danger. Imminent danger includes any conditions or practices on the job where a danger exists and can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated. Employees are generally protected against discipline or discharge for engaging in such activity.
Kristin Whalen, Attorney (NC) & Almeric Thomas, Law Clerk, BridgehouseLaw LLP
Die GABA dankt BridgehouseLaw LLP für diese Beiträge in dieser Rubrik