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MAKING SENSE OF THE FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT (FFCRA)

MAKING SENSE OF THE FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT (FFCRA)

Effective April 1, 2020 and continuing through December 31, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) will require certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave and/or expanded Family Medical Leave for reasons related to COVID-19.

There are essentially 2 parts to the Act. Part 1 is an emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Part 2 requires certain employers to provide Federal Paid Sick Leave.

The Act applies to all employers with fewer than 500 employees. This includes both full and part-time employees. This number also includes dual employees, such as those provided by professional employment organizations (PEO’s) also known as staffing agencies. There may be exceptions for “extreme financial hardship,” but the Department of Labor has not yet produced any guidance for what that means.

The Act also provides for a “Distressed Small Business Exception,” which only applies to employers with 50 or less employees. Again, because this law is so new, there is little to no guidance from the Department of Labor as to who will qualify for this exception.

So, what does the FFCRA require employers to do?

Generally, all employers must provide their qualifying employees with:

  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate of pay where the employee is unable to work because the employee is quarantined either (1) pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider, and/or (2) is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis; or
  • Two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because the employee is unable to work because of a bona fide need to care for an individual subject to quarantine (pursuant to Federal, State, or local government order or advice of a health care provider), or care for a child (under 18 years of age) whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19, and/or the employee is experiencing a substantially similar condition as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of the Treasury and Labor.

FAQ’s about the FFCRA:

How does an employee qualify for these FFCRA benefits?

Some examples include:

  • Being diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus.
  • Having symptoms of the virus.
  • Being required to be in self-quarantine.
  • Being ordered by your doctor to self-quarantine.
  • Having to care for a spouse or child who is infected with the virus.
  • Another common example will be caring for a child whose school or daycare has been closed because of COVID-19 – Or having substantially similar condition based on guidance from the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Can both parents claim paid leave under the FFCRA?

There is nothing in the law that suggests that both parents would not be entitled to paid leave if they otherwise qualify for the benefits.

Can my employer require me to use paid sick leave before paying benefits under the FFCRA?

It depends. The expanded benefits to FMLA do not kick in for the first 10 days, therefore you may be required to use unpaid sick leave to cover that gap. The mandatory sick leave would not require you to use accrued unpaid leave.

How much pay am I entitled to receive?

It depends on whether you are seeking the expanded benefits of the FMLA, or the mandatory paid sick leave. Normally, a qualifying employee is entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA. The new law expands that to include paid leave of two-thirds of base pay based on number of hours normally worked. The maximum is $200 per day, or $10,000 per employee, based on 12 weeks of eligibility.

The mandatory paid sick leave under the FFCRA is capped at $511 per day, with a total benefit of $5,110 per employee.

How are employers expected to pay for these FFCRA benefits?

The government has rolled out several plans to help small business employers pay for these new benefits. One option is a dollar for dollar tax credit for payments made. A second option is a small business loan through the Small Business Administration (SBA) to cover payroll costs. If certain conditions are met, and all of your employees remain on the payroll for a specified period, these loans will be forgiven (they don’t have to be paid back). Lastly, some employers may have business interruption insurance that could be applicable. Definitely check your policy to determine coverage.

Can my employer disclose my diagnosis of COVID-19?

Yes, under certain circumstances, there are exceptions to HIPPAA’s confidentiality requirements. For example, an employer can disclose such a diagnosis for the safety of your co-workers.

What if I contracted COVID-19 at work, will workers’ compensation cover my treatment?

There is much we don’t know about how the new laws will be interpreted, and whether a diagnosis of COVID-19 could be considered an occupational disease. Certainly, for those on the front lines fighting this disease, for instance health care workers, an argument could be made that it is a risk of the job.

If I have to provide these FFCRA benefits, my business will be forced to shut down. Are there any exceptions?

Yes. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may qualify for exemption from the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or child care unavailability if the leave requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.

If I have to take leave, can I get my job back when I return?

Yes. The new law requires employers with 25 or more employees to reinstatement after 12 weeks. If your employer has less than 25 employees they must “make reasonable effort” to reinstate an employee who has taken leave under the Act.

In these uncertain times, it is always best to know your rights. If you have questions about Coronavirus/COVID-19, and your entitlement to benefits under the new laws, please contact us for a free legal consultation. We are not currently taking in-person interviews in our efforts to avoid unnecessary spread of the virus, but we are always available for telephonic consultations.

What happens after I file a Charge with the EEOC?

What happens after I file a Charge with the EEOC?

