Employment Law Update March 2021
March 2021 has brought several notable employment law updates. Once again, COVID-19 dominates the headlines. Here are a few of the most important developments:
- President Biden signs American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 expanding FFCRA tax credit. In addition to various stimulus provisions, the new Act extends the available tax credit under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) for employers that voluntarily provide paid COVID-19 leave until September 30, 2021, extending the previous deadline of March 31, 2021. The credit covers 100% of qualifying wages for FFCRA leave, and the qualifying reasons for taking leave are expanded. Notably, the qualifying reasons now include leave taken to receive a COVID-19 vaccination or to recover from an injury, disability, illness or condition related to receiving a vaccine. The maximum tax credit is increased to $200 per day per employee or $12,000 per employee in aggregate. Left out the Act were a previously proposed extension of the mandatory paid FFCRA leave, which expired at the end of 2020, and an increase in the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour.
- Walmart employees pursuing class action for unpaid COVID screening time. Workers filed a $5 million proposed class action in Arizona federal court alleging that Walmart required them to arrive at their shifts 10 to 15 minutes early to undergo COVID-19 screenings but failed to fully compensate them for their time. Some workers allegedly were required to stand in line and wait to be screened and when they did not pass the screening, they were sent home with no pay at all. Walmart denied the allegations. Employers should keep in mind that, where screenings are done on the company’s premises and for the benefit of the company, the employees are likely considered “on the clock” and must be compensated for their time.
- Amazon settles Whistleblower lawsuit over alleged COVID-19 safety protocol violations. The settlement comes after a former New Jersey employee claimed he was fired in retaliation for reporting that a shift manager refused to keep at least a 6-foot distance from other workers. The lawsuit was filed under New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, and also alleged that the manager had been reported several times by several employees but that HR ignored or refused to pass the complaints on to management. It bears noting that, while the lawsuit was filed under state law, federal OSHA law also has anti-retaliation provisions. Therefore, employers nationwide can look to this case as a lesson about the consequences of failing to properly address worker complaints during the pandemic.
Jeff Burke is an attorney at MacElree Harvey, Ltd., working in the firm’s Employment and Litigation practice groups. Jeff counsels businesses and individuals on employment practices and policies, employee hiring and separation issues, non-competition and other restrictive covenants, wage and hour disputes, and other employment-related matters. Jeff also represents businesses and individuals in employment litigation such as employment contract disputes, workforce classification audits, and discrimination claims based upon age, sex, race, religion, disability, sexual harassment, and hostile work environment.