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COVID-19 Resources

OSHA Refines Stance on COVID-19 Recordkeeping and Enforcement

On May 19, OSHA issued two enforcement memos regarding COVID-19.  The first of these memos revised OSHA’s requirements for employers as they determine whether individual cases of COVID-19 are work-related.  The second enforcement memorandum OSHA issued on May 19 revised OSHA’s policy for handling COVID-19-related complaints, referrals, and severe illness reports.  These two memos are summarized below.

Re-Opening Medical Practices Following COVID-19 Outbreak

Over the last couple of weeks, a great deal has been written about the steps hospitals should take as they begin to provide elective procedures again as the COVID-19 outbreak slowly subsides in some parts of the US.  Lurking in the shadow of this issue is the question of what steps medical practices and outpatient clinics (“Medical Practices”) should take as they begin the process of returning to normal operations.

IRS Provides More COVID-19 Relief: This Time for Cafeteria Plans

As part of its ongoing response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the IRS has released new guidance (Notice 2020-29) providing increased flexibility with respect to mid-year election changes under Section 125 cafeteria plans during the 2020 calendar year. The Notice also provides increased flexibility with respect to grace periods that will allow participants with unused amounts in their health or dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to apply those amounts to expenses incurred through December 31, 2020. Generally, employers may adopt the changes immediately (in some cases retroactive to January 1, 2020), so long as the plan is amended by December 31, 2021.

Deadline Approaching Quickly for Schools to Update Title IX Policies

The Department of Education released the long awaited Title IX regulations focusing on sexual misconduct on May 6.  The regulations were initially proposed in November, 2018.  It is the first time that the Department has issued regulations dealing with sexual harassment or sexual assault.  Previously, the Department has issued Dear Colleague letters setting forth guidance to covered entities.

Retroactive Change in Distribution Methodology for Provider Relief Funds May Trigger Refunds

As I am sure you know, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) began distributing approximately $50 billion in Provider Relief Funds provided under the CARES Act between April 10 and April 17.  The initial distribution of Provider Relief Funds (consisting of approximately $30 billion) was distributed among healthcare providers based on their “proportionate share of Medicare fee-for-service reimbursement for 2019”.  For example, a provider with $15 million of Medicare FFS revenue in 2019 and $22 million in net patient revenue for 2018 would have received approximately $930,000 of Provider Relief Funds in the initial distribution:  ($15,000,000/$484,000,000,000 (Total Medicare FFS Revenue for 2019) x $30,000,000,000).

Extended Group Health Plan Deadlines Create Risks for Employers

Deadline relief afforded by a new DOL and IRS Joint Notice during the COVID-19 national emergency significantly changes the administration of both self-funded and fully insured group health plans. Some of the extended deadlines are already causing confusion and increasing compliance risks for employers.

IRS Posts Initial Guidance Re: Coronavirus-Related Loans and Distributions under the CARES Act

On May 4, 2020, the IRS posted 14 Questions and Answers (Q&As) on its website regarding the special retirement plan distribution options and loan provisions made available to certain qualified participants under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (hereinafter, the “CARES Act”).  These Q&As answer many, but not all, of the questions that plan sponsors and third-party administrators have been grappling with since the CARES Act was enacted on March 27, 2020.  Perhaps most importantly, the Q&As confirm that each of the distribution and loan provisions are optional for employers to adopt (or not adopt).  They also indicate that the IRS intends to issue formal guidance regarding the CARES Act distribution and loan provisions in the near future, and that it anticipates that the guidance will generally apply the principles set forth in its prior guidance (Notice 2005-92) regarding the Katrina Emergency Tax Relief Act of 2005 (“KETRA”).

CARES Act Offers New Options for Cafeteria Plan Sponsors

A frequently overlooked portion of the CARES Act offers employers the ability to give their employees some immediate – and cost-free – financial assistance.  The Act opens the door for employees to use pre-tax dollars to purchase over-the-counter drugs and menstrual care products.  Employers will need to modify health FSAs, HSAs, and HRAs to take advantage of this relief.

DOL Disaster Relief Notice Extends Deadlines, Enables COBRA Gamesmanship

The Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration issued guidance on April 28, 2020, providing temporary, coronavirus-related relief from many deadlines and requirements under ERISA.  Notably, the guidance relaxes the standards for employers to provide notices electronically, and affords significant latitude to COBRA qualified beneficiaries for electing, and paying for, COBRA continuation coverage.

Summary of CISA Guidance on Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce 3.0

On April 17, 2020, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released version 3.0 of its guidance to help state and local jurisdictions, decision makers in communities and jurisdictions and the private sector across the country to manage and identify their essential workforce while responding to COVID-19. Original guidance was released on March 19, 2020 and version 2.0 was subsequently released on March 28, 2020. The reason for publishing Version 3.0 of the CISA guidance was to assist local decision makers in balancing public health and safety with the need to maintain critical infrastructure in their communities.

