This update provides a quick-reference summary of major Minnesota state and local government actions taken in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that may be pertinent to Minnesota clients’ business operations. We will seek to update the summary for major events as the state and local response unfolds.
We have divided this summary into the following broad categories: (i) Stay-at-Home Order; (ii) unemployment benefits and employment; (iii) restaurants, bars, and other public accommodations; (iv) healthcare; (v) other Minnesota actions; (vi) litigation; and (vii) more to come.
I. STAY-AT-HOME ORDER
Governor Tim Walz had issued a constellation of executive orders that require Minnesotans to stay at home through May 3, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. (the “Stay Order”). On April 30, 2020, he issued Executive Order 20-48, which consolidated the existing series of Orders and extended the Stay Order, with modifications, through May 17, 2020.
The Stay Orders require Minnesotans to limit their movement and travel, except if they are engaged in certain exempt “essential” activities or non-critical exempt businesses that cannot be completed from or at home. Minnesotans are “strongly encouraged” to wear a face covering as a means of source control whenever they leave the home.
- What Is Allowed? The Stay Orders allow all individuals to do the following: to engage in work deemed to be in a “Critical Sector” or a “Non-Critical Exempt Business”; care for others or seek shelter; relocate for safety; seek medical care; engage in outdoor recreational activities as long as social distancing measures are observed; vote in state and local elections; obtain necessary supplies or services (food, beverages, gasoline, work supplies); and travel in order to engage in exempt activities.
- What Are “Critical Sectors”? The Stay Orders define critical sectors by starting with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)’s classifications of sixteen (16) critical infrastructure sectors and then adding additional sectors specific to Minnesota’s Stay Orders. The full list of industry sectors deemed “critical” and therefore exempt from the Stay Orders are:
- Healthcare and public health
- Law enforcement, public safety and first responders
- Food and agriculture
- Water and wastewater
- Transportation and logistics
- Public works
- Communications and information technology
- Community-based government operations and essential functions
- Critical manufacturing
- Hazardous materials
- Financial services
- Defense industrial base
- Tribal Governments
- The Judicial Branch
- The Executive Branch
- Outdoor recreational facilities
- Executive Constitutional Offices
- The Legislative Branch
- Federal Employees
- National Guard
- Faith leaders and workers
- Construction and critical trades
- Child care providers
- Hotels, residential facilities and shelters
- Shelters for displaced individuals
- Charitable and social services organizations
- Legal services
- Critical Labor Union Functions
- Laundry services
- Animal shelters and veterinarians
- Real Estate Transactions
- Essential Supply Stores
“Non-Critical Exempt Businesses” are permitted to operate if they establish, train employees on, and post a “COVID-19 Preparedness Plan” that provides for the following: (1) compliance and implementation of MNOSHA standards and MDH and CDC guidelines; (2) continued work from home whenever possible; (3) policies that ensure that sick workers stay at home (including health screenings); (4) social distancing; (5) hygiene and source control measures; and (6) cleaning and disinfection protocols. Non-Critical Exempt Businesses comprise:
- Industrial and manufacturing businesses, which include “wholesale trade, warehousing, and places of employment in which goods are in the process of being created” (e.g., mining, construction, utilities, forestry, agriculture).
- Office-based businesses in which employees perform their work at their desk in an office.
- Retail businesses that allow for curbside pickup and do not require customers to enter the place of business.
Non-Critical Exempt Businesses may not conduct customer visits, invite customers to the workplace, or conduct any meetings that do not allow for social distancing. Businesses that fall under Non-Critical Exempt Businesses but that have customer-facing retail environments may not resume operations.
The Stay Orders also permit workers to support business or organization “minimum basic operations,” such as maintaining the value of the business’s inventory or condition and security of its facilities or equipment; process payroll and employee benefits; and/or supporting or facilitating others’ work-from-home capabilities.
The Stay Orders do not restrict virtual work or telework (i.e. work from home) for employees who are not employed in Critical Sectors or Non-Critical Exempt Businesses.
II. UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS AND EMPLOYMENT;
- Consistent with federal guidance, Governor Walz announced several changes to unemployment benefits in Minnesota, including:
- The following individuals may be eligible for unemployment benefits in addition to those who were previously eligible:
- individuals whose employment is terminated, who become underemployed, or who are unable to start a new position as a result of COVID-19;
- individuals who are recommended or ordered to avoid contact with others by a healthcare authority or provider;
- individuals who are unable to work due to cancellation or unavailability of schools, daycares, or other childcare providers as long as the individual made reasonable effort to find other childcare and requested time off or other reasonable accommodation from their former employer; and
- self-employed individuals and independent contractors.
- The ordinary one-week waiting period to access benefits will be waived for benefit applications made on or after March 1, 2020.
