New Offering from HR Jungle

While there is an overload of COVID-19 information out there, no one is telling you exactly how to make the employment changes needed, what those changes mean to you and your employees, and how to do it properly. This packet does that. 

HR Options for COVID-19

We have received a lot of calls from many of you with questions about what you can do and what effect it will have on employees… and your business. We wanted to provide a packet of information and documents that could help you with all of this, while saving you money!

You’ll have continuous access to this packet, which includes:

  • A detailed Summary of Employer Options regarding COVID-19;
  • Ready to use memos and other communication tools;
  • The forms you need to implement any employee changes;
  • And we’ll be updating information frequently.

Yes, we are charging for this but only $14.95 plus tax. We are still happy to help you in any way we can!

Saving on Payroll Costs

You have several options available to reduce your payroll costs but be sure to remain compliant while making changes. Make sure you provide employees something in writing when making changes and, when possible, provide at least a few days’ notice.

Reduction of Hours

  • Instead of continuing a full-time schedule, consider cutting back hours.

Reduction of Pay

  • As long as employees are paid at least minimum wage for time worked, you can cut the hourly rate of an employee with written notice.
  • When cutting hours or pay of a salaried exempt employee, first consider converting their salary to an hourly wage (annual salary / 2080 = hourly wage). This allows you to make changes without worrying about still meeting the state minimum salary. Once hourly, remember they must now complete a timecard and take meal/rest breaks.
  • If they remain salaried exempt, you must pay for the whole week if they work at all that week.
  • Provide as much notice as possible when reducing pay but, in extreme times, a couple of days may be sufficient.

Work Sharing

  • A common version is, if you have more than one person doing the same work, you might consider having two people share one job. Each person works half the day.
  • EDD is also calling work sharing as a program where you’ve reduced hours and the employee can collect unemployment based on the lost wages. However, there are very specific qualifications for this program so check them out before using this program:  https://www.edd.ca.gov/unemployment/Work_Sharing_Program.htm

Furlough

  • The company requires the employee take a specified unpaid amount of time off due to lack of work.
    • Employees remain your employees.
    • Employees are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits based on lost wages.
    • Employees may request to use any unused vacation/PTO time.
    • The Labor Commissioner MAY require you to pay out vacation/PTO for furloughs because it’s so similar to a layoff.
    • Sick time is not paid out.
    • Employees MAY be eligible to receive federal benefits if they qualify.

Layoff

  • The company terminates the employee but plans to hire them back when able.
    • Employees are no longer employed by the company.
    • Employees are eligible to apply for unemployment.
    • Employees must receive a final paycheck on the layoff date, including any unused vacation/PTO time.
    • Sick time is not paid out and the balance becomes available to them when the employee is rehired.

This is a good time to stay in contact with your laid off and furloughed employees so they know you care! This is also a good time to start making plans to rebuild a better, stronger, and more profitable business. We will eventually get past this current craziness and you want to be ready for it.

Answers to Questions

As events are being cancelled and bars, nightclubs, restaurants, gyms, etc. are being closed, everyone is worried about their employees and their business. We are getting a lot of questions on what employers could or should be doing during this national emergency. We’ve tried to provide a few answers for you here:

  • Your business interruption insurance won’t cover your losses during a pandemic.
  • Your workers’ compensation insurance won’t cover employees who have been exposed because it’s impossible to prove it was a work-related illness.
  • State disability insurance won’t be available to employees unless they have medical certification, which doesn’t appear to be easily available at this time. However, employees can apply if they are diagnosed and have a doctor’s note.
  • Employees cannot decide on their own to stay home from work as a precaution. They can only make that choice if they are truly in imminent danger. However, you can approve an unpaid leave of absence.
  • You may ask for a doctor’s note stating they should stay home and you can ask for a doctor’s note before letting them return to work if they’ve missed any work due to illness.
  • You may send employees home and use sick (if available) or unpaid time off if they come to work with any potential symptoms.
  • California requires you to pay for all time worked so start reducing hours BEFORE you don’t have enough money for payroll. Now is the time to look at how much your revenues may be affected by cancelled work or your inability to still do the work.
  • Salaried, exempt employees must continue to be paid at least the minimum salary allowed in California ($49,920 <25 employees; $54,080 >26 employees) and they will lose that exempt status if they don’t receive the full salary. Consider temporarily transitioning them to an hourly non-exempt role on a proactive basis.
  • Salaried, exempt employees must be paid for the full week if they do any work that week. Hourly non-exempt employees are only paid for time worked.
  • Reducing hours allows employees to stay employed and helps you save on payroll costs. Depending on how much they still make, employees may be eligible for unemployment for the lost income.
  • Furloughs are unpaid time off but the employees are still employed by you. You are basically shutting down the company or a division for a period of time. Employees will be eligible for unemployment.
  • Layoffs are when you terminate employees you hope to hire back when you can. Employees will be eligible for unemployment.
  • Sick time is not paid out when reducing hours, doing a furlough, or laying off employees. You keep track of any remaining balance and, if/when you rehire that employee, that balance is immediately available for the employee’s use upon rehire.
  • If employees are not working or are working fewer hours, don’t forget about any insurance premiums where the employee pays part of the premium. Have a plan on how you will get their share.

