Since March of 2020 (has it really been a year?!), the Governor has ordered employers to allow employees to work from home if they can in many industries.  Many other employers have just decided to do it anyways.

Working from home has been far from a temporary thing; it’s THE thing.

But what about providing equipment to work from home?  What about internet service? A printer? Printer ink? A desk? A ergonomic chair?

Many employers are providing some type of help, offering computers and other office equipment.  But where’s the line between something being “required” to do the work and something that is “helpful” to do the work?

Some states have already figured out where the line is and have required employers to reimburse employees for all sorts of home office expenses.  (I’m looking at you California, Illinois, Massachusetts and others.) The Connecticut General Assembly is now considering a bill to do the same.

House Bill 6536 is up for a public hearing this Thursday March 4.  You can find the text of the bill here. 

The bill would require employers to reimburse an employee for all “necessary expenditures” incurred by the employee “within the employee’s scope of employment and directly related to the services performed”.

What is a necessary expenditure? According to the bill it would be:

“[A]ll expenditures required of the employee by the employer, in the discharge of employment duties that inure to the primary benefit of the employer, including, but not limited to, the cost of purchasing:

(A) Equipment and technology, including, but not limited to, items such as computers, printers and cellular phones;

(B) services, including, but not limited to, services such as internet provider services, mobile internet access services and cellular telephone services; and

(C) employment-related supplies such as paper and printer ink and toner.

Necessary expenditures do not include

(i) expenses agreed to be borne by the employee prior to an assignment to work from home;

(ii) expenses or losses due to an employee’s own negligence, normal wear, or theft, unless the theft was a result of the employer’s negligence; or

(iii) expenses indirectly related to the employee’s scope of employment, such as costs related to traveling to and from the employee’s regular work location.”

It’s more complicated than this, of course. There are further exceptions if the employer has a “written expense reimbursement policy which the employee has reviewed and agreed to” and if the employer did not “authorize or require” the employee to incur the expenditure (which seems kind of obvious since by definition an expenditure is only necessary if it is, in fact “required”.)

It’s still too early this session to know whether this will pass or whether it just makes for good publicity. But the CBIA and other business groups are keeping an eye on it.

You should too.

 

With many workplaces now going on a year with remote workers, issues that were thought to be temporary blips are turning into major headaches.

Suppose your office in Stamford, Connecticut is closed and employee are allowed to work remotely.

What happens to those New York residents who are now working from home 24/7?

What about those employees who are working in states other than those where the employer normally has an office?

We can’t begin to address all of the subjects, but the Connecticut legislature is working on one small aspect.  (Update: On Monday, March 1, the General Assembly gave final approval to the bill)

As my colleagues, Lou Schatz and Elva Saltzman, have addressed in a new update, the income tax requirements of various states may create a double taxation.  A new bill would reduce that at least for 2020. But uncertainties still persist.

You can read the entire piece here but suffice to say that employers need to get a handle on where their employees are working from. Some type of survey or census of employees may be needed to ensure that employers are complying with tax rules in addition to any unemployment insurance or workers compensation rules applicable in various states.

With vaccines rolling out to employees 55 and older on March 1, 2021, employers that thought they may face issues in a few months, now will be front and center for those considerations.

How do you deal with risks and litigation concerns?

My colleagues, Jill O’Toole and Sarah Niemiroski, and I have prepared a quick post on all these issues on my firm’s sister site, Employment Law Letter.

In addition, we’re planning a brand-new webinar on vaccines given the multitude of new questions that keep arising as a result of vaccines.  It’s set for early March. Watch for details soon.

 

Yesterday, Governor Lamont announced a sweeping change to the way that vaccinations will be distributed in Connecticut. Previously, it was anticipated that workers in essential businesses would receive the vaccines next.  Many businesses started plans for the eventuality.

That plan was thrown out.

Instead, the governor announced a new age-based plan.  It’s simple and straightforward though it leaves some essential workers and some with pre-existing medical conditions with a further wait for the vaccine.