Once the Charge is filed, it is sent to your employer, and they are given an opportunity to investigate the allegations and file a response. The employer may conduct the investigation internally, or, they may choose to hire an outside attorney to investigate the allegations in your Charge. The employer’s response is referred to as their “Position Statement.” Usually, the Position Statement filed by your employer will deny the allegations in your Charge, and may state other non-discriminatory reasons for any adverse employment action that has been taken against you. For example, the employer may state that you were a bad employee, that you missed too much work, or you did not follow instructions. If this is the case, the EEOC may ask you to provide additional evidence to support your claim of discrimination or harassment.

Once both sides have had an adequate opportunity to state their respective positions, the EEOC may move forward with an investigation.

WILL THE EEOC HELP ME SETTLE MY CASE?

If both sides agree, the EEOC may refer your case for a settlement conference, also called “mediation.” The EEOC has mediators on staff who will help both parties to resolve your dispute.
If both parties don’t agree to mediation, or if mediation is unsuccessful, the EEOC will move forward with an investigation into the allegations in your Charge of Discrimination. They can interview witnesses and request documents from either party to assist with that investigation.

HOW LONG DOES THE EEOC PROCESS TAKE?

Currently, an EEOC investigation can take up to 1 year. However, If the EEOC does not complete its’ investigation within 180 days after you filed your Charge, then you can request that they issue a Right to Sue letter. The Right to Sue letter allows you to file a lawsuit against your employer. It is very important to remember that you cannot file a lawsuit against your employer until you have received the Right to Sue letter from the EEOC.

Upon receipt of your Right to Sue Letter, you have 90 days in which to file a lawsuit against your employer. If you don’t file suit within 90 days, your claim will be barred.

What should I do if I feel I am the victim of harassment or discrimination?

The most important thing to do if you believe you are the victim of harassment or discrimination is to report it to your employer, preferably in writing. If you don’t report, your employer can always deny that they knew that any harassment or discrimination was occurring. Many employers have a handbook which should contain the company’s policies and procedures for reporting discrimination, harassment, or a hostile work environment. If you report harassment or discrimination, and your employer does not remedy the situation, please call me for a free consultation.

What Defines Unpaid Wages?

What Defines Unpaid Wages?

Generally speaking, an employer must pay its employees for the work that they perform. This is true whether you are paid hourly, salary, commissions, or by the piece, or any other method for determining the amount. In Indiana, these wages must be paid either twice a month (semi-monthly) or every two weeks (bi-weekly). Failure to pay wages earned can result in penalties for the employer up to two times the amount of unpaid wages, plus attorney’s fees.

In Indiana, if you are an hourly employee with an agreed upon wage, your employer is obligated to pay you for the hours you work within ten (10) days of the payment period end. For overtime, an Indiana employee is entitled to 1.5 times his or her hourly rate for any of the hours worked past a 40 hour work-week. If an employer does not make these payments, an individual may have what is known as a wage and hour claim.

Indiana has two statutes, the Wage Claims Statute, Indiana Code §22-2-9, and the Wage Payment Statute, Indiana Code §22-2-5. The Wage Claims Statute is for employees that have either been terminated or are in a labor organization dispute. Individuals with a claim under the Wage Claims Statute, that is in excess of $6,000 must get approval from the Indiana Department of Labor to file a private suit against their employer. For claims between $30 and $6,000, the Indiana Department of Labor will collect your wages free of charge. If you have a claim for unpaid wages that is less than $6,000 a claim can be made by filling out the IDOL’s Online Wage Claim Form: https://www.in.gov/dol/2671.htm

The Wage Payment Statute is for employees who have voluntarily left employment or are still currently employed.

Under both Indiana statutes, an employee is entitled to liquidated damages ranging from 10% to no more than double the amount of wages due and reasonable attorney’s fees. These damages are in addition to the wages owed. These statutes are designed to pay individuals what they are due. Immigration status does not matter, and it is illegal for an employer to use immigration status as a justification for not paying wages.

The Indiana Supreme Court reiterated the importance of Indiana’s Wage and Hour laws and their importance for all workers who depend on their paychecks to be paid regularly.

“I write separately to observe that the facts of this case dramatize the point that the statute confers on all employees the right to recover treble damages and attorney’s fees for failure to pay wages, regardless of the employees’ circumstances. This is perfectly understandable as applied to the vast majority of workers who are dependent on their paychecks for their day-to-day expenses. These employees need the money currently, not at the end of protracted litigation, and often do not have the economic staying power to engage in a court battle over relatively small amounts. A statute providing one party with treble damages and attorney’s fees is a very substantial deterrent to an employer’s playing fast and loose with wage obligations. As applied to claims of most workers this is very understandable legislative policy.”