There is a federal law being passed soon that is focused only on companies with under 500 employees. It is meant to help smaller companies and their employees with the financial impact of this pandemic. Once it has passed, we’ll provide you the highlights. Meanwhile, keep any gatherings to fewer than 10 people and wash, wash, wash those hands!

Working Remotely

“I have employees who want to work from home. However, we’ve never done this before and I’m not sure how it works.”

Your HR Survival Tip

There has never been a higher demand for the ability to work from home as there is right now. But the demand was high even six months ago because technology continues to improve and many workers prefer to work from their own home. First, however, your business needs to be structured and prepared.

If you look beyond today’s health concerns, the ability to work remotely has and will continue to be considered a benefit only available or offered to certain employees. Many industries aren’t able to function without employees on-site, such as manufacturing, transportation, construction, and those using laboratories.

An employee might think it’s easy for them to work from home, particularly if they are an office worker. However, as a business owner, you need to think of the whole picture:

  • Timekeeping — Are employees able to record time worked online from any computer? How can you ensure they are still taking meal and rest breaks? Are you set up to use electronic signatures?
  • Productivity — What electronic methods do you have set up to ensure the employee is actually getting work completed efficiently? Do you have software to track the progress of projects or other work?
  • Communication — If employees aren’t near each other, what effective methods do you have so they can ask questions, delegate, supervise, or to just stay in touch? How much time is lost (or gained) each day with electronic communications versus making a comment to the person next to you?
  • Security — Do you have secure remote access to your company files? Do you have a procedure for saving files remotely to ensure you still have all company files on your servers versus on a home computer? Do you have a procedure for backing up all those files, regardless of where the files reside?
  • Equipment — Do you provide or ensure each remote employee has a computer, phone, printer, high-speed internet service, and software required to do the work?
  • Workspace — Have you confirmed each remote employee has an actual home office? Is it free from distractions while they are working? Is it safe to avoid workers’ comp claims…a good desk chair, a desk at the correct height for their computer, no dangling cords, etc.?
  • Employee Classifications — If your outside sales reps are now working from home 51% of the time instead of out knocking on doors, they are no longer qualified for the outside sales exemption and must be paid hourly for time worked.
  • Compliance — What are you doing to ensure employees have access to things like the employment law wall poster information and your Employee Handbook (if it’s shared)?
  • Moving Paper — We aren’t yet a paperless society so how will paper documents be distributed to each remote worker?

Allowing remote work isn’t as easy as it might appear on the surface. Whether you have remote workers now or are considering offering this benefit, think through and document your procedures and guidelines. This will help you better explain why one employee is allowed to work remotely and another is not. Make sure you are very clear about the length of time they will be working remotely. Create and have them sign a policy that includes all your rules and that you can require them to work from the office again at any time. Done properly, remote work can be a benefit to both you and your employee.

Coronavirus Summary

“Employees are starting to ask about working from home so they won’t be exposed to the coronavirus. I know everyone is worried but I’m not prepared for a remote workforce.”

Your HR Survival Tip

It’s important to understand we aren’t medical specialists of any kind. However, we have been receiving a lot of information about how to handle the current situation and wanted to share some of it.

Experts are considering the risk levels to be very low at this time and are asking people not to panic. While there is no vaccine, they remind us to act the same as when the flu is going around:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use a sanitizer containing at least 70% alcohol
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue (then throw it away)
  • Stay home from work if you feel flu-like symptoms
  • Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces used often

There has been a lot of information about masks but the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state most masks won’t help. If you’re healthy and wear a mask, you’ve gained nothing. If you’re sick and wear a mask, it needs to be the right kind and fitted to your face. A poor fit won’t prevent germs from getting to you.

Travel is obviously a big topic since people traveling internationally were found to have been carriers. Although we’ve seen notices that a few big conferences are being canceled, they seem to be only those with international attendees. Overall, it’s still business as usual.

Below are a few websites with useful information that will help you better understand the situation:

Keep an eye on your employees’ health and be respectful of their concerns about this situation. Also, give some thought for temporary solutions that can work for your type of business. You might also check the CDC website periodically so you feel informed and are better prepared to answer employee questions.