Ultimately, the planned timing is as follows:

  • On March 1, 2021, residents and employees within Connecticut who are 55 years old or older will now be eligible, as well as educators and child care providers.
  • On March 22, 2021, that will expand to those 45 years old and older
  • On April 12, 2021, that will expand to those 35 years old and older
  • On May 3, 2021, it will expand to all remaining eligible (with the caveat that the vaccine is not yet approved for those under the age of 16).

In the short term, this may disrupt some essential business plans to get their workforce back to the office sooner because some of their staff may not get vaccinated until early summer. But it may also allow some other businesses to open back up sooner because some of their workers can get vaccinated earlier.

Employers now need to be ready to address vaccination questions such as accommodations that were thought to be several months away.

The vaccines are finally here. Time to get to work.

So, a year into this pandemic, it’s worth taking stock (again) of where employers are in Connecticut and some of the issues that have been popping up of late that are far different from the issues we faced a year ago.

Yes, the pandemic is still with us and likely to still be with us in some form or another for a long while.

But, the case statistics in the state (and, indeed, across the United States) show a sustained and significant drop.  Yesterday had one of the lowest positivity rates since mid-October with just 534 new COVID-19 cases.   It’s unclear of all the causes but it’s suspected that the vaccines are having some impact.  Whether this will continue or whether variants will halt this decline are unknowns at this point.

In Connecticut, the Governor has previewed one significant change to the Sector Rules that have been in place for event venues: We’re likely to see an increase in the cap as of March 19th to up to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. This will significantly help those who are in the wedding business.

For businesses, all the remaining rules are still in place. That means those who can work from home still should work from home.  Travel restrictions are still in place. At least for now.

But.

There should be increasing questions as to whether the rules should be modified as the infection rate drops and vaccines become more prevalent.  And these questions should be addressed too.

  • Can employers require vaccinated workers to come into the workplace even though they “can” work from home?
  • Should the same Sector Rules still be in place when a majority of workers have been vaccinated?
  • How do the new CDC guidelines impact offices and other workplaces where vaccinations have already occurred?
  • (And, as an aside, can the Rules be updated to reflect the fact that the FFCRA is no longer effective?)

In our most recent webinar, we talked a lot about the options available to employers to consider regarding vaccines.  The program is still available on-demand.

The pandemic is far from being over. I suspect masks will be required for workplaces for some time. But it also does not seem to early to start planning for this next phase of the pandemic as well.

As plans for a broader vaccine rollout unfold, the questions and decisions facing employers have multiplied. Beyond the important question of whether employers can mandate vaccines, there is an equally-challenging question: should they?

I’ve been talking with employers a lot about these issues the last few weeks — so much so, that my colleagues and I figured it would be best now to put together a webinar that tries to address the more complicated issues that have been arising.

For example: What do you do when a client only wants vaccinated employees to work on its projects? What incentives can you provide and what are proving to be effective?

I hope you can join us for my firm’s complimentary webinar, in which presenters from across a variety of disciplines will explore: employer vaccine mandates, what information employers can seek from their employees, and what exceptions might need to be made for employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

Other topics will include:

  • Workplace safety and OSHA rules
  • Compliance with federal Executive Orders and state safe workplace rules
  • Rules applicable to employer-sponsored vaccination clinics
  • Management of the data employers receive
  • Whether to contract vaccine distribution directly or offer it as an employee benefit

The webinar is set for February 8, 2021 from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM.  It’s free though we ask you to register in advance here.

Did you hear the one about the two employment lawyers who walked into a Zoom?

If you know of a good punch line, then you may have figured out that the answer is actually a link: Employment law attorney Eric Meyer (who writes the always topical blog Employer Handbook) and I have a lunchtime webinar scheduled for Friday, January 28th at noon on all things employment law. You can find the link here.

Like most good Zoom sessions, we promise we won’t take ourselves too seriously.  But we will try to talk about the very latest in all the changes in employment law at the White House. The first 10 days of the new administration have shown how much can get done when you have focused leadership.