St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Care Ctr., Inc. v. Steele, 766 N.E.2d 699, 706 (Ind. 2002).

If you have worked, but not been paid, please contact the employment attorneys at Goodin Abernathy, LLP to determine if you have a wage and hour claim. Your time and effort is valuable – talk to us to determine your options for recovering your hard earned wages.

Age Discrimination in the Workplace: A Growing Trend for Baby Boomers

Age Discrimination in the Workplace: A Growing Trend for Baby Boomers

In the next five years, approximately 25% of our workforce will be 55 years or older. For some people like Bruce Arians, a former Colts NFL football coach, jobs are still opening up (see recent news article here). But how are things going for the rest of our older workers? Are you an older professional that was just fired or handed a severance package?

Demographics show a large portion of the Baby Boomer generation is still working. Whether its because they need to work or because they want to work, many 50+ year olds are not retiring. Theoretically, our federal law protects employment discrimination against workers 40 years of age and older. The law is known as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the “ADEA”. But not all employers follow the law, and it’s much tougher for older workers to find new jobs – let alone financially recover from an unexpected severance.

In Indianapolis, our attorneys see this scenario commonly unfold in the medical industry. Goodin Abernathy LLP attorneys are experienced with pharmaceutical and medical device representatives suddenly facing a “forced retirement.” Typical scenarios show the experienced reps are asked to train new, younger sales people. The trainees tag along, meet the customers and learn the ropes. Then, if they aren’t fired, the older rep’s territory just gets split up. Part of the territory is assigned to the younger worker, while the older rep’s compensation package does not change. This means the experienced worker just trained themselves into a pay cut. You can imagine what happens after a little more time when the younger worker learns the ropes: they’re handed both territories and the older worker is shown the door.

Other times the older, experienced worker gets pushed out or “harassed out” of their position. Their younger managers start building flimsy records of statistical violations. They say the older worker isn’t making enough sales calls; is not attending enough meetings; fails to use the company’s technology correctly, etc.

Behind the scenes, the company’s strategy is simple: replace the higher paid, experienced worker with cheaper labor offered by young workers. The older workers – who devoted their careers to improving the company’s interests – get cut loose by new or younger managers trying to make their own numbers look better.

Another typical scheme involves luring away experienced, older workers from competitors. After the older worker shares her book of business and discloses other proprietary information, the new company abruptly lets them go. The new company just wanted the work intel for its younger reps and never really planned to keep the new, older hire on board.

When companies plug younger workers into jobs and push out 40+ year old workers, the experienced workers should contact our Goodin Abernathy LLP attorneys for an ADEA evaluation.

Contact Goodin Abernathy LLP, and we will tell you how to look for signs of illegal ageism or age discrimination. Consult us and we will explain the legal process for an ADEA or EEOC claim with an eye towards enforcing your legal rights.

ADA and Dwarfism

What happens to whistleblowers and workers facing discrimination in the work place? Tricia Newbold, a dwarf, claims the White House is freezing her out of a job (see article here).

This story reminds me of one of the best cases, and clients, we’ve helped over the years. It involves an American with Disabilities Act claim and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) – legal areas which Goodin Abernathy LLP is experienced in, litigating cases with earnest to represent our clients.

Our client, “B”, is an Achondroplasia Dwarf. Outside of being a dwarf, B had normal dreams and aspirations like the rest of us had at a young age. B came to us because while she was working at a major restaurant chain, a manager and co-workers discriminated against her. They held her back from a job promotion and occasionally made disparaging remarks about her physical stature. They thought it was funny – but the remarks were mean to B.

B started as a hostess and wanted to get promoted to serving tables. Waitresses made more than those in the hostess position. Although the position required different physical requirements, B was up for the challenge.

The problem was, the restaurant outright denied her requests to be a server. On top of it, they were callous about it. The employer did not take time to consider what our laws say about equal opportunity for all workers. And probably worse yet, they did not take the time to consider the moral issues involved with the situation.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and its 2008 update, the ADA Amendments Act (“ADAAA”), provide legal protection for disabled workers in our country. Goodin Abernathy LLP submitted a Charge of Discrimination for B with the local EEOC office. When the EEOC gave us a “Right to Sue” letter, we filed a legal complaint against the employer in Federal Court.

