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The coronavirus is having a tremendous effect on the labor and employment field. A growing number of companies are shifting their workforces to teleworking, some for the very first time. Employers must prepare to comply with new leave laws that have already been enacted or are likely to pass in the near future. And they must also ensure they are continuing to comply with all existing labor laws.
Dori Goldstein, a senior legal analyst at Bloomberg Law identified the major questions that labor and employment lawyers are facing as they navigate the fallout from the coronavirus. And for more, be sure to check out Bloomberg Law’s recent webinar, “Tackling Labor and Employment Challenges Due to Coronavirus.”
What’s new in sick leave laws and policies?
A new rule from the Labor Department, will implement the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Public Law 116-127). Generally, the regulation will require employers with fewer than 500 workers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to employees unable to work due to the virus. Those companies also must offer up to 10 weeks of partially paid leave under expanded Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage to care for a child whose school or daycare is closed from the pandemic.
States and other localities have also passed their own paid sick leave laws or policies, including Colorado, New York, and Los Angeles.
How are companies navigating the shift to a remote workforce?
To slow the spread of the virus, many companies have instructed employees to work from home. And as states have announced school closures, some extending through the end of this school year, employers are having to adjust or relax their telework rules to accommodate employees juggling caregiving and work.
Shifting to a largely remote workforce is raising some new concerns and potential legal issues for employers. For example, navigating how to monitor productivity without running the risk of lawsuits over handling more sensitive employee data.
Telework also raises the possibility of wage and hour battles, or conflicts related to overtime pay. “We live in a world where you can telework, but at the same time, employers need to be careful to have strict guidelines in place. This could lead to pitfalls for companies,” said Garrett Broshuis, an attorney in St. Louis with Korein Tillery, who represents workers.
The Labor Department recently offered new guidance regarding elements of wage and hour rules through 15 questions and answers that address a range of scenarios and concerns, including those related to teleworking.
Meanwhile, unions and management may be navigating new territory. Only about 3.9% of union contracts in the past five years mention “telecommuting,” “telework,” or “work from home,” according to an analysis of more than 4,300 documents in Bloomberg Law’s library of collective bargaining agreements.
[Sign up for our April 15 webinar: “Health Law and the Coronavirus: What Attorneys at the Front Line of the Pandemic Need to Know”]