- Eligible workers are entitled to additional benefits under the CARES Act, including $600/week additional unemployment benefit payment; a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for workers who have exhausted their regular benefits; and weekly payments for those who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits from the state.
- The ordinary work-search requirements for individuals receiving benefits are modified such that: (1) benefit recipients are only required to search for work that does not pose a health risk to the individual or others; and (2) if the recipient is temporarily laid off, they must maintain regular contact with the employer.
- The regular five-week benefit limitation is waived for business owners who had previously elected coverage and became unemployed due to COVID-19.
- Unemployment benefits paid as a result of COVID-19 will not be used in computing future unemployment tax rates of a taxpaying employer.
- Employees in critical sectors and who work for non-critical exempt businesses are not required to carry paperwork when traveling to and from work.
- Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth have sick and safe time ordinances that will allow time off for a number of purposes related to COVID-19:
- The City of Minneapolis issued FAQs stating that employees may use accrued Minneapolis sick and safe leave for absences relating to COVID-19 testing, care or quarantine in the event of COVID-19 symptoms or close contact with someone with COVID-19 symptoms, caring for a family member whose ordinary care arrangements have been disrupted by the outbreak, and for workplace closures ordered by a public official.
- St. Paul and Duluth’s ordinances should similarly apply in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak and would allow eligible employees to use accrued benefits for their own diagnosis, care or treatment, or to obtain the same for a covered family member.
- MNOSHA issued a bulletin stating that employers have a responsibility to assure the safety of every worker, including preventing the spread of communicable diseases. The bulletin also advised that employers must not retaliate against employees who contract or are exposed to COVID-19, or who miss work to care for a family member who has been exposed to or contracts COVID-19.
- MNOSHA has released guidance specific to certain workplaces and/or industries, including grocery stores, meatpacking, dentistry, manufacturing, convenience stores, construction, golf course and bait shop workers and customers, and non-essential businesses.
III. RESTAURANTS, BARS, AND OTHER PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS
- Governor Walz ordered restaurants, bars, event venues and other places of public accommodation to remain closed to customers through May 17, 2020.
- While most other establishments and venues must be closed:
- Restaurants are allowed and encouraged to offer take-out and delivery options (as long as such methods of purveyance adhere to social distancing recommendations).
- Restaurants may sell up to 750 mL of wine and up to 72 ounces of beer, hard seltzer, or cider, in its original and unopened packaging, with takeaway food orders.
- The City of Minneapolis is waiving all licensing late fees for food, taxi, liquor, wine, beer, or catering licenses.
- Restaurants or other take-out businesses in Minneapolis may apply for a free permit to establish “Food Pickup Zones” in metered spots outside of their business.
- For businesses impacted by the closure of places of public accommodation, the Minnesota Department of Revenue is granting a Sales and Use Tax grace period during which the Department will not assess penalties or interest—payments that were due by March 20 have an extension until May 20, 2020 (businesses that require additional relief may request it from the Minnesota Department of Revenue (see link)).
- Licensed food trucks may temporarily operate at certain highway rest stops through May 17, 2020.
IV. HEALTHCARE FACILITIES AND PROCEDURES
- On March 19, Governor Walz ordered that healthcare providers cease all non-essential or elective surgeries and procedures, including dental care, that utilize PPE or ventilators (essentially any procedure or care) for an indefinite period. On March 23, Governor Walz extended the order to other entities and to include non-essential or elective veterinary procedures.
- On May 6, Governor Walz partially rescinded these previous orders, allowing healthcare providers and veterinarians to begin providing non-essential and elective surgeries, procedures, and care, subject to certain prioritization, social distancing, and worker protection restrictions.
V. OTHER MINNESOTA AND LOCAL ACTION
- No Minnesota business may sell any good for more than 20 percent of its price before the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses may be fined up to $10,000 per violation.
- Any Minnesota-based business that has less than 250 employees and has been closed due to an executive order is eligible for interest-free loans between $2,500–$35,000 through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The program will be open for up to 12 months following the declaration of a peacetime emergency on March 13, 2020.
- The Minnesota Department of Revenue has extended the income tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020 (tracking the IRS’s extended federal filing deadline). The Department did not extended the filing deadline for corporation franchise, S-corporations, partnerships, or fiduciary taxes—however, such entities may qualify for an automatic extension.
- Certain highway weight restrictions and hours of service for carriers and drivers of commercial motor vehicles are suspended.
- On March 20, 2020, Governor Walz ordered a moratorium on all foreclosure actions brought by mortgage holders.
- Several recent orders from Governor Walz have attempted to eliminate regulatory hurdles for several critical occupations, including actions related to certain licensed health professions, motor carriers and drivers operating in Minnesota, and licensed police officers, firefighters, and security positions.