We collected evidence in B’s case, showing the employer failed to reasonably communicate with her about the server’s position. Nor did they consider whether reasonable accommodations would have easily allowed B to perform the server’s job. On top of that, our investigation revealed the rude comments by staff and B’s supervisors.

The company’s attorneys fought and complained, but we did not give up. We did not expect a lot. We did not expect for B to retire on the case – but we did expect to win. B recovered financial compensation allowed under the law. And, we won, because as attorneys, we used the law and fought for somebody’s equal rights.

Contact attorney Chip Clark at Goodin Abernathy, LLP with any ADA or EEOC questions you have. Give us a chance to partner with you – fighting for the legal rights you morally deserve.

Need Help Protecting Your Professional Reputation?

Are you facing an embarrassing issue at work? Is there a problem that might hurt your reputation and even your professional license? Fortunately, we may be able to help.

Even if what happened wasn’t necessarily criminal, it can still damage or destroy your professional reputation. You may face discipline from a professional licensing body, or you may face difficulty securing new employment. The good news is that our professional employment lawyers here in Indianapolis help deserving clients minimize damage and keep their careers in tact.

What Kinds of Offenses Can Tarnish Your Professional Reputation?

There may be a number of different ways that you might get in trouble at work. You may have been caught sexting or watching pornography on the job. There may be issues with sending inappropriate emails on company servers. Even what you do in your personal life might create professional problems.

Perhaps you’ve been accused of stealing from the company. Maybe you’ve been accused of inappropriate behavior with a client. Maybe something as simple as failing to report a criminal conviction to a supervisor can land you in hot water.

If you’ve made a mistake at work, the employer might claim that the error reflects on your professional ability. You might fail to meet targets in a way that results in your dismissal. Insubordination or failing to follow regulations are other problems that might cause an issue with your professional license and reputation in the community.

We Can Help You Minimize the Damage to Your Reputation

We work with deserving clients in order to help them defend their character and minimize damage as much as possible. No matter where you’re at in the process, we can work with you in order to help you defend yourself and preserve your career. This is critical at all stages when you face an embarrassing work issue.

Negotiating with Your Employer

Even before the professional licensing agency becomes involved, we can help you minimize the situation and mitigate the circumstances. It may be as simple as working together in order to present evidence to the employer that shows your side of the story. There may be ways that we can ask the employer for documents or records that can help the employer to make sense of the situation.

From there, we work with the employer to negotiate a resolution that may protect you. Perhaps rather than terminating your employment, you can agree to complete education courses. If they absolutely insist on termination, we can help you negotiate favorable terms.

For example, you may work with the employer in order to accept your resignation rather than report you as fired for cause. This can be invaluable to securing your next employment. We might be able to negotiate another reason for your departure. We might work with the employer to reach a non-disclosure agreement so that they don’t discuss the matter with professional colleagues or prospective employers. Most importantly, they might agree to terminate you for a reason that isn’t going to be as damaging to your professional license.

Helping with Professional Licensing Issues

Even if your embarrassing issue comes to the attention of the professional licensing authority that oversees your work, all is not lost. There are ways that we can work with the licensing board in order to defend your career and license. In some cases, this means aggressively defending the charges against you. In other cases, it means negotiating for the best possible disposition.

For example, if you’re an attorney that faces an allegation of misappropriating client funds, we can negotiate with the bar for an appropriate resolution. Even if the association doesn’t agree to dismiss the allegations against you, they might agree to issue a warning rather than a suspension. That can mean the difference between staying in business or needing to close up shop.

How We Do It

Our passion for helping our clients get back to their lives is what drives us to give 100 percent in each case. We offer thorough, professional services without judgment. You’re going through a stressful time. We can deal with the stress on your behalf. Our team gets to the heart of the matter, and we make sure that we don’t miss details that can provide you a defense or mitigate your case.

Handling your case is about so much more than just knowing the laws and licensing rules. This type of case takes tact. It takes sensitivity and an eye for knowing how to approach the employer and the licensing authority.

No matter your licensing issue, we can help. Whether you’re a real estate agent, insurance professional, attorney, day care provider, health care professional, teacher or other licensed professional, we can help the licensing agency see why you’re an asset to the profession. Not only do we help the employer or licensing board understand the true nature of the allegations against you, but we help them understand why you’re an asset to your profession.

Contact Us

If you’re facing a potentially embarrassing professional issue, we invite you to contact us. Our team offers understanding and compassionate service aimed at helping you preserve your career and get back to life as normal as quickly as possible. Our consultations are free. Please contact us today to talk about your case.