Meal Break Waiver

“I’ve heard I can have employees sign a meal break waiver so I don’t have to worry about them taking a meal break. How does it work?”

Your HR Survival Tip

There are employers who think California will allow an employee to waive the rights the state has given them. If only it were true. Instead, California works hard to ensure employee rights are enforced.

As you already know, California requires an unpaid, off-duty meal period of at least 30 minutes any day the employee works 6 or more hours and a second unpaid, off-duty meal period of at least 30 minutes any day the employee works more than 10 hours. Since there are a few differences with meal and rest breaks based on industry, please check the appropriate Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) order for the rules for your industry.

  • Meal Break Waiver for Under 6 Hours — This waiver is used when employees are scheduled to work less than 6 hours that day. We don’t often use this waiver simply because it seems redundant since you aren’t even required to provide a meal break unless they are working 6 or more hours.
  • Meal Break Waiver for a Second Meal — This waiver is used when employees are scheduled to work more than 10 but less than 12 hours in a day. Normally, the employee is entitled to another unpaid, off-duty 30-minute meal break after 10 hours. If the employee took their first meal break (within the first 5 hours), they may choose to waive their second meal break. However, the employee may only waive one meal break, not two. If the first meal break was at least 60 minutes, that extra 30 minutes can count toward the second meal period. Otherwise, it’s your responsibility to ensure the employee gets the relief needed to take a meal break.
  • On-Duty Meal Break — This is a paid meal break of at least 30 minutes that is used when you are unable to relieve the employee of all duty. While the employee may not be able to leave the work area, they should be able to take their meal nearby without being pressured to return to work before the 30 minutes. This is most often used when an employee is unable to leave their work location because they are caring for one or more individuals who cannot be left alone, such as working as a nanny or home healthcare worker. There are other exceptions that may be listed in your IWC order.

When an employee waives their meal break, they may be eligible for penalty pay each day it happens. This is one extra hour of pay to the employee and it should show up on a separate line item on their wage statement (pay stub) as either Penalty Pay or Premium Pay. Even if the meal break would have been 30 minutes, the employee still receives one hour of pay.

You can’t force the employee to sign a waiver or on-duty form. Even if they do sign, this is not a forever situation. You should have updated forms signed periodically. The employee can revoke their “request” for the waiver and having them sign periodically reminds them of their rights, which provides better protection for you. California categorizes that penalty pay as a wage owed the employee, which is why “premium pay” is more recently being used to describe it. They don’t want the employee to feel they are being penalized. However, if not managed correctly, this premium pay can truly be a costly penalty for you.

I Voted!

“A couple of my employees are asking about paid time off to go vote. Am I required to pay them to vote?”

Your HR Survival Tip

Any paid time off seems to generate misinformation. California does have a law regarding paid time for voting. However, most employees will not be eligible for this paid time off.

Many California counties have adopted the new Voter’s Choice Act, allowing people to cast their vote in person or by mail about a month before election day. Voting centers in those counties will be open for up to 11 days before election day, including weekends, so employees registered to vote there have no excuse for not having sufficient time to vote.

However, if you have employees who work really long hours, they may qualify for paid time off to vote. The rule is the employee should have 2 hours before or after work when they can go to a voting center. If their workday doesn’t leave 2 hours on either end, you may be required to offer up to 2 hours paid time. Of course, there are a few more things to this law:

  • Since polling places are open 13 hours (7am to 8pm), you can avoid paying for voting time with a little forethought given to employee schedules.
  • If an employee believes they will not have sufficient time to vote on election day, they must give you 2 days’ notice so you can try to rearrange their workday to allow time to vote.
  • Time off to vote must be taken at the beginning or end of the workday to limit disruption to their work, unless another time is mutually agreed upon.

Employees may be registered to vote in a different county than where they work but the rules are basically the same. They can choose to mail in their ballot if it’s too far to go to a polling place.

Take time to review this with employees prior to election day so everyone knows their options for voting and they have time to do something else if voting in person isn’t a possibility. Also, make sure your “time off to vote” poster is posted at least 10 days prior to election day. If you have an employment law poster posted, it will be included on that.

New Hire Forms

“Based on what I’ve heard from others, I think I might not be giving my new employees the correct documents when they are hired. How do I find out if I’m missing anything?”

Your HR Survival Tip

Many required new hire documents are forms and brochures from either California or the Feds. Since state and federal governments are involved, you can’t really expect something as simple as a list.

