Guidance for Employers to Address Coronavirus in the Workplace

Brooke T. Iley, Jason E. Reisman, Susan L. Bickley, Anthony B. Haller, Mara B. Levin, and Taylor C. Morosco

COVID-19 (commonly referred to as the “coronavirus”), a respiratory illness that was first diagnosed in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, has hit the United States. The World Health Organization (“WHO”) has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern and the virus is being classified as an epidemic. With the spread of the virus, employers face a series of constantly evolving questions regarding their competing legal obligations to provide a safe workplace, while protecting the privacy rights of their employees, and without violating anti-discrimination laws.

WHAT LAWS ARE POTENTIALLY IMPLICATED?

Before an employer responds to these challenges, they should be familiar with the laws implicated with an epidemic like the coronavirus:

Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”)

OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to maintain a safe workplace for all workers and to distribute information and training about workplace hazards. It also bars employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights to safe workplaces.

The situation is constantly evolving. Employers must monitor the developments about the ongoing outbreak and assess government notifications to formulate appropriate workplace responses and preventative measures.

Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)

The ADA protects employees from discrimination based on their disability, record of a disability, or perceived disability. “Disability” has a broad definition, which could cover the coronavirus. This means that those who have or are suspected of having the coronavirus could be covered by the ADA, depending on its impact on the employee, or, for instance, if an employee is perceived to be disabled. Employers must be sensitive to the risk of discrimination under the ADA. The ADA also requires employers to keep employee medical information and records confidential and in a separate folder from the employee’s personnel file.

Employers must balance these competing legal requirements as they adjust business practices to address coronavirus concerns. Employers should act to protect their workforce, with an eye toward discrimination laws, all the while maintaining tact and sensitivity towards those who have or may be suspected of having contracted the virus. This is not a science and often involves a case-by-case determination.

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Some Highlights from the Recently Enacted SECURE Act, Part 4

Daniel L. Morgan

The final installment of this blog series discussing changes made by the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2020 (“the SECURE Act”) focuses on modifications to the required minimum distributions rules (“RMDs”).

Two of the most widely reported changes made by the SECURE Act relate to the requirements in the Tax Code that require individuals to receive annual RMDs.

72 Is the New 70½

The tax law generally requires people to begin receiving distributions from employer retirement plans and individual retirement accounts (“IRAs”) by the April 1st following the year in which they reach age 70½.[1] Under the SECURE Act, effective for people who attain age 70½ after December 31, 2019, age 70½ is replaced with age 72. Continue reading “Some Highlights from the Recently Enacted SECURE Act, Part 4”

As We Predicted, Challenges to NY Reproductive Health Decision-Making Law Have Begun

Stephen E. Tisman

In a December 17, 2019, Blank Rome Workplace post, we described the law enacted in New York expanding “protected status” to cover employee decision-making regarding reproductive rights matters. (See blankromeworkplace.com/2019/12/17/new-york-expands-discrimination-protection-to-reproductive-health-decision-making/). We concluded with the prediction that:

The law will undoubtedly be challenged by an employer claiming that providing such coverage violates the employer’s religious beliefs (think Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission). The ultimate fate of this statute will be resolved under federal First Amendment law.

That challenge has begun. On January 31, 2020, a lawsuit was filed in federal district court seeking a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional and void, and for an injunction to bar enforcing it against the plaintiffs. Christopher T. Slattery, et al. v. Andrew M. Cuomo, et al., U.S.D.C., N.D.N.Y., Case No. 5:00-at-99999.

Stay tuned for developments.

Some Highlights from the Recently Enacted SECURE Act, Part 3

Daniel L. Morgan

This third installment of summaries of some of the key provisions of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2020 (“the SECURE Act”) discusses an extension of the date for adopting a new employer retirement plan.

Under prior law, an employer that wanted to deduct a contribution to a tax-qualified retirement plan for a tax year had to adopt the plan by the last day of the year, but had up until the due date of the tax return for the year, including extensions, to make the contribution.

Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2019, the SECURE Act allows an employer to adopt a tax-qualified retirement plan for a tax year up until the due date, including extensions, of the tax return for the year. Continue reading “Some Highlights from the Recently Enacted SECURE Act, Part 3”

Some Highlights from the Recently Enacted SECURE Act, Part 2

Daniel L. Morgan

In this second of a four-part series providing an overview of some key provisions of the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (“SECURE”) Act of 2019, I summarize the Act’s liberalization of the 401(k) plan nondiscrimination testing safe harbors and the Act’s effort to make it easier for employers to offer annuity payments as a distribution option under 401(k) plans. I also discuss why the changes made by the Act do not go nearly far enough to remove the legal and regulatory barriers that discourage 401(k) plans from offering annuity payments.

Easing of 401(k) Safe Harbor Requirements

An employer can avoid the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) nondiscrimination test applicable to elective contributions to a 401(k) plan by satisfying safe harbor requirements that include making a matching contribution or a matching contribution to the plan.

The SECURE Act increases employer flexibility in using these safe harbors, in several respects. Continue reading “Some Highlights from the Recently Enacted SECURE Act, Part 2”

Some Highlights from the Recently Enacted SECURE Act

Daniel L. Morgan

One of the spending bills signed by President Trump to avert a government shutdown late last year had attached to it the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019, or as it’s known by its acronym, the SECURE Act.

The SECURE Act, which passed the House on May 23, 2019, but languished in the Senate, has important implications for retirement savings.

In a series of four posts, I will provide an overview of a few of the more noteworthy features of the legislation. In this first post, I examine the creation of a new rule requiring 401(k) plans to cover long-term part-time workers. A subsequent post will discuss other changes impacting 401(k) plans, including liberalizations of the safe harbors that allow a 401(k) plan to bypass contribution nondiscrimination testing, and a provision that seeks to encourage the inclusion of annuity payments as a form of 401(k) plan distribution. Another will describe an extension of the time limit on adopting a new retirement plan, to make it effective for a tax year, and the fourth post will discuss the changes made by the Act to the required minimum distribution rules applicable to retirement plans and IRAs. Continue reading “Some Highlights from the Recently Enacted SECURE Act”