May 01, 2020

Employers must act quickly to abide by the new federal directives on employee benefits and paid leave laid out in the recent coronavirus relief packages. Here, Law360 offers four tips to make compliance a cinch.

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Communication Is Key

Attorneys consistently stress the importance of communication — among plan fiduciaries, between employers and employees, and between plans and third-party administrators — for complying with benefits laws. That's no different with the CARES Act and FFCRA, they said.

Employers should gather their benefit plans' fiduciaries for meetings, to review the legislation and come up with a compliance strategy. They should reach out to the plans' third-party administrators. And they should tell workers about the changes they implement, attorneys said.

"The coronavirus legislation gives employees and employers some rights under [the Employee Retirement Income Security Act] that they didn't have. It's important for beneficiaries to know about them," said Julie Selesnick, an attorney in Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC's Employee Benefits practice group.

Analyze Each Worker's Situation

Among the rights granted to employees by the CARES Act and FFCRA are expanded access to paid leave, if they work for a company with under 500 employees.

When employers are making decisions about workers' eligibility for coronavirus-related leave, they should analyze each worker's situation individually, Cohen Milstein partner Shaylyn Cochran cautioned.

"I would caution employers against blanket denials or any type of retaliation. I think it's important that these employers are making individualized assessments of people's situations," Cochran said.

She said she anticipates a future wave of litigation related to coronavirus leave, as employees whose time-off requests have been denied sue to enforce their rights. As a plaintiffs' attorney, she'd be looking to see if an employer had looked at the specifics of a worker's situation before making a decision about leave eligibility, she said.

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