Category Archives: Employment Law

For the Self-Employed the CARES Act Could Provide Too Much Liquidity: Simultaneous PPP and Unemployment Payments

Self-employed individuals may find themselves in a difficult situation because they have simultaneously received Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loan and Unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The CARES Act was enacted this past March with a primary goal of combating COVID-19-related shutdowns and layoffs. It made state unemployment insurance (plus an additional $600 per week through July 31, 2020) (“Unemployment”) available to self-employed individuals, among others, and offers that same group a forgivable PPP loan for their suffering businesses. Faced with the menu of liquidity and uncertainty within the CARES Act, many self-employed individuals immediately applied for both Unemployment and a PPP loan. The question they now face is whether receiving both benefits at the same time is permissible.

The Tension Between The PPP and Unemployment Benefits

While there is no explicit authority in the CARES Act prohibiting the simultaneous receipt of both PPP loan and Unemployment monies, keeping both is risky at best and could potentially be viewed as fraudulent at worst. This is because the receipt of one goes against the purpose and spirit of the other. Looking first at the PPP, its very goal is to allow businesses to keep their employee or employees on the payroll. In other words, the applicant needs the money to keep its business going and pay salaries and wages. It logically follows that a self-employed individual who receives a PPP loan is therefore considered fully employed, at least until the funds run dry.

On the other hand, an individual is only eligible for Unemployment benefits with respect to the CARES Act, where they become totally or partially unemployed (or furloughed) due to COVID-related reasons. These monies serve only as a bridge across gaps in employment. A recipient is therefore very arguably ineligible for Unemployment benefits where compensated work is made possible by PPP funds. This is to be distinguished from a situation where a self-employed individual received necessary Unemployment while waiting for PPP loan approval and disbursement or following the depletion of the PPP loan if it came first.  

Potential Consequences

Continuing to take Unemployment while benefiting from a PPP loan could potentially be, or appear to be, a fraudulent situation. The Department of Labor (“DOL”) has made clear that all states, including Florida, are to exercise due diligence to detect fraud and assess the accuracy of payments to eligible claimants. The Small Business Administration (“SBA”) is also prosecuting PPP loan fraud under federal civil and criminal statutes and has been vocal about the consequences of failing to return unnecessary PPP funds. Most individuals who have simultaneously received or are currently receiving monies from both programs are well-intentioned and unknowing recipients, but this may not save them from an accusation of wrongdoing and/or having to go through state or federal administrative proceedings.

Finally, even assuming one could carefully segregate their PPP funds for their business from their Unemployment, using only the Unemployment monies to pay themselves a salary and the PPP to pay all other eligible business expenses, the risk of losing eligibility for full or substantial loan forgiveness remains. At least 60 percent (previously 75 percent) of the PPP loan must be spent on payroll expenses (i.e., wages) to qualify for full loan forgiveness. When comparing the size of most PPP loans to Unemployment payment amounts, the importance of avoiding this risk becomes obvious. It also remains unclear whether such segregation of simultaneous benefits is possible.

Based on the foregoing, self-employed individuals who have received both PPP and Unemployment benefits to review their payouts for any overlap of funds and check with their legal/financial advisors on the best course of action in the event of any overlap.

Join Virtually: Labor & Employment Strategies Around COVID-19 Relief

We invite you to join our partner Jennifer Fowler-Hermes for a virtual presentation hosted by the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance this Wednesday, April 8.

The program will answer questions around the new aid packages available to businesses as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. With the rollout of these new programs, business owners are scrambling to quickly understand the details surrounding the offered benefits, applications processes, and eligibility requirements. Jennifer will share guidance on how employers should approach the situation from an HR perspective and will be joined by a partner with Kerkering Barberio to provide insight on the tax and accounting implications.

Participants may join by video or phone. For more details and to register, visit LWRBA.

Unemployment Provisions in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act

As businesses in Florida make decisions on how to move forward during the COVID-19 public health emergency, many businesses are weighing the effects of a layoff or furlough on their employees’ ability to secure unemployment benefits. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act—which was signed into law the afternoon of March 27, 2020—includes provisions that address these issues. These provisions are referred to as the Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act.