We provide an HR Forms Packet that includes everything but we have to work to gather these documents and regularly check back to see if new versions have been issued. Our packet includes the following new hire documents:

  • CA discrimination brochure
  • CA family rights act brochure
  • CA paid family leave brochure
  • CA paid sick leave flyer
  • CA pregnancy leave brochure
  • CA Ralph hate violence brochure
  • CA rights of victims brochure
  • CA sexual harassment brochure
  • CA state disability brochure
  • CA unemployment brochure
  • CA wage theft prevention form
  • CA workers comp time of hire flyer
  • FED CHIP notice
  • FED Form I-9
  • FED Form I-9 instructions
  • FED Form W-4
  • FED healthcare notice
  • COBRA notice
  • Direct deposit form
  • Employee information form
  • Employee handbook
  • Harassment prevention policy
  • Non-disclosure agreement
  • Paid sick leave policy

Yes, it’s a lot of paper! There are a few items on the list that may not be relevant for your size company but most are required. A couple of the forms aren’t legally required but are highly recommended due to their usefulness.

There are times during the life cycle of an employee when you may need to re-use some of these documents. The unemployment brochure is also given out for any termination, the pregnancy leave brochure is given again to pregnant employees, the paid family leave brochure is given again to both parents of a newborn, etc. Many of these really do provide useful information and that’s why the government wants employees to have them.

If you want to be fully compliant, you need to make sure employees receive or have access to these documents. If you have people who work primarily off-site, you also need to make sure those employees have access to the information provided on employment law posters. Yes, even we find it painful to keep track of the most current versions but there’s really no choice. Do your audit and add or replace documents needed for compliance. Or let us help you.

Important Changes

Even though everyone is accustomed to constant changes with California or Federal employment laws and related items, we like to inform or remind you of any important changes. The forms, in particular, have a drop-dead implementation date so don’t delay in using them.

Arbitration Agreement Update

So often California adds another weight to your administrative burden. But, for once, the Feds have saved us! California’s AB51 had been passed, prohibiting us from requiring employees to sign an arbitration agreement as a condition of employment. Right after that, a judge put a temporary restraining order on the law because the federal government strongly disagrees with that prohibition. Finally, a US District Court has ruled that AB51 is invalid. This means you can continue to require employees to sign your arbitration agreement if they want to work with your company.

California attorneys are very much in favor of using arbitration agreements because they help avoid class-action lawsuits. Those lawsuits are hitting smaller and smaller companies so it’s good to have protection. Please ask if you need a referral to an employment law attorney to create an agreement for you.

New I-9 Form

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services have finally issued both a new I-9 Form and I-9 Instructions. You must use this form after 1/1/2020. You can get a copy at www.https://www.uscis.gov/i-9 and we recommend using the paper version. Their regular “fill in the blanks” form seems to cause problems at times so we prefer the version without the technology addition.

2020 W-4 Form

We want to remind everyone that you absolutely must use the new 2020 version of the W-4 form for anyone hired or changing their W4 after 1/1/2020. You may still be able to see the previous version in your payroll system but that’s only for reference, not to be used for new or changed W4s.

Post Your OSHA Log

“I’ve been keeping track of the workers’ compensation claims but am I just doing it for my own benefit?”

Your HR Survival Tip

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires you to track all workplace injuries and illnesses. There is both a Federal OSHA and California’s version, Cal-OSHA. Their goal is basically the same…a safe workplace free from injury and illness.

The information you have been tracking ends up on three different forms, OSHA Form 300, 300A, and 301. Each has a purpose but only Form 300A is posted each year from February 1st to April 30th. The forms haven’t changed since 2004, so you should be familiar with them and the process.

  • Form 301 is used to record each incident so you have a complete record of what happened and how it happened, in what way the employee was injured, and the medical treatment(s) received. Use this form each time you have a workplace incident, even if it was minor enough not to require medical treatment. You are required to keep this form for 5 years from the date of the incident.
  • Form 300 is used to log most of the incidents on one sheet, with each having their own line. You don’t have to add an incident to this form if only first aid was needed and no doctor was seen. This log provides you with a great overview and should help determine if additional safety training should be considered.
  • Form 300A is merely a short, one-page summary of what you entered on Form 300. Every blank needs to be completed, even if you just put a zero in the spot. This is the form you need to post for 3 months.

OSHA’s forms packet comes with plenty of examples to help you complete each form. They want to make it easy for you and include the OSHA offices you can contact for help.

A couple of years ago, workers’ compensation insurance carriers revised the way they determine changes to your rates. They used to increase your rates based on the medical costs for each incident. However, they realized the number of incidents (regardless of the medical costs) were the real indicator of a company taking the proper safety precautions. This means an OSHA log with 10 little incidents may end up causing you higher rates than 1 big incident.

In the end, workplace safety is your responsibility. In California, you must have a written safety plan. In addition, you need to ensure your employees are properly trained and safety issues are found and resolved as quickly as possible. While we don’t provide safety plans or training, we have a great resource for you if you need it!