The Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have released new advice for employers on how to navigate the serious employment issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The updated EEOC guidance addresses matters such as screening employees entering the workplace and pandemic-related workplace harassment. The DOL’s latest updates include Enforcement Guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as to recording cases of COVID-19 as an occupational illness, as well as federal guidelines for programs meant to supplement existing unemployment benefits.
The high points of these publications are summarized below.
EEOC Updated Guidance
DOL Memo on Reporting Cases of COVID-19
Under OSHA’s recordkeeping requirements, COVID-19 is a recordable illness. Employers are responsible for recording individual cases if (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19, (2) the case is work-related (as defined by 29 C.F.R. § 1904.5) and (3) the case involved one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 C.F.R. § 1904.7.
Because the extent of transmission is a rapidly evolving issue, certain employers may have difficulty determining whether workers who contracted COVID-19 did so due to workplace exposure. In light of those difficulties, employers outside the health care industry, emergency response organizations and correctional institutions do not need to make work-relatedness determinations in cases of COVID-19 unless (1) there is objective evidence that a COVID-19 case may be work-related and (2) the evidence was reasonably available to the employer. This guidance (i.e., the suspension of work-relatedness determinations) is time-limited to the current public health crisis.
DOL Memo on Pandemic-Related Unemployment Compensation Programs
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) includes the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) Program, which allows states to provide up to 13 weeks of federally funded benefits to qualified individuals. An employee is qualified if he or she:
The guidance requires states to be flexible on the “actively seeking work” requirement, considering COVID-19 impacts and constraints.
Also, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) allows states to administer an additional $600 weekly payment to certain eligible individuals who are receiving other benefits.
Finally, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) assists individuals who do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation and are unable to continue working as a result of the coronavirus, including self-employed workers, independent contractors and gig workers.
Please contact Candice Rucker or Phelps’ Labor and Employment team if you have any questions or need compliance advice and guidance. For more information related to COVID-19, please also see Phelps’s COVID-19: Client Resource Portal.