COVID-19 has affected nearly every person’s personal and professional life. March 2021 marks one year since the first “lockdown” occurred throughout the United States. Since then, many people’s work environments have been affected. Although the pandemic is not new news, it is still important to stay up to date on the current ways the pandemic is affecting the work environment.
What initial changes have expired?
When COVID-19 started to heavily affect the United States, there were multiple laws put in place to help employees and employers navigate the difficult times they were facing.
In March 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law. Under this law, employees of covered employers were eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave at their regular rate of pay when the person was subject to quarantine. There was also two weeks of paid sick leave for employees unable to work due to taking care of someone in quarantine or to care for a child that was unable to go to daycare or school. The FFCRA also provided up to an addition 10 weeks of expanded FMLA. However, this law expired on December 31, 2020.
When the FFCRA expired, it was no longer mandatory that employers needed to provide paid sick leave or expanded FMLA. The Consolidated Appropriations Acts (2021) instead states that employers that voluntarily provide paid leave as though the FFCRA is still in place will continue to receive full reimbursement from the federal government through tax credits or refunds. This law expires on March 31, 2021.
What other employment laws were affected by COVID-19?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency in charge protecting against workplace discrimination. Due to COVID-19, the EEOC has expanded on some aspects of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act. EEO Laws, like ADA and Rehabilitation Act, are still in effect during the pandemic. They do not interfere with the guidelines set forth by CDC and state and federal officials.
Under FMLA, a person may be entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid job protection while they take off for a medical or family reason. According to the Department of Labor, FMLA may include serious health complications due to things such as the “flu.” It is also stated that simply quarantining to avoid exposure to COVID-19 would not be covered under FMLA.
There are also many items employers need to follow under the Fair Labor Standards Act when trying to navigate through hard times due to COVID-19. Employers need to continue to comply with these established employment laws and continue to navigate through the guidelines set by the local, state, and federal governments.
COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus Packages:
Over the last year, we have seen three stimulus packages get passed. These three packages have had various differences between them that affect individuals and businesses. These stimulus bills have affected the work environment, including items like unemployment benefits and business loans and grants. Below are a few main items from each stimulus package that could affect both individuals and businesses.
First Stimulus Package:
The first stimulus package was passed in March 2020. This is a brief overview of some main items from within the bill and is not meant to be all encompassing.
- Stimulus check: $1,200 to individuals earning less than $75,000 and $500 per child under the age of 16.
- Unemployment: $600 per week boost. Added 13 weeks of unemployment insurance
- Freelancers: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program helped until December 2020 for those who lost work as result of pandemic
- Grants: There was up to a $10,000 grant to provide emergency funds for small businesses
- Loans: Small Business Administration could provide loans of up to $10 million per business
- Relief for loans: There was $17 billion to cover six months of payments for small businesses that were already using SBA loans
- Airlines: There was $58 billion allocated to airlines to help them stay open
- Stock buyback ban: Any company receiving a loan under this program cannot make stock buyback for the term of their loan plus one year
- Reporting: Companies that used assistance by government must publicly disclose this.
- Tax credit: Businesses that are closed or distressed can get fully refundable tax credit to keep workers on the payroll. The credit covers 50% of payroll on the first $10,000 of compensation, including health benefits for each employee
Second Stimulus Package:
The second stimulus package was passed in December 2020. This is a brief overview of some main items from the bill and is not meant to be all encompassing.
- Stimulus check: $600 to individuals earning less than $75,000 and $600 per child under 16 years old.
- Unemployment: Revived enhanced federal jobless benefits for 11 weeks until March 14, 2021. $300 per week boost.
- Broadband Infrastructure: $7 million for expanding high-speed internet and would help cover internet bills by providing $50 per month to low-income families
- Paycheck Protection Program: Caps at $2 million loans. These loans are only available to businesses with fewer than 300 employees that have experienced at least a 25% drop in sales. $12 billion was also set aside for minority owned businesses. Publicly traded companies were ineligible.
Third Stimulus Package:
In March 2021, a third stimulus package was passed. Again, this is a brief overview of some main items from the bill. This is not meant to be all encompassing.
- Stimulus check: $1,400 for an individual making under $75,000 and $1,400 per dependent—including adult dependents.
- Unemployment: $300 a week boost extended until September 6, 2021. The first $10,200 of jobless benefits accrued in 2020 would be non-taxable for households earning less that $150,000. Additionally, 100% subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums to ensure that laid-off workers can remain on employer health plans at no cost through end of September
- Tax Credits: Continue to provide tax credits to employers who voluntarily choose to offer the benefit of paid family and sick leave
- Emergency Injury Disaster Loan program: $15 billion to provide long-term, low-interest loans from Small Business Administration.
- Restaurants/Bars: $25 billion for a new grant program for bars and restaurants, which eligible businesses may receive up to $10 million.
CDC Recommendations for Workers with COVID-19
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still provides guidelines for how to go about handling cases of COVID-19. States or businesses may take into account guidelines set by the CDC.
If an individual must isolate themselves due to testing positive for COVID-19, they can return to work:
- At least 10 days from the date their first symptom appeared
- At least 24 hours with no fever without taking any fever reducing medicines
- Their symptoms have improved
All three requirements must be met. If an individual has had no symptoms associated with COVID-19, they can return to work after 10 days from their test date.
CDC has also recently released guidance on how to handle fully vaccinated individuals. After an individual has been fully vaccinated for 2 weeks, they can:
- Gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without masks.
- Gather indoors with unvaccinated individuals from one household unless any of those individuals have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
- If the fully vaccinated individual has been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, they do not need to quarantine or get tested unless they develop symptoms.
If you’d like further guidelines released by the CDC, visit
Resources for Businesses & Employers: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html
COVID-19 and the Future
Although COVID-19 has been around for over a year, there are still many unknowns. Most importantly, it is unknown exactly when this pandemic will end. It is important for both individuals and businesses to stay on top of the newest recommendations and guidelines set forth by local, state, and federal governments. If you have any questions on how COVID-19 continues to affect you as an employer or employee, speaking with a business and employment lawyer may provide clarity.