It was a mess of times. It was the masked of times. We all probably agree that 2020 presented unexpected and unwanted challenges to employers. It certainly made all of us address unprecedented issues. Let’s look back at some of the things we had to learn during the last 12 tumultuous months and see what perspective we may have on them now:
Remember pre-COVID-19? It’s almost too difficult to do. Back in January, we were looking at ordinary law changes such as the DOL issuing a rule clarifying how you calculated a regular rate of pay. Or how the new, scary California Consumer Privacy Act was forcing employers to disclose the types of data they were collecting from customers and employees. Both the rule and law are still in effect, but they both feel like they happened a century ago.
Then the virus hit. It is interesting to look back at some of our first thoughts on how the pandemic would affect employers. We had no idea how large the numbers of infected individuals would be or how long it would last. When the FFCRA was enacted, everyone scrambled to understand what it meant and how to make sure you were following it. We all learned about emergency paid sick leave and new provisions of the FMLA. Employers struggled with how to garner the Employer Tax Credit. Due to the lock down, many employers were forced to furlough (a new idea for many of us) or lay off workers, and we got many questions about unemployment benefits. The DOL was constantly updating its website to try to keep up with the numerous FFCRA questions. The FFCRA is set to expire on December 31, 2020. The current stimulus bill recently signed by the President does NOT extend those provisions (although it does indicate you can voluntarily provide some sort of leave).
We had multiple posts on the FFCRA, so see below for some of our initial thoughts:
Employers also had to learn how to deal with employees working remotely or only coming back on partial schedules. Here were some of our initial thoughts:
Many businesses have now semi-adapted to more people working from home. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues after widespread vaccinations. Technology has come a long way toward making it easier to telecommute, and it may help cut down on overhead. We may also see changes in office dress codes due to workers getting used to wearing casual clothes.
Right in the middle of all the pandemic craziness, one of the biggest employment law decisions of the last 20 years landed in our laps: Title VII protection for LGBTQ employees. Although this change continues to be overshadowed by the pandemic, it resolved a split among the courts across the country and expanded the right to file a claim for discrimination to millions of workers. It will be interesting to see if the EEOC statistics scheduled to be released shortly will reflect any trends in this area.
Also, during the summer, the country saw massive protests about racial justice. This raised questions about how employers were to deal with political speech in the workplace. We also had an election, which reminded us of employers’ obligations to allow employees to vote.
With the development of the vaccine, some of the old issues raised their heads: Can you force an employee to be vaccinated? And even in December, we are trying to figure out how to deal with employees who have to self-quarantine.
Overall, it was a zany year. But we made it through it! We here at Labor & Employment Insights were proud to try to provide you information on the roller coaster year that was 2020. We wish all of you a happy New Year and hope to bring you more interesting content in 2021 (maybe about something other than COVID-19).