In addition, Eric has promised we’ll take a few questions so no doubt we’ll talk about the very latest in vaccines and what the new COVID-19 variants may have in store for employers.

Longtime readers of the blog will no doubt remember Eric’s name which goes back to the early days of the blog.  Now a partner at FisherBroyles, Eric has one of the more unique introductions of himself that you will find: “You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? If you want a nerdy employment-lawyer brain to help you solve HR-compliance issues proactively before the action sequence, as a Partner of a national law firm, FisherBroyles, LLP, I’m here to help.”

I can’t help but think of Doctor Emmett Brown from my favorite movie.  (Though would that make me Marty McFly?  Perhaps I’ll wear my vest…)

Come join us for this free program, stay for the action sequences, and bring your questions (and your own lunch).

If you thought the new Biden White House would take it easy on the use of Executive Orders, you haven’t been paying attention.  President Biden has been indicating that he would use Executive Orders liberally in the first few days to either develop policy or turn around policies that he believes should be revoked.

The first week has brought a series of orders that address topics from sexual orientation, to the pandemic, to wage increases.

My colleagues, Keegan Drenosky and Sarah Westby, and I have tried to recap the Executive Orders to date in a post on our sister firm blog, Employment Law Letter earlier today.

Employers in Connecticut have already had to comply with the Sector Rules put in place to operate during this pandemic through Governor Lamont’s own Executive Orders.  Some other states have enacted similar rules, including New York.  Thus, employers will need to ensure that they are complying with both federal and state rules.

I’ll be talking more about this on Friday, with Eric Meyer, an attorney at FisherBroyles who runs the Employer Handbook blogYou can find the registration information (free!) here.

And speaking of Executive Orders, Governor Lamont indicated on Monday that he plans to extend the emergency orders another 10 weeks (from February 9 to April 20).  So we’ll watch for that language in the upcoming days.

Suffice to say that for employers, the new Biden administration will bring changes to a wide swath of employment law policies.

Stay tuned.

 

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot in the media say that the First Amendment doesn’t apply outside the government.

In Connecticut, that’s just not true — particularly when it comes to the private workplace.

As I’ve written about before, employees do have certain free speech rights that have been codified in state law. Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 31-51q to be exact.

But those rights are not unlimited and when such speech interferes with the working relationship at the company, it may not be protected at all.

On Monday, I’ll be discussing this on a live webinar with the Western Connecticut chapter of SHRM.

I’ll talk about the state of the current law, some common scenarios and best practices for human resources in dealing with social media, protests and the pandemic.

Hope you can join us.

One of the stories to come out of the Capitol Attack earlier this month was the strong presence of QAnon supporters.

QAnon is a wide-ranging — and wholly untrue — conspiracy theory (online cult?) that posits that President Trump has been waging a secret war against elite Satinists and pedophiles in government and elsewhere.  It started in the fall of 2017 when an anonymous user put a series of posts on the 4Chan website and claimed to have “Q”-level government clearance.

(Though conspiracies like this also started well before that — see that pizzagate story too.)

It’s nonsense, of course.

But that hasn’t stopped hundreds of thousands of people — and perhaps millions — from trafficking in part or all of the (sometimes contradictory) theories spouting from it.

Psychology Today has done a series of articles on this as have many other publications like The Atlantic but the issues such online conduct raises go far beyond the workplace.

But more and more, we’re seeing it start to infiltrate the workplace.  They are anecdotal pieces to be sure, but we’re starting to hear about employees who spout off at work about conspiracies.

And it’s not just employees, but supervisors too. Take this New York Times column from September — “Help! My Boss is a Conspiracy Theorist!”

Or this piece about employees who argue that no one is really dying from COVID-19. 

It’s a challenge for human resources and managers on top of a monumental set of other challenges.

But when those beliefs start interfering in the workplace — for example, the employee who refuses to wear masks — action is necessary. Discipline and firings are all tools in the toolbox to address it.

Unfortunately, just trying to convince employees that they are wrong hasn’t had a lot of success of late.