Is Your Hospital Ready to Re-Open for Elective Medical Services?

On April 19, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) provided its initial guidance to hospitals and other healthcare facilities (collectively, “Hospitals”) as they begin to consider the timing for re-commencing normal operations as the COVID-19 outbreak begins to subside in some parts of the United States (the “Re-Opening Recommendations”).[1]  In a sense, the Re-Opening Recommendations are the bookend to the guidance CMS provided on March 18, 2020 recommending that Hospitals discontinue the provision of non-emergent and elective medical services and treatments during the COVID-19 outbreak.[2]  In each case, the guidance provided by CMS is neither legally mandated nor enforceable.  Instead, the guidance merely provides a framework or frame of reference for use by Hospitals as they consider these decisions.

OSHA Sends Mixed Signals on Enforcement Related to COVID-19 and Employer Obligations

Over the past week, OSHA has issued three separate enforcement-related guidance memos to its regional offices and field staff regarding how and when to bring enforcement actions against employers for failing to protect worker health and safety amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The first guidance covers workplace reporting and recording of injury and illnesses associated with exposure to COVID-19, while the other two OSHA guidance documents provide a roadmap to employers on how the agency will enforce violations of the OSH Act.

Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund Payments

Many healthcare providers received an unanticipated cash infusion on or around April 10, 2020 (“Emergency Fund Payment”).  Accompanying the payments was a list of terms and conditions attached to the funds.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has stated that forms and additional information will be forthcoming; but in the meantime, the only available guidance is a letter to providers and the list of terms and conditions.

Summary of Recent Agency Activity on Employment-Related COVID-19 Issues

Last week (April 4-12), several federal agencies issued updated guidance for employers on issues relating to COVID-19, including:

EPA Issues Interim Guidance for Managing COVID-19 Impacts at Superfund, RCRA, and Other Remediation Projects

Following on the March 19 internal memorandum from the Office of Land and Emergency Management (available here), and the March 26 COVID-19 Enforcement Discretion Policy from the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (see here for the Policy and Spencer Fane’s earlier alert), EPA today (April 10) issued guidance on field decisions for parties managing cleanups under CERCLA, RCRA, and other remediation programs. EPA’s interim guidance is available here.

State Disaster Management Plans Impact Hospital Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

One of the most heavily-debated legal and ethical issues to arise during the current COVID-19 outbreak is what methodology a hospital should use to allocate ventilators when the number of patients who need a ventilator exceeds the hospital’s supply of ventilators.  Even more heavily discussed is whether a hospital should disconnect a patient from a ventilator against the wishes of the patient and his/her family in order to use that ventilator for another patient with a statistically greater chance of survival.

EEOC Updates COVID-19 Guidance

On April 9, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) updated its guidance for employers entitled “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws,” found here. Previously issued guidance explained that employers may, under pandemic conditions, ask employees about whether they are experiencing certain symptoms. The EEOC further stated that employers may also implement other measures to protect against spread of COVID-19 due to the novel coronavirus in the workplace. The guidance further noted that if employers do receive health information from employees, the information must be maintained confidentially, and consistent with other requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).

The CARES Act and Substance Use Disorder Records: Confidentiality Updates

Section 3221 of the CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, sets the stage for HHS to make significant changes to 42 C.F.R. Part 2, governing the confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder (“SUD”) records. Under the Act, HHS has 12 months to work with appropriate Federal agencies to make revisions to 42 C.F.R. Part 2 consistent with Section 3221’s mandates.

Understanding the Cyber and Privacy Risks Of Zoom and Tips For Using It More Securely

By now everyone has now heard of — and likely used — Zoom for staying connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. In what may have been a brilliant strategy to gain market share during adverse times, Zoom offered its videoconferencing service for free to schools, organizations, businesses, and individuals as a means of staying connected while the world is exercising social distancing and it seems as if everyone is now using Zoom.

Summary of Tax Provisions of the CARES ACT Passed on March 27, 2020

Below is a summary of the individual and business tax provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act, signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020. For provisions relating to retirement plans, please click here for a summary by Spencer Fane’s Employee Benefits Group.

Title Insurance Issues Relating to COVID-19: Lender Recommendations

This memorandum is in regard to some of the changes we are seeing in the title insurance industry due to COVID-19. While the issues and impact may vary slightly by county and by title company, this memorandum addresses the following three (3) recurring concerns:

  • Delays in recording and delay affidavits;
  • The requirement of a gap indemnity agreement to be signed at closing; and
  • Exceptions to title related to COVID-19.

