Employers and employees are facing a range of new working conditions in the wake of COVID-19. We’ve compiled answers to a few common questions we’ve been hearing to provide some guidance on the current situation. If you have questions of your own, please reach out to our Employment Law attorneys.
Am I required to have employees work remotely?
At this point neither federal nor state Government is mandating remote work. Governor Mills ordered all restaurants and bars in Maine to close to dine-in customers and prohibited social gatherings of more than 10 people.
Employers that have (1) employees who have returned from China and/or Italy in the past 14 days; or (2) had close contact with someone confirmed to have the virus or someone who is being evaluated for infection, should require these employees to work from home for 14 calendar days, the length of the suspected incubation and transmission period
Am I required to pay my employees under the FMLA or regulations if I close my office/business due to COVID-19?
In general, you are responsible for providing FML under the FMLA only if you have 50+ employees and the Maine FMLA if you have 15+ employees. There are other hourly and longevity requirements that make an employee eligible or not. Closure due to Covid-19 concerns does not require payment under the FMLA. While the federal government is debating enacting some laws that might change this, nothing is in effect yet. A person who is home with the virus (or other qualifying illness) or caring for a family member with the virus (or other qualifying illness) may be eligible for FMLA/MFMLA depending on the other eligibility requirements being met. But closure of your office due to the virus will not necessitate paying everyone under the FMLA.
Will employees get unemployment if employers close a facility due to COVID-19?
Yes. Governor Mills did enact new laws that provide for employees to be eligible for unemployment when an employer closes a practice due to Covid-19, waiving some other requirements that might otherwise have applied. If an owner of a company pays her/himself wages like another employee and the business closes, the owner likely will qualify for unemployment. If she/he does not, she might still qualify in these uncertain times, but that remains unclear.
The State and Federal Government are working to make small business and other loans available to businesses during this difficult time. More information on that is available here.
Can employers reveal who has been infected with COVID-19 to help stop the spread?
No. Privacy laws still pertain. Employers can tell employees that an unnamed employee has been infected, but cannot reveal that person’s name. However, an individual is free to identify her/himself or give an employer permission to share that information.
Must employers who shut down a facility due to concerns about COVID-19 pay their hourly or salaried employees?
Employers are not required to pay employees if a facility is shut down. If workers are working remotely, they must still be paid for all hours worked. With limited exceptions, salaried employees must be paid their full salaries for any week in which they perform work. But they do not have to be paid for any workweek in which they perform no work.
Can an employer fire an employee who has complained on social media about the employer’s COVID-19 practices?
Employee complaints about their employer raise complicated issues under federal and state labor laws, which protect certain activity by employees regarding their working conditions. Such complaints also may raise issues under the anti-retaliation provisions of various employment laws. Employers and employees must carefully consider these rules and the particular circumstances of each case before taking action against an employee. We advise seeking employment counsel to work on such issues