How employers can thrive despite COVID-19

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by VANESSA PATEL

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the country, hoteliers are facing unprecedented challenges. Many of you have had to make difficult staffing decisions to adjust to the new normal. Below are tips to help you cope and prepare your hospitality business for success during and after the pandemic.

FURLOUGHS
If you have furloughed employees (placed employees on a temporary unpaid leave of absence), you should assess ongoing obligations under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act and its counterparts in your states. Review applicable health insurance plans to determine the extent of available benefits for furloughed employees and discuss any needed changes with your insurer so you may continue providing benefits to your employees during the furlough period. If you terminate or lay off an employee while on a furlough, ensure proper legal protocols are followed, including providing notices and paying wages or accrued paid leave, as required by state or federal laws.

COMMUNICATION WITH EMPLOYEES
The pandemic has likely led to stress, confusion, and panic for your employees. The uncertainty of the situation only compounds matters. Check on the well-being of your staff and take steps to maintain their loyalty so they are ready to come back to work as you resume full operations. Reinforce that you intend to resume full operations as soon as possible to build employees’ confidence.

LEAVES AND ACCOMMODATIONS FOR EMPLOYEES
For current employees, ensure compliance with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA is in effect through at least Dec. 31, 2020. In evaluating requests for leaves or accommodations by employees, also ensure compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act and state counterparts, if applicable, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Concerns under these laws may arise if an employee requests personal or family leave or an accommodation for a COVID-19-related reason. Note that not all regulations will apply to you and exemptions from the requirements may be available. Finally, hoteliers should gather and maintain proper documentation to claim applicable tax credits.

RECALLING EMPLOYEES
As you resume operations, consider which employees will be called back to work and ensure a process that is free from the potential for unequal treatment or impact. Create a process that is based solely on legitimate, business-related reasons, and follow that process. Review pay and salaries for exempt and non-exempt employees and job classifications, and determine if adjustments are needed to comply with applicable wage and related laws. As you resume full operations, ensure your property complies with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as well as other local, state, and federal requirements, and guidance from the CDC.

EMPLOYEE AGREEMENTS/EMPLOYMENT HANDBOOKS
This is an ideal time to assess employee agreements and ensure your employee handbooks and workplace policies and procedures are updated. Many may need to be updated based upon changes made to your workforce and employment policies as a result of COVID-19. Prepare now to make those changes so revised documents are ready as you resume business.

TITLE III OF THE ADA
Hoteliers are likely familiar with the onslaught of Title III litigation against business owners in the recent years. Take this time to assess your property for compliance with the applicable building standards and plan for any needed improvements. Additionally, review all websites, including third-party booking websites, and ensure those websites comply with applicable standards. Taking these simple steps will help you avoid litigation in the future. ?

Vanessa Patel is an attorney with the international firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., based in the Tampa, FL office. She regularly guides and defends employers throughout the country. Ms. Patel may be contacted at vanessa.patel@ogletreedeakins.com or 813-221-7440.

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