Prohibition on Beneficiary Inducements Hinders Rural Hospital Efforts to Aid Communities During COVID-19 Outbreak

During times of national or local crisis, people often look to the pillars of their communities, local employers, charities and other publicly-supported institutions, to provide much needed resources and stability.  In many rural communities, the local hospital fits into all three categories being one of the largest (if not they largest) local employer, charity and publicly-supported institution in the community (other than the local government).  As a result, people often look to hospitals during times of crisis, not just for healthcare services but also for the other resources needed in their lives (e.g., food, housing, financial assistance, etc.).

It’s Time to Establish (or Re-Constitute) an Ethics Committee

With the potential of scarce resources resulting from the COVID-19 virus, rural hospitals should consider taking immediate action to establish or reconstitute a hospital ethics committee. Although relatively common in large urban hospitals, in our experience ethics committees are relatively rare in rural hospitals. In rural settings, “typical” ethics issues such as end-of-life decisions are often resolved through informal interactions among patients, families, physicians, and administration. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to (if it has not already) raise not-so-typical issues for hospitals that will require a more structured approach. It is likely that hospitals will face issues never before considered about how to ethically apportion scarce resources such as masks, gowns, respirators, ICU beds, and ventilators.

Employee Benefits in the Age of COVID-19: Brief Answers to Some Common Health Plan Questions

As we are all now intimately aware, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the nature of the workplace, and all of the benefits, rights, and responsibilities arising out of employment.  We are operating under a new set of rules, and those rules are changing daily.  Employers’ efforts to manage their workforce in order to maintain fiscal viability while protecting the health of employees also affect benefits.  The cascading effect of these factors raises many thorny benefits questions.  We will summarize – and attempt to answer – a few of those questions here (based on the legal landscape as of March 31, 2020).

“CARES” Act and Defined Benefit Plans

The CARES Act signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020, includes relief for defined contribution plans, but defined benefit plans also received some relief.  In addition, the IRS issued guidance that includes an extension for employers to adopt a pre-approved defined benefit plan.  And, employers should remember their option to decrease the age at which employees may request an in-service withdrawal from defined benefit plans.

New Blanket Waivers of the Stark Law During COVID-19 Outbreak

On March 30, 2020, Alex M. Azar II, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, under the authority given to him under Section 1135(b) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. §1320b-5)[1], issued a series of waivers of the Stark Law (42 U.S.C. §1395nn).[2] Unlike the case-by-case waivers of the Stark Law that Secretary Azar previously gave the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (“CMS”) authority to issue to individual designated health services providers based on their specific request[3], the Stark Law waivers issued by the Secretary on March 30 apply to all designated health services providers.  As a result, these Stark Law waivers are referred to as blanket waivers.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Announces Regulatory Flexibility Amidst COVID-19 Impact

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (“MPCA”) has announced a process for regulated entities seeking regulatory flexibility that may have an unavoidable noncompliance situation that is directly due to an impact from the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency, declared by Governor Walz in Emergency Executive Order 20-01.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act: What Small Businesses and Lenders Need to Know

Summary

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act) is the largest financial assistance legislation ever enacted, and was signed into law on March 27, 2020.  It allocates $2 trillion for businesses, individuals, federal agencies, and state and local governments, and was designed to distribute capital quickly and broadly.

COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave: Updated Department of Labor FAQs

The Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued FAQs regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “FFCRA”) and has updated its FAQs multiple times by adding questions to the same document.  The FAQs can be found here. The most recent update occurred on March 28, 2020 and addressed many of employers’ questions that were initially left unanswered in the FFCRA and the initial FAQs.

“CARES” Act Requires Immediate Decisions by Retirement Plan Sponsors

A third round of relief from the coronavirus pandemic has made its way through the Senate and House and has been signed by President Trump. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (or “CARES”) Act provides over $2 trillion in relief for businesses and individuals. It also offers new avenues for defined contribution retirement plan participants to withdraw funds from their accounts in order to pay COVID-19-related expenses, if their employer elects to open those avenues. Some of the largest 401(k) and 403(b) plan record keepers are forcing employers to make that choice on just a few days’ notice.

COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave: An updated notice and more from Department of Labor

As of Friday, March 27, the Department of Labor has issued an updated notice on its website, as well as responses to additional questions about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”). The new notice can be found here: FFCRA Poster.[1]  The updated notice clarifies that employees may have a total of up to 12 weeks of leave, paid at 2/3 of pay, to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons.

Investment Adviser COVID-19 Reporting and Filing Exemption

In recognition of the challenges that SEC-registered investment advisers are facing as a result of COVID-19, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued an Order on March 25, 2020, that provides temporary exemptions from certain reporting and disclosure requirements under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.  The relief applies to filing and delivery obligations due on or after March 13, 2020, through June 30, 2020.