- Boards of directors and shareholders of Minnesota corporations may, with proper notice, change a meeting previously scheduled to be held in-person to a remote meeting.
- All Hennepin and Ramsey County government buildings are closed. Services in both counties are generally available by telephone.
- All deadlines imposed by statute (including statutes of limitations) are suspended until 60 days after the end of the statewide peacetime emergency declaration.
- Courts are not prevented from holding hearings, requiring appearances, or issuing orders as required for the needs of a case.
VII. MORE TO COME
- The Minnesota Legislature is in session and is expected to take action on a number of pending measures related to COVID-19.
- Several of Governor Walz’s recent orders will likely be subject to clarification and additional rulemaking, for example:
- DEED initially provided guidance indicating that individuals that accepted a voluntary layoff would be eligible for unemployment benefits. Later, its FAQ related to “a voluntary, unpaid leave of absence due to COVID-19” stated: “If you are in this situation, complete an application. We will notify you if you are eligible.” Now, however, that same FAQ provides that Minn. Stat. § 268.088 governs eligibility for unemployment benefits in the event of a voluntary layoff.
- It is also unclear how the State will determine when unemployment benefits were “paid as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic” to carry out the Governor’s order that these not be used in computing employers unemployment tax rate.
- Executive Orders 20-20, 20-33, 20-40, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp; see also #StayHomeMN Frequently Asked Questions, Office of Gov. Tim Walz, https://mn.gov/governor/covid-19/faq/ .
- This is a non-exhaustive list of permitted activities. For a complete list, and for further guidance, see Executive Order 20-48, Office of Gov. Tim Walz, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp; see also #StayHomeMN Frequently Asked Questions, Office of Gov. Tim Walz, https://mn.gov/governor/covid-19/faq/ .
- Executive Order 20-48, Office of Gov. Tim Walz, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp .
- See U.S. Department of Labor Announces New Guidance on Unemployment Insurance Flexibilities During COVID-19 Outbreak, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/eta/eta20200312-0.
- Executive Order 20-05, Office of Gov. Tim Walz, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp; COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and Unemployment Benefits, Minn. Unemployment Ins., https://www.uimn.org/applicants/needtoknow/news-updates/covid-19.jsp.
- COVID-19 Information for Workers, Minn. Unemployment Ins., https://www.uimn.org/applicants/needtoknow/news-updates/covid19-workers.jsp.
- COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and the Sick and Safe Time Ordinance Frequently Asked Questions, City of Minneapolis, http://sicktimeinfo.minneapolismn.gov/.
- Earned Sick and Safe Time and COVID 19 Frequently Asked Questions, City of Duluth, https://duluthmn.gov/media/9458/covid19-info.pdf.
- Worker Protections Related to COVID-19, MNOSHA, https://www.dli.mn.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/MN_worker_protections_related_to_COVID_19.pdf.
- MNOSHA Compliance: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), Minn. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., https://www.dli.mn.gov/business/workplace-safety-and-health/mnosha-compliance-novel-coronavirus-covid-19 .
- Executive Orders 20-04, 20-18, 20-48, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
- See Sess. L. ch. 75—S.F. No. 4498 (Apr. 17, 2020).
- FAQs for Local Businesses, City of Minneapolis, http://www.minneapolismn.gov/coronavirus/WCMSP-223299.
- Sales and Use Tax, Minn. Dep’t of Rev., https://www.revenue.state.mn.us/sales-and-use-tax.
- Executive Order 20-49, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp .
- Executive Orders 20-09, 20-16, 20-17, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
- Executive Order 20-51, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
- Executive Order 20-10, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
- Executive Order 20-15, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
- DEED Announces Small Business Loan Guarantee Program, Minnesota Employment & Econ. Dev’t (Mar. 30, 2020), https://mn.gov/deed/newscenter/press-releases/#/detail/appld/1/id/425536.
- Our Response to COVID-19, Minn. Dep’t of Revenue, https://revenue.state.mn.us/our-response-covid-19.
- Executive Orders 20-04, -06, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
- Executive Order 20-23, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp .
- Executive Order 20-24, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp .
- Executive Order 20-25, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp .
- Executive Order 20-43, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp .
- COVID-19 Response, Hennepin County, Minnesota, https://hennepin.us/residents/emergencies/covid-19 (last accessed May 4, 2020); Coronavirus Impacts on County Services, Ramsey County, https://ramseycounty.us/covid-19-info/coronavirus-impacts-county-services .
- Act of April 14, 2020, ch. 74, 2020 Minn. Laws (2020), available at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/2020/0/Session+Law/Chapter/74/.