On March 11, 2020, President Trump delivered an Oval Office address intended to confront the issues surrounding the Coronavirus. In his address, President Trump outlined a three-stage plan for mitigating the impact of the Coronavirus as it relates to businesses/employment:
- The Small Business Administration (SBA) will begin providing low-interest loans to help small businesses overcome temporary economic disruptions caused by the virus. President Trump is asking Congress to increase funding for this program by an additional $50 billion.
- The Treasury Department will be deferring tax payments without interest or penalties for individuals and businesses negatively impacted. This is intended to provide over $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy.
- President Trump is calling for Congress to provide Americans with immediate payroll tax relief. This is opposed by some lawmakers as it will deplete Social Security even faster than the hypothesized depletion of 2034.
In response to the President’s call for Congressional action, members of Congress are proposing the passage of a new version of a sick leave bill that has been stalled in Congress since 2004. The proposed legislation would allow workers to accumulate 7 days of paid sick leave to prevent the spread of disease and also require up to 14 days of paid sick leave during public emergencies. The proposal also calls for emergency unemployment insurance to replace lost wages from a quarantine or the need to stay home with children who are home due to school closures. The proposal is under debate as lawmakers question whether employers or the government should foot the bill.
As Congress debates proposed legislation, affected businesses may need to turn to the President’s implementations in order to deal with costs connected to the Coronavirus. One major area of consideration is paid sick leave policies. These policies often include up to two weeks of paid leave for employees who fall ill or are quarantined because of a confirmed exposure to the Coronavirus. This remains a sensitive issue under debate by lawmakers.
For small businesses that are negatively impacted by the disease, it may be necessary to defer tax payments or take advantage of SBA low-interest loans. As part of this initiative, a state or territory’s Governor must request assistance from the SBA, which will then choose whether or not to issue an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration. If the declaration is granted to an affected state or territory, the application process will be made available to small businesses and private, non-profit organizations in the defined region. The SBA loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that are unable to be paid due to the impact of the Coronavirus.
While Federal and state agencies continue to develop programs and policies to combat the ever-growing list of implications of COVID-19, employers must develop their own plan of address and preparation. The options proposed by President Trump may provide relief. There is little doubt that the government is advancing efforts as quickly as possible, but those efforts should not supplant individual address of policy and protocol. Each business, each employer must do their part to provide a safe working environment and reduce the spread of the virus. This is a time and opportunity for employers to take the lead in the development of a safe and productive workplace. Additional articles pertaining to considerations for leave, basic precautions, flexible schedules and work from home opportunities are being developed and will be disbursed in the next few days
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