As you navigate the new “normal” with the COVID-19 pandemic, you likely have many questions about how to manage your business and your staff. Most importantly, you want to be certain you’re complying with the latest COVID-related regulations to avoid legal complications.

We’re here to help you address the myriad changes coming your way right now. See below for some of the most common questions and answers to COVID-19 challenges for small businesses:

Q: What should I do if an employee shows COVID-19 symptoms at work?

A: According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. If an employee exhibits any of these symptoms, you should ask them to go home, to contact their health care provider and to follow quarantine procedures before returning to work. This is necessary to help prevent transmission in the workplace.

Q: What should I do if a diagnosed employee was near other employees at the workplace?

A: As a small business owner, you’re responsible for informing the rest of your employees about possible COVID-19 exposure, without violating the privacy of the affected employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To properly guide employees under this circumstance, follow CDC recommendations.

Q: What is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and how does it benefit my employees?

A: The FFCRA is emergency federal legislation that requires certain employers — public employers and private employers with fewer than 500 employees — to provide paid sick leave to employees who are affected by COVID-19 and unable to work on-site or remotely. Covered reasons include:

  • The employee has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis
  • The employee has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to the virus
  • The employee has been mandated to quarantine by a federal, state or local government agency
  • The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition to COVID-19, as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • The employee must care for an individual who was mandated to quarantine by government order or advised to do so by a healthcare provider
  • The employee must care for a child because the child’s school is closed or the child’s usual caregiver (such as a daycare or a family member) is unavailable due to the pandemic

Note: As a small business with fewer than 50 employees, you may qualify for an exemption if you can show that complying with the law would harm your business, such as expenses exceeding revenue or not having enough workers to stay operational.

Q: What type of paid sick leave applies to employees affected by COVID-19?

A: Full-time employees affected by COVID-19 are eligible to receive two weeks (or 80 hours) of paid leave under the FFCRA. Part-time employees are also eligible, but the pay should be calculated based on the average number of hours the employee works on a regular two-week period.

Also, if the employee has been with the employer for at least 30 days prior to the leave request, the employee qualifies for up to an additional 10 weeks of paid leave to care for a child whose school is closed or whose childcare provider is unavailable due to the pandemic.

Read our recent article How the New Paid Leave Laws Impact Small Businesses for more information.

Q: When calculating paid leave for employees, do I have to include overtime hours?

A: Yes, if the employee was already scheduled to work overtime during the absent time, these hours need to be taken into account when calculating paid medical leave. However, the paid sick leave provisions only require that the employee gets paid for a maximum of 80 hours during a two-week period. The time would need to be adjusted accordingly.

Q: Should I keep records regarding an employee’s eligibility and use of paid sick leave?

A: Absolutely! You should document the approval or denial of paid sick leave to demonstrate compliance with the law. If your business is in the private sector, you may be eligible for reimbursement of paid time leave under the FFCRA through tax credits. Obtain the following information from your employee to apply for reimbursement:

  • Employee’s name
  • Dates of leave
  • Reason for leave
  • A statement from the employee regarding why he/she is taking paid sick leave
    • If the employee has requested paid leave to care for a child due to school closure or lack of childcare, include the following information in your records:

      • Name of the child or children being cared for
      • Name of school or childcare provider that is temporarily closed or unavailable
      • A statement from the employee explaining why he/she is the only one that can take care of the child
      • Note: If the employee is requesting leave due to an isolation/quarantine order or to take care of a relative, you should also get the name of the government entity that issued the order — or the health care provider that recommended quarantine for the relative requiring care.

        For assistance in claiming a tax credit under the FFCRA, consult the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) applicable forms and instructions[1].

        For more information on new paid leave laws, read our recent blog How the New Paid Leave Laws Impact Small Businesses.

        Q: How can my employees receive assistance if I’m obligated to let them go temporarily?

        A: When you’re facing economic restraints and are forced to cut staff, be aware of the benefits your employees may qualify for.

        One of the biggest, of course, is “unemployment insurance.” This will vary by state, with differences in how cash is distributed and who is eligible to receive it. A general guideline, however, is that eligibility is based on lost employment due to circumstances outside of the employee’s performance, in this case COVID-related causes. Employees should apply for unemployment benefits according to state guidelines.

        In addition to unemployment insurance, individuals may qualify for certain state-specific and employer-driven benefits, such as:

        • An extension of the unemployment insurance period, free or low-cost educational resources, career advice and consultation, resources to start a business
        • A continuation of healthcare insurance through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). COBRA allows unemployed individuals to continue coverage with the same former medical group plan for short periods of time[2].
        • Short-term disability benefits when the unemployed individual exhibits COVID-19 symptoms or has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
        • Workers’ compensation benefits (although extremely difficult to claim). The employee must prove that he/she got infected with the virus during work and that a repetitive but required function created the exposure.
        • Q: How can I protect my employees if my business is essential and we must remain open?

          A: If your business falls under the category of “essential” and must remain open, keeping your employees safe is a top priority. Here are some CDC recommendations to protect your business from COVID-19:

          • Pre-screen: Before employees enter the facility, pre-screen for body temperature. For signs of fever or any other symptoms related to COVID-19, send the employee home and do not allow them to work.
          • Monitor Regularly: Employees should continue to be monitored even if they don’t have a fever or show other symptoms prior to the work shift.
          • Require Masks: Employees should wear a properly fitted mask during the entire work shift.
          • Maintain Social Distance: Employees should stay 6 feet apart from each other at all times if the type of work allows it.
          • Disinfect and Clean Workspaces: Increase your cleaning routines and focus on disinfecting common areas and shared workspaces. Discourage employees from sharing electronics and other work tools.

          We know these are difficult and unpredictable times, but we hope these questions and answers provide some practical guidance and help keep you on firm footing during all the changes.