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April 2, 2020

New laws for CT employers coping with COVID crisis

In response to the public-health emergency that is the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of new laws take effect April 1 that impact Connecticut companies and their workers affected by the medical crisis.

The new paid-leave legislation was outlined in a midday Tuesday webinar titled “In the COVID-19 Pandemic, What Comes Next for Employers?” The session was organized and presented by the law firm of Shipman & Goodwin LLP, with offices in Hartford, New Haven, Old Lyme, Stamford and Greenwich.

Enacted March 18, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) affects employers with fewer than 500 workers. The emergency federal legislation created paid sick and family-leave provisions for employees affected by the COVID-19; their employers will receive corresponding employment tax credits.

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) is informally known as “FMLA-plus,” as it expands the protections of the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The new law extends benefits and protections to employees forced to stay at home to care for family members. It provides up to two weeks (80 hours) of paid leave to parents of children homebound by school closings.

For longer-term absences, EPSLA accommodates up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for workers at two-thirds their regular pay rate (after the first 10 leave days which are unpaid). The payment cap is $200 per day, or $10,000 total. Shipman attorney Keegan Drenosky called the EPSLA provisions “a fairly narrow expansion of FMLA.”

The Shipman & Goodwin webinar also outlined the range of options available to employers in managing workforces idled by the medical crisis. That spectrum extends from:

  • Business as usual (“Not many companies can afford to do that now,” noted Shipman partner Gabriel J. Jiran, who chairs the firm’s Employer Defense and Labor Relations Practice.)
  • Layoffs — Although they may be permanent or temporary, layoffs terminate a worker’s employment with the organization. The employee becomes eligible for COBRA coverage and unemployment benefits.
  • Furloughs — Involuntary unpaid leave of absence without legal separation from the employer. Employer has option to continue benefits to worker; if not, then employee is COBRA-eligible. No payout of severance or accrued paid time off compensation. If/when business conditions justify, no need to formally rehire worker.
  • Workforce reduction — Can take the form of reduction of hours, or reduction of salary, subject to contract limitations.Shared work programs — May allow employees to retain a portion of present salary and benefits, while receiving partial unemployment benefits from the state.

About 500 people took part in the Shipman & Goodwin webinar, which lasted for 60 minutes.

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