Checking In and COVID-19 Updates for our Business Community
Wow, what a week, and it's only Tuesday! We have been overwhelmed with calls, questions, shock, and inspiration as we navigate this difficult time with all of you. The most consistent message we’re hearing is that businesses, employees, and partners all genuinely want to do the best for each other and to work through this no matter what it takes.
For your employees who remain at work - please thank them (from a reasonable distance), see what they need to feel supported, communicate all foreseeable changes, and check-in with them regularly.
We want to talk about some broad concepts if you’re considering temporary layoffs and other ways of managing your workforce (and payroll). We also want to recap some resources you can pass along to your employees as they may be losing hours and wages.
How to choose a temporary layoff strategy:
Before making these very difficult decisions, we recommend, as best as possible, de-personalizing your thoughts and sticking to business relatedness. We absolutely want to consider all of the humans that are being impacted, so we’ll get to resources later, but for now - this is to cover the business continuity and financial stability as best as possible. Have a discussion with the owners, the management team, whoever needs to be involved and document how you came to these decisions.
Before requiring reductions in hours, you may want to ask if any of your staff are interested in not working. Some employees are in more stable financial situations and may also have caregiving responsibilities. They may be glad to not have the obligation to go to work, so if anyone is in that situation, by all means, it’s a win-win! We recommend documenting the arrangement and preliminary duration so that if their financial situation changes, they’re considered as employable along with the rest of your staff.
You will need to consider hourly nonexempt and salary exempt obligations. For hourly employees it’s simple - they just need to be paid for hours worked. For exempt employees, in the case of COVID-19, they must be paid for weeks in which they conduct any work, so schedule those employees strategically.
Some employees can continue business as usual remotely, and that’s great! While you still have a chance, ask them and your IT providers and consultants what resources they need. Do they need office supplies, a reliable laptop or computer, internet access or increased firewalls and VPNs? Specific phone configurations or extension re-routing? Now is the time to get those things set up just in case you need them.
Other methods to start cutting payroll would be cutting everyone’s schedules proportionally. For example, all employees’ hours get cut by 20% or 30%. In this situation, your employees may likely be eligible for partial unemployment. Colorado calls this Work Share, and you can find more information about it here. You could make choices based on seniority, prioritize by regularly scheduled hours, or prioritize the employees that are cross-trained and can perform the most essential functions. Some employers are also using an A/B staffing model in which you bring half of your staff in on “Day A” and the other half in on “Day B.” Not only does this reduce your payroll, but it also assists in social distancing.
Wage Replacements for Employees:
The first and most obvious is Unemployment Insurance. Colorado’s information and application can be found here. This page has info if employees have questions about it. They can also get the process started by selecting "file a claim" Guidelines from Federal Governments have suggested that states decrease waiting periods for State Unemployment Insurance, but CO has not made any changes yet and ours continues to be 7 days. For employers, this is not an out of pocket expense, but individual claims and the SUI health of the state as a whole will impact rates going forward. In the grand scheme of things though, we need to do what we can to help individuals, and this is one of the most direct ways to do it.
Paid Time Off and Paid Sick:
If your business had these resources available already, employees should be able to use what hours are left and available to them. You could also consider allowing PTO and sick banks to go negative where you’re essentially paying employees for PTO they haven’t yet earned. The risk with this though is if your employees don’t return to your workplace and don’t earn back that PTO that they’ve already spent, you’re realistically not going to be able to recoup this cost. If you go this route, we recommend setting a limit on the amount of negative PTO an employee can use, and see if your payroll company can automatically limit it. Otherwise, you’ll have to keep a close eye on it. Colorado recently enacted a Paid Sick Leave bill which we’ll touch on in more detail below, but for now, there are no additional resources. However, there is a federal bill that is expected to pass later this week that will have additional requirements.
Other resources for employees and the community:
For families and employees who are food insecure AND for individuals who want to volunteer with Food Bank for Larimer County
United Way 2-1-1 (non-emergency) for confidential referrals to a wide variety of resources from mental health to utility and housing assistance.
As painful as it might be to tell your awesome employees this, you could send your employees to get other work. It’s rumored that grocery stores and other delivery services are hiring employees on the spot and still have plenty of openings to fill. It could be a temporary arrangement to get them through a temporary layoff and to help the businesses who are feeling the strain.
Recent and Upcoming Legislation:
Colorado Health Emergency Leave with Pay (HELP) Rules
The rules require four (4) days of paid sick leave for employees with flu-like symptoms who are being tested or quarantined for COVID-19. Covered industries include:
Leisure and Hospitality
Home Health if working with elderly, disabled, ill, or other high-risk individuals
Community Living Facilities
Federal COVID-19 Bill
This has already gone through a couple of iterations, but there are three general concepts:
Expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to provide job protection to employees. When we’ve made it through shut-downs and quarantines, this would require that employers provide an
employee’s previous role to them. Exceptions are certainly being considered including small employers, necessary reorganizations, etc.
Addition of Paid Sick Time on a federal level. At this time, it looks like there will be some exceptions or different rules for employers with less than 50 employees, but we’ll see what the final bill states.
Tax Credits or Reimbursements for businesses providing paid time off for employees.
Take Care of YOURSELF!
This is a crazy and unprecedented time in our history let alone our experiences in business ownership. After countless calls and emails, we absolutely believe that we’re all doing the very best that we can for all of our employees, businesses, and communities. We commend you for making these tough choices. Please don’t forget to get in a little self-care when you can. Read a good book, watch a movie, play a game with your family that you’re now forced to be extra close to, or listen to the quiet and still in our beautiful community. Your friendly neighborhood HR partners are also here to help if you want someone to talk things out with. We’ll keep you posted as best we can as things evolve. In the meantime, stay safe and well.