PCS has been reluctant to comment on the current COVID-19 situation due to the constantly changing nature of this national issue. In this short statement, amid the combination of truth and paranoia we are all facing, we wish to provide some clarity on a few confusing and very fluid issues.
- The March 17 CDC release did not mandate closure of your offices. The recommendation was a reallocation of your time away from routine care and toward medically necessary care. Each of you has to decide what that means for your practice, patients and employees. If that changes, we are certain all providers will be duly informed.
- You should have already implemented increased sanitary precautions in your office. PCS recently expanded the section on Exposure Control in your Hazard Manual dealing with common sense approach to the current crisis. PCS clients should have received notification to that effect.
- Now is a great time to check your general liability and business operations insurance policies to see if you have protection against economic downturns. Many policies have assistance for operations and payroll continuance in such situations.
- Be wary of statements abounding regarding employee obligations.
- To date, Congress has passed no law requiring you to pay your employees their regular wages despite any slow down in business. HT6021, just passed by the Senate and expected to be signed by President Trump, addressed benefits for confirmed victims of COVID-19 infection or their families, not the general public. There are additional allowances for up to 14 days paid sick leave for employees who have their child’s school closed or employer closes (key term closes) their business. There are waiver opportunities for this benefit for employers with under 50 employees.
- Continuance of payment to employees in a voluntary or involuntary economic turndown is governed by individual State law. Like PCS, we are sure you want to help your employees in every way possible. In most states, there are no requirements for paying employees their regular wages or maintain their regular hours if the business cannot support that decision. How you deal with this situation is a complex but usually individual decision.
- Payment of sick time, vacation time and PTO are also generally governed by State law or by the policies you have established in your employee manual. It is rare for mandate to exist requiring payment of anything more than accrued benefits, and certainly not future benefits, despite webinar and/or blog statements to the contrary.
- It is true that if you lay off or significantly reduce an employee’s hours they are likely eligible for unemployment benefits. It would seem doubtful that is a benefit anyone would want to challenge. HR 6021 allows for $1 billion to increase operation and benefit funds at the State unemployment level.
HR benefits are complex. If you have any doubt about the legality or advisability of this issue, contact PCS or consult with a reputable health care attorney.
Above all, we encourage everyone to keep a level head. Protect yourself, protect your family and protect your patients. Be kind, understanding and respectful of each other’s right to opinion and action.
Joe W. DeLoach, OD, FAAO, Dipl.ABO
CEO, Practice Compliance Solutions