As the U.S. tightens restrictions regarding the spread of COVID-19 many business, especially small to medium size businesses, are struggling with how to manage the current restrictions with their employees and customers. We at Paterra Law are working with businesses to help answer those questions for our clients. With that in mind, we are answering some of the most frequently asked questions:
Q1. What should I be doing to protect my business and employees?
Keep informed of the facts and recommended practices as advised by the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Coronavirus Task Force as well as your State and Local Government. Remember, you State and Local restrictions may be more stringent than federal restrictions, so you must keep apprised of them. Reach out to local experts to discuss how to best protect your business and employees.
Q2. Can I implement telecommuting or staggered shifts?
Yes. As health authorities recommend social distancing, we are recommending employers implement telecommuting and staggered shifts, to increase the physical distance between employees and between employees and others. For employees who have reported symptoms, we are encouraging employers to allow those employees work from home instead of coming into the workplace until symptoms are completely resolved and the required quarantine time period has elapsed. Ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.
Q3. Do I have to pay employees who are not working?
Generally under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the answer is “no.” FLSA minimum-wage and overtime requirements attach to hours worked in a workweek, so employees who are not working are typically not entitled to the wages the FLSA requires.
One exception relates to employees treated as exempt employees whose exempt status requires that they be paid on a salary basis. Generally, if such an employee performs some work in the employee’s designated seven-day workweek, the employer is required to pay the entire salary for that particular workweek.
Please beware that this answer does not take into account any public relations aspects that may harm a client for not paying employees while they are on leave. Consider the challenges a social media campaign for not paying employees can cause your business.
Q4. What happens to my employees if I have to shut down for a few weeks?
If you inevitably have to shut down your business, South Carolina has some protections in place for your employees. The first is that your employees can file for unemployment benefits, which will pay them while we get through this process. Additionally, the South Carolina State legislature and the U.S. legislature are implementing added protections for businesses as of this writing.
Q5. When will this all end and can I survive?
The simple answer is we can’t predict when it will end but yes, it will end, and we will survive it. Additionally, many business will ultimately be smarter for it in the end as we will have learned that some of the process we have put in place during this crisis make our businesses stronger.