Before addressing how the CARES Act may temporarily affect unemployment, it is important to understand what steps the State of Florida has already taken. At this stage, Florida has temporary made individuals who have a COVID-19-related unemployment situation eligible for reemployment assistance (the name Florida gives to unemployment benefits). Specifically, under current Florida guidance, the following persons are currently eligible for COVID-19 unemployment benefits:

  • People ordered to quarantine by a medical professional
  • Those laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19
  • Those caring for an immediate family member with the virus.

The CARES Act will expand these benefits—presuming, of course, that Florida enters into an agreement with the federal government. Such an agreement is required for each provision in the CARES Act related to unemployment.

If Florida agrees and participates in the expended benefits, below is general summary of what will be available to those whose work has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus:

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation: provides an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits on top of the maximum benefits an individual may receive (state provided benefits + Pandemic Unemployment Compensation = Total Benefits). These benefits are available to those whose lack of work is tied to COVID-19 up through July 31, 2020.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: provides for financial assistance for gig workers, the self employed and contract workers typically not eligible for benefits.

  • Applies to those not eligible for regular benefits, including those that have already exhausted rights to regular or extended benefits, provided that they meet certain criteria – i.e. a need related to COVID-19.
  • It appears that furloughed workers will be eligible for benefits, even while staying on company benefit plans.
  • Does not include those that have the ability to telework with pay or are receiving paid leave benefits.
    • Available for loss of pay/income between January 27, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
    • No “waiting period” for benefits.
    • Benefits shall not exceed 39 weeks total benefits under this or any other unemployment provision, unless extended benefits are provided.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation: provides an additional 13 weeks on top of states’ standard limits for employees meeting specific criteria (lack of work due to COVID-19).

  • Florida’s current standard limit for benefits is 12 weeks.
  • Thus, it appears that a total of 25 weeks of eligibility—unless extended benefits apply in which case this benefit should be used before the extended benefit.

Temporary Funding of State One Week Waiting Period: provides that if States waive the requirement of a one week waiting period for benefits, the States will be reimbursement for unemployment compensation payments made for that week.

Temporary Financing of Short-Term Compensation (“STC”) Payments: provides that from the date of enactment until December 21, 2020, States such as Florida will be reimbursed for payments made pursuant to an STC program, if the need for such payments arises from a reduction in hours due to COVID-19 and the works is not employed on a seasonal, temporary, or intermittent basis.

  • STC allows employers to reduce hours of work for employees rather than laying-off some employees while others continue to work full time.
  • Those employees experiencing a reduction in hours are allowed to collect a percentage of their unemployment compensation benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages.
  • Additional information can be found at this website the State of Florida has established:

Williams Parker has launched a multidisciplinary task force of lawyers across the firm to advise on issues arising from COVID-19 and to provide guidance for affected clients. This team is closely monitoring legal developments and guidance from federal, state, and local government and public health officials. For the latest updates, please visit our website.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558

This post was originally published on Williams Parker’s Labor & Employment Blog.

New Overtime Rules for Employers to Adopt Before the New Year

Employers, the long wait is over. You finally have an answer regarding whether the federal overtime regulations are going to be changed. As discussed in previous blog posts Let’s Try this Again: Department of Labor Proposes Salary Increases for White-Collar Exemptions and Once More, With Feeling: Proposed Increase to Minimum Salary for Highly Compensated Employees, in March 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor abandoned its 2016 attempt to increase the salary threshold for exempt employees when it issued a much-anticipated proposed rule. On September 24, 2019, the DOL formally rescinded the 2016 rule and issued its new final overtime rule.

The new rule, taking effect on January 1, 2020, increases the earnings thresholds necessary to exempt executive, administrative, professional, and highly compensated employees from the Fair Labor Standard Act’s overtime pay requirements from the levels that had been set in 2004.  Specifically, the new final rule:

  • Increases the “standard salary level” from $455 to $684 per week (equivalent to $35,568 per year for a full-year worker);
  • Raises the total annual compensation level for “highly compensated employees” from $100,000 to $107,432 per year; and
  • Revises the special salary levels for workers in U.S. territories and in the motion picture industry.

And, for the first time, the final rule allows employers to use nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) that are paid at least annually to satisfy up to 10 percent of the standard salary level for executive, administrative, and professional employees (not highly compensated employees).

Employers take note, however, that the new final rule does not change the duties portions of the otherwise affected exemptions. For more information about the new final rule, you can go to the Department of Labor website.

As New Year’s Day will be here before we know it, this is a good time for employers to audit their pay practices to make sure that employees are properly classified, update timekeeping and payroll systems, and train reclassified employees on new processes before the new rule takes effect.

