In mid-March the work world as we know it changed dramatically for most.  Many employers were forced to make immediate decisions about things previously unknown to them like furloughs, wage reductions, providing PPE, applying for loans to cover payroll, and ensuring the safety of essential workers.  Now the focus is on return to work plans and providing a safe place for employees, customers, and vendors to return to something as close as possible to “business as usual.”

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As more businesses begin to re-open their doors and consider ways to provide a safe environment for their employees in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may find that many of their employees are facing or continuing to face new and unprecedented challenges.  These challenges frequently come at a cost.  In order to provide employees with assistance and encourage them to return to work despite these additional costs, employers may want to consider offering tax-free “qualified disaster relief payments” to employees.

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Last week, Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Baker announced a four-phase reopening strategy for the Commonwealth.  Each of the four phases (called “Start,” “Cautious,” “Vigilant,” and “New Normal”) will see gradual reopening of additional industries with lessening restrictions as warranted by data on testing, new cases, and deaths attributable to COVID-19.

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Governor Sununu’s Emergency Order #40 (the “Order’) provides guidance on whether a cloth covering or face mask (“mask”) is required in all New Hampshire workplaces and under what conditions, if any, an employer may allow an employee to work without a mask or face covering while at work.  The Order was issued on May 1, 2020 and remains in effect until May 31, 2020.  It applies to all businesses and organizations deemed “essential” and that remained open during the Governor’s “Stay at Home” orders, and also  to those businesses and organizations that are reopening all, or a portion, of their operations.

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On May 1, 2020, Governor Sununu issued Emergency Order #40 to facilitate and guide the reopening of the State in phases.  Referred to as Stay At Home 2.0, Emergency Order #40 sets forth mandatory requirements for those businesses that were considered to be “essential” and that therefore have remained open, as well as for those that are scheduled to reopen all or a portion of their operations in the coming weeks.

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On May 1, 2020, Governor Sununu issued Emergency Order #40 to facilitate and guide the reopening of the State in phases.  Referred to as Stay At Home 2.0, Emergency Order #40 sets forth mandatory requirements for those “essential” businesses that have remained open and those that are scheduled to reopen all or a portion of their operations in the coming weeks.

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The USDOL on April 29, 2020 announced that a Southern California Tire Company will be required to pay an employee $2,606 in back wages for failing to provide sick leave to an employee under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The employee presented documentation to his employer from a health care provider advising that he self-quarantine while waiting for a family member’s test results for coronavirus.  The employer mistakenly believed that the individual was required to produce evidence of a positive test to qualify for the leave.

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The Massachusetts-based Pioneer Institute – a well-respected public policy research body – has issued a “Checklist for Employers” preparing to re-open their facilities. The comprehensive checklist states that:

“While it is impossible to fully eliminate all risks associated with reopening in the COVID-19 setting, an employer may be able to significantly mitigate and reduce risks, such as workplace hazards and employment issues, by following some or all of the recommendations” set forth in the Checklist.


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