For the past 10 months, the construction industry has managed all the complications of operating as an essential industry in our world during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But as 2021 starts and the pandemic continues to affect daily life, contractors and their employees could use some more guidance and insight.
To help navigate ongoing Covid-19 issues, Sage and FieldFlo hosted a webinar with attorney Iris Halpern of the Denver-based employment firm Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC.
Originally billed for demolition contractors, Halpern’s advice can help any employer in the field continue to maneuver and best protect themselves in this ever-changing landscape created by Covid-19.
Here are eight key legal points for the construction industry.
1. Paid leave is protected
Halpern said the most common complaints her firm, which specializes in employment law, has received come from employees who report being terminated after asking for paid leave while sick or under orders to quarantine.
She pointed to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which was passed by Congress in spring 2020. Although the FFCRA’s status heading into 2021 is somewhat in flux and some protections might temporarily lapse, Halpern said she thinks it’s likely President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will extend its protections or pass similar legislation related to paid leave once he is in office.
Under the FFCRA, employees are provided with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.
According to the US Department of Labor, employees taking leave are entitled to pay at either their regular rate or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate (over a two-week period).
The FFCRA applies to companies with fewer than 500 employees, and although there’s an exemption that companies can apply for if they have fewer than 50 employees, the Act protects workers’ rights to paid leave – and keeping their jobs despite getting sick.
“It’s great to hear folks [in construction] are … encouraging employees to report when they’re not feeling well,” Halpern said. “It’s a good practice, and the pandemic has taught us that.”
2. Make sure to follow your state and local guidelines
The FFCRA and any follow-up federal legislation are important to know, Halpern said, but states and municipalities might impose more stringent obligations from companies during the pandemic.
Halpern, who’s based in Colorado, detailed her state’s specific protections as an example: Colorado secured paid leave for workers in industries that aren’t covered the FFCRA, as well as for companies with more than 500 employees.
States differ on many Covid-19-related subjects including paid leave and workers’ compensation (more on that below).
3. Keep health information as private as possible
Halpern said her firm receives many questions about what workers must share about their health, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifies rules for when an employer can ask an employee about medical information.
“A lot of [those rules] has been thrown out the window for Covid-19, for all intents and purposes,” Halpern said.
There is still confidentiality in pandemic times. Halpern said if an employee does test positive for Covid-19, a company should not disclose his or her identity. But employers should disclose where and with whom the person worked to the rest of their staff for their own safety.
“In the pandemic, you can tell people they’ve worked with someone who’s caught Covid-19 and warn them of the hazard,” Halpern said.
In most workforces, other employees might figure out who has tested positive for Covid-19, and when faced with questions, employers should still keep identities and all other important medical information confidential.