Gail E. Farb
gfarb@williamsparker.com
941-552-2557

This post originally appeared on The Williams Parker Labor & Employment Blog.

The Tax Act May Limit Resolutions of Sexual Harassment Complaints

One aspect of the new Tax Act (the Act) that has not been widely reported impacts employers that amicably resolve claims of sexual harassment. The provision denies tax deductions for any settlements, payouts, or attorneys’ fees related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such payments are subject to a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement. Specifically, Section 162(q) to the Internal Revenue Code provides:

PAYMENTS RELATED TO SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND SEXUAL ABUSE.—No deduction shall be allowed under this chapter for—

(1) any settlement or payment related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such settlement or payment is subject to a nondisclosure agreement, or
(2) attorney’s fees related to such a settlement or payment.

The intent of this provision is to deter confidentiality provisions in settlements of harassment claims. It is unclear if this provision will actually have the desired impact. Companies may value the confidentiality provisions more than the tax deductions permitted in their absence, and thus continue to enter into confidential settlement agreements. Alternatively, this provision of the Act may end up hurting those bringing harassment claims. Alleged victims may want confidentiality provisions in order to avoid any publicity about their claims. However, by removing tax incentives for employers, an employer may reject a higher settlement amount or settlement of claims altogether.

Section 162(q) of the Act is bound to create confusion as to its applicability as it fails to define key terms. Namely, the Act fails to define “sexual harassment” or “sexual abuse,” both of which are pivotal to the application of the new provision. The Act also fails to contemplate how the provision is to be applied in settlement arrangements involving a variety of claims. Are the sex-based claims separable from a universal confidentiality covenant? Causing further confusion, the Act fails to explain what attorney’s fees are considered to be “related to such a settlement or payment.” Are these only the fees related to settlement negotiations, drafting the agreement, and execution or payment? Or does it extend to the claim’s inception and include the underlying investigation of the claims?

In light of the numerous questions raised by Section 162(q), employers should review their standard settlement agreements and practices and consider revising the breadth of any releases, nondisclosure provisions, or any representations or remedies.

This post was originally posted on the Williams Parker Labor & Employment Blog.

Ryan P. Portugal
rportugal@williamsparker.com
941-329-6626

Should I Pay Exempt Employees Who Miss Work Due to Bad Weather Conditions?

As Florida prepares for a potential direct hit by Hurricane Irma, employers have many concerns. At some point, when decisions have been made about if a business will stay open and if goods or people need to be moved out of harm’s way, the following question will most likely be asked: “Should I pay exempt employees who miss work due to bad weather conditions?”

When it comes to deductions from exempt employees’ salaries it is easy to get into trouble.  The general rule is that an exempt employee is entitled to receive his or her entire salary for any workweek he or she performed work. This means, if the worksite closes for a partial week due to bad weather conditions (such as a hurricane), and the exempt employee has worked during that workweek, the employee is entitled to his or her full salary. However, if the employer has a leave benefit, such as PTO, and the employee has leave remaining, the employer can require the employee to use paid time off for this time away from work. If the employee does not have any remaining leave benefit, he or she must be paid.

If the work site remains open during inclement weather and an employee is absent (even if due to transportation issues), the employee can be required to use paid time off.  If the employee does not have any paid time off remaining, the employer may deduct a full-day’s absence from the employee’s salary. For a more detailed explanation see this opinion letter from the U.S. Department of Labor.

As for non-exempt employees, the FLSA only requires that employees be paid for the hours they actually work. However, those non-exempt employees on fixed salaries for fluctuating workweeks, must be paid their full weekly salary in any week for which work was performed.

 

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

This post was originally published on Williams Parker’s Labor & Employment Blog. To receive updates regarding labor and employment news and insight, subscribe here

Guidance for Employers from the Dark Side

A long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far away, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act. Since then, Congress has continued to pass laws governing the employee/employer relationship. In 1938, it passed the Fair Labor Standards Act; in 1964, it passed the Civil Rights Act; and in 1993, it passed the Family and Medical Leave Act. These acts and many others can make businesses feel like they have been thrown into a trash compacter or frozen in carbonate. Management attorneys, a.k.a the light side of the force, provide guidance and counsel to businesses and assist in navigating these laws which seem to appear and/or change as if powered by a hyper drive.

