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Our lives have all dramatically changed since March 11, 2020 when the World Health Organization declared that the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes a condition called COVID-19 was a pandemic an instituted recommendation to stop the spread of the deadly disease. 

Since that time, schools have closed, workers have been laid off or put on leave, and businesses have suffered.  Big businesses can take the economic hit.  Small businesses are struggling.  Owners are fearful and worried that the business they sunk their blood, sweat, and tears into for years may go out of business before the pandemic even peaks. 

The answers are not easy, and the laws and orders change, sometimes hour by hour.  However, small employers and businesses are not without options to stay alive an thrive after the crisis is over. 

Here is some information that may be helpful as of this date, March 20, 2020:

#1 The Governor has issued a Stay-At-Home Order.  Do I have to Shut My Business Down?

Generally speaking, yes, unless the business falls within the exceptions provided by an U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These 16 infrastructure guidelines define what businesses are considered “essential” and are permitted to continue operating.  https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/CISA-Guidance-on-Essential-Critical-Infrastructure-Workers-1-20-508c.pdf

If your business does not fall into these categories, you are ordered to shut down until further notice.  Failure to do so is punishable by a $1,000 fine or imprisonment. 

#2 We’ve been shut down and I do not have remote work for my employees.  Can I lay them off?  Am I require to pay them if I put them on administrative leave?

Your business is still your own, so doing what is necessary is still your call.  However, whether you lay the workers off or you put them on leave, they will be entitled to some unemployment benefits if they qualify.  Please see the link to the California Labor & Workforce Agency for further information.  https://www.labor.ca.gov/coronavirus2019/.

# 3 I am not required to shut down, but I have employees who are scared to come to work.  Can I require them to be there?

It is risky to require an employee to be on the premises.  An employer can require an employee to come to work and discipline the employee for refusing to do so, provided that the refusal does not violate OSHA guidelines, the employee is not in imminent danger and is not sick, caring for a family member who is sick, adhering to a quarantine order, has a child whose school is closed and the worker cannot find child care, or absent some other legally protected reason, such as a medical condition protected by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act or The Americans with Disabilities Act.

Employees who have been ordered to self-quarantine are employees who are 65 and older and employees who have preexisting health conditions. If possible, assess the availability of telecommuting options for employees.

#4 Must I require an employee who lost access to childcare to attend work?

According to California law, employees who work at worksites with at least 25 employees are already entitled to take off up to 40 hours each year for specific school-related events, including school closures or the unexpected unavailability of the school or child care provider; employees may tap into this entitlement to work from home or to take time off on an unpaid basis.

In addition, the Family First Coronavirus Response Act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide employees two weeks of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay if the employee cannot come to work because their child’s school closed due to the Coronavirus.

Additionally, after the initial two weeks of sick pay, employers are required to provide up to 12 weeks of family medical leave for employees who have been employed for at least 30 days with up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave at a rate of no less than two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate of pay up to $510 per day, though the first 10 days of the leave can be unpaid if the child’s school continues to close. https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus.

#5 If my employee is sick, do I have to pay them for taking leave?

If a salaried employee performs any work during the workweek, the employee must be paid his/her full salary for the week, unless the employee is out of work for a full day due to personal reasons, vacation or illness and has no remaining vacation or sick time.

Even if the worker is an hourly worker, if an employee is sick or needs to care for a family member who is sick, you must provide paid sick leave pursuant California state law. Additionally, employees who cannot attend work because they have contracted, or been exposed to COVID-19 may consider applying for short term disability benefits.

The Family First Coronavirus Response Act would also require employers to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave to full-time employees, prorated for part-time employees, if the employee is unable to work.  Additionally, the employee will be entitled to the extensions provided in item number 4 above. 

Here are resources that you may find helpful for up to date new regarding the virus, as well as maintaining your business during the crisis:

California State Resources

https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/2019-Novel-Coronavirus.htm

https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19

Federal Resources

https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus

https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html

https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.19.20-attested-EO-N-33-20-COVID-19-HEALTH-ORDER.pdf

https://www.cisa.gov/coronavirus

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