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COVID-19 Guidance for Illinois Employers

03/17/2020

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading across the globe and we wanted to assist you in considering all risk assessment and mitigation tools available.  We recommend assembling a management team to determine best next steps and implement an emergency plan.  Plan considerations should include cash flow concerns, remote working possibilities, IT considerations, quarantine possibility and company specific concerns. Businesses should consult with their banks regarding availability of lines of credit and other needs.  Businesses should also consult with their insurance brokers and review their insurance policies to determine whether they have available business-interruption insurance and other insurance to help mitigate losses in connection with the pandemic.

All guidance is subject to change due to developments in health practices and laws.

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General Human Resources Guidance

Employers may (through HR):

  • Ask if the employee has a fever, cough or shortness of breath or been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • Screen employees who may be at high risk of infection.  Not suggested to take temperatures or require testing.
  • Separate and send home employees who appear to have acute respiratory symptoms or have travelled, especially to high risk zones.
  • Encourage employees to see a health care provider.
  • Mandate employees to report to HR if they are diagnosed with COVID-19.

If an employee is confirmed to be diagnosed:

  • Send the employee home promptly.  Require a doctor’s note to return to work (may be difficult and need to be flexible). Offer FMLA paperwork if 50 or more employees (may need to extend time for paperwork to be returned).
  • Inform employees that there is a risk they have been exposed but maintain confidentiality as to the person who may have exposed them (private medical information).
  • Discuss possible accommodations with the employee, such as working from home.

If an employee voluntarily discloses an immune disorder that would be affected by COVID-19, then:

  • Need to engage in Americans with Disabilities Act interactive process regarding work accommodations.
  • Possible accommodations required.

Paying Employees Generally*:

  • Federal and State Governments are considering paid family and sick leave acts, which have not been approved in most states.  On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This has not been approved by the Senate as of March 17, 2020 at 11:00 am Central Time. Here is a link to the proposed law.
  • On March 16, 2020, Governor Pritzker issued an executive order providing that during the “Gubernatorial Disaster Proclamation”, the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance claims is suspended for claimants who are unemployed and otherwise eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.  Here is a link to the Executive Order.
  • Chicago employees may use paid sick time to care for children and adults. Consider also allowing employees to use paid vacation time and comp time, if available.  If not available, consider allowing employees to borrow vacation time and whether such borrowing of vacation time should be subject to a repayment agreement.
  • Hourly employees must be paid for all hours worked.
  • Exempt employees must be paid their salary if they work any part of a workweek.** If an exempt employee does not perform any work for the entire workweek, he/she does not have to be paid for that workweek.

*Subject to employment agreements and other agreements.
**Workweek is a defined term usually defined in a company’s employee handbook.

Furlough/Shutdowns for Exempt Employees

In the event of a furlough, employers need to be careful that they do not assign any work and that employees do not perform any work such as checking emails, client follow up, etc.  during a furlough.  If a non-exempt employee performs any work, they must be paid for such work.  If an exempt employee performs any work during a workweek, they will need to be paid for that workweek.  Employers may require employees to turn in company issued digital communications equipment and laptops to avoid working.

Weeklong Furlough:

  • If an employer sets up a weeklong furlough and doesn’t pay exempt employees, there is no risk of losing the employees’ exempt status.

Partial Week Furlough Deducting Employee Pay:

  • If an employer set up a partial-week furlough and deducts the pay of exempt employees for the furlough days, the employees are at risk of losing their exempt status and may be entitled to overtime and other protections provided by law.

Partial Week Furlough Using Vacation Time or PTO:

  • If an employer sets up a partial-week furlough and uses vacation time for the furlough time so that the employees receive their usual salary, there is no risk of losing the exemption.

Permanent Furlough Arrangement:

  • An employer may set up a permanent change in the employee’s usual weekly schedule, such as changing the workweek from 5 days to 4 days and altering the salary to match.  As long as the exempt employees receive at least $684 weekly salary, they will remain exempt.

Furlough/Shutdowns for Non-Exempt Employees:

  • Employers may require employees to take unpaid time off.  Employers may allow or require furloughed employees to use vacation, sick or PTO time.

Other Furlough Considerations:

Additionally, depending on the number of employees at the company and their locations, we may need to consider state and Federal WARN requirements.  Below are links to the Illinois and Federal WARN Acts:

Workplace Proactive Measures:

  • Encourage social distancing and spread workers 6 feet apart, if possible.
  • Make hand sanitizer and tissues available.
  • Encourage washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water not available.
  • Encourage avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Encouraging covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing with elbows, but not with your hands.  Discard tissues after each use and sanitize hands.
  • Direct cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces with recommended products.
  • Consider staggering work schedules and lunch hours to avoid employees congregating in one place.
  • Encourage video or phone conferencing instead of in-person meetings, including for people in the same office or nearby cubicles.

Please email or call your HMB Legal Counsel attorney with any questions about how these updates could impact your business.

500 West Madison Suite 3700
Chicago IL 60661

Phone: 312-606-3200 Fax: 312-606-3232
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