COVID-19 FAQs for Employers: Update on Temporary Closures, Layoffs, and Leaves of Absence
[Updated March 19: With the passage of the First Families Coronavirus Response Act, some employers will be required to provide paid leave related to COVID-19. Click for more information.]
In the last few days, Minnesota has closed schools, restaurants, theaters, fitness centers, and other gathering places (Emergency Executive Orders opens in a new window20-02 and opens in a new window20-04). Minnesota has also started to provide much-needed relief to Minnesota employers and employees facing the immediate loss of work because of COVID-19 ( opens in a new windowEmergency Executive Order 20-05), including making unemployment benefits immediately accessible rather than requiring a one-week waiting period for out-of-work individuals. Below, we answer some frequently asked questions we have received since these orders were issued.
We have to shut down temporarily because of COVID-19 and related orders. Will our employees be eligible for unemployment benefits?
Likely, yes. Minnesota requires out-of-work individuals to look for suitable employment, but Order opens in a new window20-05 clarifies that individuals are not required to look for or accept work that would put the health and safety of the applicant, other workers, or the public at risk. The Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), which administers unemployment benefits, has also said that employees temporarily laid off because of COVID-19 simply need to stay in contact with their employers to show they are looking for suitable employment. We expect this guidance to evolve as closures extend or become permanent.
We have several employees who have to stay home to care for children because of school and daycare closures, and they are unable to perform their jobs from home. Do we have to provide them a leave of absence? Are they eligible for unemployment benefits?
We are advising employers to allow employees to work from home when possible, but some jobs simply cannot be performed remotely or cannot be performed while also caring for children. There are not currently job protection laws or rules for this specific situation, so employers can choose between offering a leave of absence or terminating employment. We anticipate job protection may be enacted in the near future, however, so we advise employers to keep a close watch on new legislation.
Employees on a leave of absence to care for their children due to COVID-19 may be eligible for unemployment benefits. To be eligible, employees will likely need to show that they (1) have to stay home to care for children because of school or daycare closures (including unavailability of ordinary childcare); (2) are not receiving any form of paid leave benefit (such as paid sick and safe leave earned under a local ordinance, sick time, PTO, or vacation), and (3) cannot perform job responsibilities remotely. Employees are required to make a reasonable effort to obtain other childcare and must demonstrate that they requested time off or another accommodation before they will be eligible.
We have an employee who has asked to stay home and self-quarantine, but the employee does not have a compromised immune system or other health reason to be quarantined. Do we have to accommodate this request? What are the consequences?
No, employers do not have to accommodate such requests, but we recommend only denying the request if the employee’s job cannot be performed remotely. Generally speaking, employers are encouraged to allow remote work whenever possible during this pandemic, and many employers are finding innovative ways to accomplish that remotely. However, there are some jobs that cannot be performed off-site. Employers do not need to accommodate employee requests to self-quarantine because of the employee’s own generalized fear of exposure.
If the employer instructs the employee not to come to work because of an outbreak of a communicable disease, however, the employee will be considered to be on an involuntary leave of absence and will likely be eligible for unemployment benefits.
We have an employee with a compromised immune system whose doctor has recommended self-quarantine. Do we have to accommodate this request? What are the consequences?
This request should be accommodated if possible, but as stated above, there are some positions that simply cannot be performed remotely. Whether the request needs to be granted depends on the specific request, position, and circumstances. Generally speaking, employers are encouraged to allow remote work whenever possible during this pandemic, whether the request is based on an underlying medical condition or otherwise. As in other employment situations, employers may need to provide a leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation.
Employees who self-isolate or self-quarantine on recommendation from health authorities or healthcare providers because of a compromised immune system will be eligible for unemployment benefits under opens in a new windowOrder 20-05 if they are unable to work as a result (either because the job cannot be performed remotely or because the only available accommodation is an unpaid leave of absence). The individual would also be eligible for unemployment benefits if health authorities or a healthcare provider otherwise determine the individual’s presence in the workplace would put the individual or others at risk. Note that, in addition to any reasonable accommodation requirements under the ADA or Minnesota Human Rights Act, Minnesota offers job protection for certain isolation or quarantine situations.
We have to temporarily lay-off several employees because of COVID-19. We are also reducing some employees’ hours, though we will be able to keep them employed on a part-time basis. Is our unemployment insurance tax rate going to increase?
No. opens in a new windowExecutive Order 20-05 prohibits the Minnesota Unemployment Insurance Program from using employment benefits paid as a result of COVID-19 in computing employers’ future tax rates. Employers’ unemployment insurance tax rates will be unaffected by the increase in benefits resulting from COVID-19.
At this time, the relief from Order 20-05 benefits only taxpaying employers. Nonprofits who self-fund or reimburse the state for unemployment benefits paid out to former employees do not receive relief from current legislation or orders. We have been in touch with state officials and know there are discussions underway, so hopefully, this issue will be addressed. Employees of reimbursing nonprofits are eligible under the same terms and conditions of all other employees. For more information on how Order 20-05 impacts nonprofits, opens in a new windowclick here.
One of our employees tested positive for COVID-19, and we have told our other employees not to come to work. They will not be able to work remotely. Will our employees be eligible for unemployment benefits?
Yes. Under opens in a new windowOrder 20-05, if the employer instructs employees not to come to work because of an outbreak of a communicable disease, the employees will be considered to be on an involuntary leave of absence and will likely be eligible for unemployment benefits.