On June 8, 2020, Phase 1 businesses, including agriculture, construction, manufacturing, retail, and wholesale trade, are permitted to reopen in NYC. The NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) has outlined the relevant sick leave laws for both employers and employees returning to work during this time. The City also offers various resources for those impacted by COVID-19: free COVID-19 testing, a COVID-19 Hotel Program for those who cannot isolate at home, free or low-cost health care, and NYC Well, a confidential 24/7 helpline.
The Department of Health has also released NY Forward Safety Plan Templates for businesses that are re-opening. The templates are available in English, Chinese, Korean, and Bengali.
The Department of Health recommends that employers conduct daily employee health screenings; provide workers with free face coverings; maintain hand hygiene stations; regularly clean shared equipment and frequently touched surfaces; and post signs and markers to show people where to stand.
On May 27, 2020, the Labor & Employment Law Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) co-sponsored an event with Littler and Alston & Bird–Silver-level sponsors of AABANY–addressing safety guidelines for returning to work during the pandemic. The presentation highlighted a variety of topics including re-opening guidelines for different industries, Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and various sick leave laws.
The webinar featured panelists Yoojin Deniro, Co-Chair of the Labor & Employment Committee of AABANY and Counsel at Advance Publications Inc., and William Ng, a Shareholder at Littler and founding Co-Chair of the Labor & Employment Law Committee. The event was moderated by William Lee, an Associate at Alston & Bird and AABANY member.
To begin, Yoojin Deniro explained that prior to re-opening, businesses must submit a Business Affirmation online and develop and post a Business Safety Plan, which must be retained on the premises and made available to the New York State Department of Health in the event of an inspection. The Business Safety Plan requires guidelines for physical distancing, protective measures (e.g.. providing face coverings to employees at no cost), hygiene and cleaning, communication, and health screenings.
Next, William Ng discussed how individuals and businesses can make the most of PPP loans. The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, which is still pending before the Senate, is a bipartisan effort to fix problems with the PPP. If passed, the Act will allow forgiveness for expenses beyond the eight-week covered period; eliminate restrictions limiting non-payroll expenses to 25% of loan proceeds; remove limitations that constrain loan terms to two years; ensure full access to payroll tax deferment for businesses that take PPP loans; and extend the rehiring deadline to offset the effect of enhanced unemployment insurance.
In order to maintain a safe place to work, the panelists recommended that employers safely conduct temperature checks, which are permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA) “direct threat” exemption. Temperature checks should be conducted by a trained and authorized individual with proper PPE, and symptomatic employees should be sent home in accordance with ADA confidentiality requirements. Employers are also urged to adopt other health screening protocols, including COVID-19 testing and creating health questionnaires. Moreover, employers must provide employees PPE at no cost, and offer necessary accommodations for employees with disabilities. Finally, individuals must continue to practice social distancing in the workplace and develop a comprehensive exposure control plan. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, any confirmed cases of COVID-19 or other illnesses and injuries must be recorded.
The panelists also reviewed various sick leave laws, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which provides Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Emergency Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefits for employees unable to work due to quarantine or isolation orders related to COVID-19. The FFCRA also offers exemptions for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. New York State has also instituted Paid Family Leave, which grants paid leave for employees who must provide care for a minor dependent subject to a quarantine order. New York City offers Paid Safe and Sick Leave for employers whose business closed due to a public health emergency or who must care for a child whose school or child care provider closed due to a public health emergency. Lawmakers are also in the process of passing statewide New York Paid Sick Leave, which will apply to all employers and vary depending on the size and net income of the employer. Furthermore, in accordance with the ADA, employees can leave or request remote work if they engage in “cooperative dialogue” with their healthcare provider. Employer-specific policies also include Paid Time Off (PTO), sick leave, and personal or unpaid leave.
We thank our colleagues at Alston & Bird and Littler for co-sponsoring and organizing this informative event with the Labor & Employment Law Committee of AABANY. We also thank the presenters, Yoojin Deniro and William Ng, and the moderator, William Lee, for their time. For more information on the Labor & Employment Law Committee, see https://www.aabany.org/page/398. If you are interested in volunteering with AABANY to assist with small businesses that have been adversely affected by COVID-19, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
To watch a recording of the presentation, see the video above.