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As the current COVID pandemic lockdown continues to affect not only our everyday lives, but US businesses, many employers are faced with the tough decisions regarding temporary or permanent layoffs....
...or significant cuts to employee hours, if they haven’t done so already. Considering the unprecedented situation caused by the Coronavirus, employers and employees alike have been scrambling to adjust and stay on top of all the new developments as they come to light. However, with so much information floating around in the news and on the internet, it can be difficult to sift through it all and determine what is accurate and what is not. It is no different when it comes to labor laws and employee benefits. Which is why we are here to help. We previously touched on the state of COBRA during this COVID pandemic in a previous post, but here we’ll give an update on some of the developments that have happened since the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was pushed through.
Paid Sick Leave
In addition to the CARES Act, the US government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which also incudes the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act. The FFCRA was enacted, among other things, to provide funding for free coronavirus testing, increase funding for food stamps, and it requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. For companies with 500 or fewer employees, the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provides paid emergency family leave in limited circumstances, as well as paid sick leave for people affected by COVID-19. Those emergency expansion acts went into effect April 1, 2020 and will cover eligible leaves up until December 31, 2020.
The DOL release an in-depth FAQ on the laid leave acts that can be viewed HERE.
Payroll Protection Program
As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the pandemic and economic downturn. The program is intended to provide small businesses with forgivable loans to keep workers employed during the COVID crisis. Known as the Paycheck Protection Program, the initiative provides 100% federally guaranteed loans to small businesses. Businesses that are eligible for the program include:
COBRA Continuation Coverage
As previously mentioned, we have already posted about how COBRA continuation coverage and the administration of COBRA has been affected during this COVID pandemic – with the short answer then being that there haven’t been any changes. That is still the case as of the posting of this article. That being said, with companies having to deal with employment decisions that they most likely weren’t planning on, there can be some confusion or uncertainty when it comes to COBRA qualifying events. For example, lay-offs and furloughs aren’t technically terminations, so are they COBRA qualifying events? The simple answer - similar to a reduction of hours qualifying event - is that if there is a loss of coverage, then it’s a COBRA qualifying event. If companies plan on keeping their furloughed employees on their health plans, however, it is advised that they first discuss the matter with their insurance carriers or stop loss providers as their plan’s eligibility requirements might not allow for coverage for employees who are not working. Companies can of course subsidize their COBRA participant’s COBRA premiums, either fully or partially, much like a severance agreement. With that though, it’s important to make sure any such agreements aren’t considered discriminatory under the Internal Revenue Code.
There are few changes on a federal level to extend grace periods of COBRA payments, which was released by the U.S. Department of Labor – EBSA Division and the IRS last week. See that announcement here and watch for upcoming posts as we’ll continue to keep updates coming your way.
Whether the government eventually makes temporary changes to the COBRA law or they leave it status quo, CobraHelp will continue to stay on top of any new developments coming from Washington and we will be sure to update our clients and partners accordingly.
Learn more about the new laws impacting national employee benefits administration here