On Thursday, April 27, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at Michael’s on East in Sarasota, businesses will have an opportunity to learn about recent developments and current trends related to wage and hour compliance, employee criminal conduct, and sexual orientation and gender identity not only from their Jedi, but also from a Sith, a.k.a. a plaintiff’s employment attorney. It is not often that businesses have an opportunity to learn from both sides of the Force.

This seminar will provide guidance in important areas of employment law to assist professional service providers in their role as employers. The workshop will include best practices from legal compliance and human resources perspectives, and will conclude with a Sith providing insight into employers’ mistakes that strengthen the dark side. This seminar is intended to be an interactive presentation with the aim of providing solutions to troublesome employment issues confronting law firms and other professional service providers. To learn more about this event and to register, visit the Sarasota County Bar Association website.

Disclaimer: This seminar does not have a Star Wars theme; I just watched The Force Awakens on HBO this weekend.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558

The above post was originally published on The Williams Parker Labor & Employment blog

Hurricane Update: Should I Pay Exempt Employees Who Miss Work Due to Bad Weather Conditions?

When it comes to deductions from exempt employees’ salaries it is easy to get into trouble.  The general rule is that an exempt employee is entitled to receive his or her entire salary for any workweek he or she performed work. This means, if the worksite closes for a partial week due to bad weather conditions (such as a hurricane), and the exempt employee has worked during that workweek, the employee is entitled to his or her full salary. However, if the employer has a leave benefit, such as PTO, and the employee has leave remaining, the employer can require the employee to use paid time off for this time away from work. If the employee does not have any remaining leave benefit, he or she must be paid.

If the worksite remains open during inclement weather and an employee is absent, the employee can be required to use paid time off.  If the employee does not have any paid time off remaining, the employer may deduct a full-day’s absence from the employee’s salary.

For a more detailed explanation see:
https://www.dol.gov/whd/opinion/FLSA/2005/2005_10_24_41_FLSA.pdf.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558

This post was originally published on The Williams Parker Labor & Employment Blog, which focuses on the latest trends and developments concerning labor and employment law and provides commentary and analysis regarding best practices for employers, HR professionals, C-level executives, and boards of directors. Visit the blog to read more and subscribe to receive the latest updates.

DOL Issues Final Rule Revising Overtime Regulations

On May 18, 2016, the Department of Labor raised the minimum salary level that certain employees must be paid to qualify as exempt from the overtime pay requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under current regulations, executives (supervisors), administrative employees and professionals, must both perform “exempt” duties as defined by the DOL and be paid a guaranteed salary of at least $455 a week ($23,660 annually). This new regulation significantly increases the salary threshold to $933 a week ($47,476 annually), however, it does not alter the primary duty test. The federal government predicts that the new rule will result in companies having to pay an additional 4.2 million employees overtime, boosting wages for workers by $12 billion over the next ten years.

Additionally, as noted in comments included in a recent Law360 article, the DOL’s rule, while potentially extending overtime protections to 4.2 million more employees, may also have adverse effects for certain employees. In an effort to offset costs businesses may incur as a result of the new rule, both in terms of the expense associated with ensuring compliance, as well as having to pay overtime to formerly exempt employees or sufficiently increasing an employee’s salary so as to maintain the exemption, certain employers may reduce rates of pay, cut back scheduled hours to reduce risk of overtime, or offer less generous benefits to non-exempt employees.

A link to the new rule can be found here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2016-11754.pdf

Related guidance issued by the DOL can be found here: https://www.dol.gov/sites/default/files/overtime-overview.pdf

Lindsey L. Dunn
LDunn@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2556

Independent Contractor or Employee? That is the Question!

A person can provide services to a company as an employee or an independent contractor depending upon the nature of the relationship between the service provider and the company. Misclassification of employees as independent contractors remains a primary focus of many government agencies, including the IRS, U.S. Department of Labor, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Reemployment Assistance Programs, and Florida’s Division of Workers’ Compensation.  Investigations by these agencies can be extremely costly, time-consuming, and even lead to personal liability and criminal penalties!

The presentation in the following link explains the detailed federal and Florida tests that are used by these four agencies to properly classify service providers.  It also provides practical examples in which the tests can be applied.  Additionally, the presentation includes guidance to help mitigate the potential for employer liability regarding other wage and hour complexities and pitfalls.

Independent Contractor or Employee? That is the Question!

Gail E. Farb
gfarb@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2557