Dear valued clients,
As you are well aware, the emergence and spread of the novel coronavirus (and the COVID-19 disease it causes) has upended both our work worlds and our personal lives. While the scope of this emerging pandemic remains unknown, what is known is that we will all face new unknowns and new challenges in our offices and in our homes. Like you, the attorneys and staff at Lane & Waterman are learning how to adjust to this new normal. But we want you to know that the circumstances caused by this novel coronavirus has not affected our firm’s knowledge, expertise, and commitment to ensuring you the best legal services and advice available.
For our clients that run businesses and employ workers, it is important to remember that employees are still entitled to the state, federal and local labor and employment protections that existed prior to the onset of this pandemic. Some of these, such as state unemployment filings, have been temporarily modified to address the situation. However, clients should be aware that although some legal deadlines are currently being extended or modified, others are not. Missing deadlines may result in serious repercussions and permanent loss of rights. For example, the Patent and Trademark Office is not extending statutory deadlines at this time. Obviously, the realities presented by this pandemic will create new situations and new challenges under the law. As such, we encourage you to contact us if you find yourself facing new questions. We want to ensure that you are doing your best to comply with the law in a way that is both reasonable, practical, and helps your organization in the long run.
For more detailed advice, please visit our firm’s website at www.l-wlaw.com, where we have some guidance for a range of issues that could come up amid this pandemic. And of course, for a question that is specific to you or your business, we recommend you contact us at our office. With that being said, we have a few pieces of general advice for you to consider as we all try to weather these trying circumstances:
- Review and, if necessary, revise your policies for sick leave, paid time off, and remote work. Many employers are electing to relax certain requirements for sick leave, notice requirements for personal time off, or working from home. Such an action will not only let employees know their employer is receptive to their concerns, but it also ensures that sick employees will be able to get the help they need more easily while also reducing the risk of illness spreading at the work place.
- When faced with employment questions—whether for requests for time off or concerns about remote-work equipment—try to address each question with the current laws in mind. For example, an employee who has contracted the novel coronavirus is likely entitled to leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Related, employers cannot discriminate against employees for disabilities or perceived disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state and local civil rights protections.
- If you are considering layoffs or scaling down operations, you still might be required give some advance notice to the employees whose hours—and livelihoods—will be impacted. For employers of a certain size considering shutdowns or layoffs of a certain size, an advance notice must be given under both federal and state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) laws. While the sudden and unexpected nature of this pandemic could excuse some advanced notice, employers still need to take all practicable steps necessary to keep their employees apprised of what may occur. If you are considering such actions, we encourage you to contact us to help navigate the requirements of the applicable laws.
- Think ahead and troubleshoot business problems that could develop should these circumstances continue—or even worsen. For example, employers should proactively identify what suppliers of inventory or materials could be negatively impacted by work slowdowns or other delays related to this virus. Similarly, employers should review their contractual obligations and be on the lookout for transactions or obligations that might be delayed or excused under “Force Majeure” or “Impossibility of Performance” clauses. While not present in all contracts, such clauses are common and expressly provide outs for parties in the event of certain unexpected calamities—such as war or acts of terror. The rise of COVID-19 cases could be viewed as an event that triggers such a provision so businesses should keep apprised of where they are protected and where they are exposed.
And of course, employers should take steps to minimize the threats of spread of illness at the work place. Through basic cleanliness measures—like regular cleaning and disinfecting of common areas and commonly used surfaces; encouraging hand-washing and other good hygiene from staff—employers can lower the risk that the novel coronavirus will strike hard at the workplace. As an employer, you have an obligation to take reasonable measures to protect employees and customers alike. By taking steps to safeguard your business, as well as the health and safety of those you work with, you should be able to meet these difficult challenges head on. As always, our team at Lane & Waterman is available to help.
Lane & Waterman