COVID-19 Impacts on Environmental Issues in Kansas – KDHE Bureau of Environmental Remediation Issues Guidance

Consistent with Governor Kelly’s March 17, 2020, directive, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) offices are closed for the two weeks between March 23 and April 3, 2020, as part of the state’s response to COVID-19.  KDHE continues its essential functions and the Bureau of Environmental Remediation (BER) has provided several updates for the regulated community.  The agency has indicated it is uncertain that mail will be logged in daily and parties should expect some delay in communications. Electronic communications are preferred where possible.

Environmental Compliance Challenges Due to COVID-19 – EPA Announces Temporary Enforcement Policy in Response to Pandemic

Today the Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program announced a temporary policy regarding EPA enforcement of environmental legal obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The policy is available here and is retroactive to March 13, 2020.  EPA makes clear that the policy is temporary and the agency will give seven days’ notice before terminating the policy.

Federal and State Income Tax Filing and Payment Extensions Affecting Individuals In Response to COVID-19 Crisis

Updated: April 14, 2020

Federal and State Income Tax Filing and Payment Extensions Affecting Individuals In Response to COVID-19 Crisis

Federal, state, and local governments have extended income tax filing and payment deadlines in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The extensions which affect individuals (including entities from which individuals may receive distributions or Forms K-1) are summarized below. This summary does not include provisions applicable to employers.

Be Proactive and Prepared Regarding Existing Loans

Banks must be proactive and prepared to assist their borrowers in the uncertain times ahead.  Here are several recommendations as to the things your bank can be doing to be proactive and prepared with respect to your loan portfolio.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources Announces Flexibility in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

At a Wednesday, March 25, conference Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) division director Ed Galbraith said MDNR will take a flexible approach to enforcing environmental requirements during the COVID-19 outbreak. Galbraith also said that MDNR has discontinued environmental inspections for the time being and that he understands EPA Region 7 has done so, as well.  MDNR is conducting certain field work, however.   

COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave: Updates from Department of Labor

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (the “Act”). We outlined the key provisions of this law here. Since the publication of our original article, the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, which will enforce the new law, has published updated guidance about the new law. The Department has now clarified that the law will officially take effect on April 1, 2020, and applies to leave taken between April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.  The new law also requires that employers post notice regarding the new law, and a model notice has been published. It can be found here.

Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, and Communities Issue COVID-19 Orders to Require Social Distancing and to Stay at Home (Sometimes)

Over the weekend and Monday morning, Missouri and the major local jurisdictions that comprise the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas issued emergency orders directing business and individual responses to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak by imposing social distancing requirements. Kansas had issued a statewide order on March 17, and Illinois had issued a statewide order on Friday, March 20.  Generally speaking, these orders close schools except for distance learning, ban activities inside bars and restaurants, ban social gatherings of more than 10 people, and encourage social distancing. The Illinois state order and many of the city and county orders require businesses and organizations to close their workplaces and workers to stay home unless they are deemed “essential” or qualify for another exemption.  Some businesses have been obtaining favorable determinations that they are “essential” from their local jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis.  Grounds for exemptions can include food manufacturing and processing, manufacturing and supply chain services for other essential businesses, construction, services to help businesses comply with laws, and many others.

COVID-19: Commercial Leasing – Landlord and Tenant Rights

As we navigate through choppy and sometimes uncharted waters during the coronavirus pandemic, commercial tenants and landlords are experiencing their own challenges. Many businesses are subject to governmental shutdown orders or restrictions on their ability to operate in the manner that was their normal before the pandemic. Some commercial tenants and landlords may be experiencing financial difficulties which impact their ability to pay rent or mortgage payments, respectively. Below are some issues that tenants and landlords should be considering in the current economic climate. It must be noted that although specific options might vary across states/jurisdictions, these common themes should be considered.

COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Family Medical Leave: Key Provisions

On March 18, 2020, President Trump signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which goes into effect no later than April 2, 2020.  The new law imposes sweeping new emergency paid leave and expanded family medical leave requirements for employers nationwide.  Here is a summary of the key provisions affecting employers:

ERISA Fiduciaries Must Monitor Market Turbulence

The recent turmoil in the financial markets, while troubling for individual investors, also has potentially significant implications for ERISA fiduciaries. Individuals and committees who have investment authority over plan assets should reevaluate their portfolios in light of these developments.  Circumstances may not require a change in investment strategy, but ERISA’s prudence requirement requires fiduciaries to give immediate, thoughtful consideration to how those circumstances have changed.

Coronavirus is a Recordable Illness According to OSHA

According to recent OSHA guidance, COVID-19 (i.e., the coronavirus) is subject to the agency’s Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements at 29 CFR 1904.  This means that employers who are subject to the OSHA recordkeeping and reporting rules must include and log employee illnesses related to the coronavirus when an employee is infected on the job.  So while the common cold and Flu are exempt from work-related exposures, the coronavirus is not.