COVID-19 Update: Click Here

Even as the Massachusetts economy reopens in phases, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the usual way of life for working individuals, families, businesses and communities.  This article will provide useful information for anyone who is out on, or considering, Covid-related medical leave.

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The need for paid sick leave or family medical leave has increased dramatically during the pandemic for those who have contracted the disease, are at high-risk to contract the disease, and also for those who are caregivers to high-risk populations.  Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), as amended by the Coronavirus Aid Relief Economic Security (CARES) Act, certain employees who need to take time off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are afforded extended protections to prevent their employer from firing or otherwise retaliating against any employee because they took sick-leave.

The two key provisions of the FFCRA are the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA).  These provisions and the FFCRA in its entirety became effective on April 2, 2020 and will last up through December 31, 2020.

 

Six Things Healthcare Workers Need to Know About the Massachusetts Health Care Worker Whistleblower Statute: Necessary Employee Protection Amidst the COVID-19 Fall-Out

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In Massachusetts, the Health Care Worker Whistleblower Statute (formally known as M.G.L. c. 149, sec. 187) makes it unlawful for employers to retaliate against their health care provider employees who report dangerous working conditions, and object to and/or refuse to partake in dangerous employment policies and/or practices that pose a public health risk to themselves or others.  Retaliation against healthcare workers for “blowing the whistle” on unsafe conditions is nothing new in Massachusetts.  In fact, healthcare workers are the only private employees in the Commonwealth who are protected from unlawful retaliation (demotion, termination, blackballing) for reporting safety violations.  That concept is worth repeating – retaliation against healthcare workers for reporting unsafe conditions is so prevalent that the legislature created a specific statute for healthcare workers to discourage the disturbing and prevalent practice of retaliation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken the importance of whistleblowers to a whole new level.  Widespread deaths in veteran’s homes across Massachusetts call into question not only the safety institution, but the “culture of silence” that kept the lid on things until it was too late; a culture so deeply embedded that healthcare workers would only speak to the press or the mayor’s office in Holyoke “on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.”   These days, it is not exaggeration to say that blowing the whistle is a matter of life and death.  Many of them.  Protecting whistleblowers protects the community.

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On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law and went into effect, under the supervision of the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, beginning April 2, 2020, up through December 31, 2020.

The two primary provisions of the FFCRA are Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA).  Unfortunately, employers may elect not to pay employees who are classified as health care providers or emergency responders under both the EPSLA and EFMLEA, however, they do have obligations to other categories of employees, which are discussed in more detail below.

In order to receive either EPSL or EFMLEA, an employee must provide their employer (either orally or in writing) with the following documentation:

The full extent of the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is yet to be determined, but many Massachusetts businesses are already suffering.  Those businesses may have insurance coverage available to help them survive this unprecedented economic disaster.  Unfortunately, however, insurance companies are already outright denying claims, often wrongfully, and may be exposing themselves to substantial lawsuits and verdicts for engaging in unfair and deceptive business practices.

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What is Business Interruption Coverage?

Most commercial property insurance policies provide coverage for business income loss by adding an endorsement to the insured’s property policy. This endorsement is designed to protect the insured for losses of business income it sustains as a result of direct loss, damage, or destruction to insured property by a covered peril. Although many such clauses are in use today, a typical business income insurance clause reads as follows:

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On Friday, April 3, 2020, the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome Emergency Situations (HEROES) Act of 2020 was formally introduced for consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Bill Huizenga of Michigan.  The bill, formally known as H.R.6433, is currently pending and has been referred to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

The HEROES Act, if passed into law, would apply to counties where there is at least one positive COVID-19 patient and would provide four-months of federal income tax relief to those fighting on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Frontline workers under the bill would include medical/healthcare professionals such as nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, hospital and licensed medical facility support staff, pharmacists, and senior care facility staff, as well as first responders such as paramedics, EMT’s, firefighters, corrections officers, and law enforcement officers.

The legislation also would afford the Secretary of the Treasury discretion to extend the federal tax relief for up to three additional months, if deemed appropriate.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Provides Broad Relief for Federal Student Loan Borrowers

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Professionals with federal student loan debt may be entitled to some relief under the newly enacted CARES Act.

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid has automatically placed federal student loan borrowers in “Administrative Forbearance,” which enables borrowers to temporarily stop making monthly student loan payments from March 13, 2020 up through September 30, 2020.

Philanthropic and governments across Massachusetts are setting up funds to support organizations and communities that have been impacted by the coronavirus. See below for a list of funds.

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State Senator Michael O. Moore of Worcester and State Representative James Arciero have presented an emergency bill known as S2602 (an identical emergency bill is pending in the House as well, known as H4927).  Interested members of the public are invited to give testimony (via written submissions due to Covid-19 social distancing guidelines) today, April 6 2020.

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The bill provides that all police, fire personnel, correction officers, dispatchers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, nursing professionals, and all individuals employed and considered as 1st responders, who contract, have symptoms of, or otherwise becomes affected by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), that results in a period of hospitalization, quarantine, or require self-quarantined measures as a result of being infected or coming into contact with someone who is infected with this virus, shall have their medical condition or incapacity to work presumed to be work-related.  This means the amount of time the public safety official is incapacitated or unable to perform their  duties as a result of COVID-19 shall be considered on duty time, and that the public safety official shall not be required to use sick time, vacation time, personal time or any other contractual time-off to cover said period of incapacitation or inability to perform regular duty work.  The time of incapacitation or inability to perform their duties shall be considered as “emergency hazard health duty.”

In short, this bill means that first responders and public safety officials will not have to use sick time or vacation time if they have to take time away from work due to COVID-19 and will continue to receive their pay.  To voice your support, call your State Representative and State Senator today!  You can learn more about the law here:

Attention all small business owners, sole proprietors, and independent contractors!  The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was recently signed into law.  Hundreds of billions of dollars have been set aside to help your business survive these uncertain times.  The text of the law itself is hundreds of pages of long.  To try and help, we have prepared a basic guide to the most important provisions of the law as far as your business is concerned:  the Paycheck Protection Program; Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Emergency Economic Injury Grants; Small Business Debt Relief Program; Small Business Tax Provisions; and Small Business Counseling.  For more detailed information about any of these topics, or the CARES Act generally, be sure to visit the Small Business Administration’s website at https://www.sba.gov.   For starters, here are some of the most important provisions of the stimulus package:

Small Business Debt Relief Program

If your small business or sole proprietorship already has a non-disaster loan through the Small Business Administration, or takes out such a loan in the next six months, the SBA is offering immediate payment relief.

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