Coronavirus Resources for Employers

Updated 11/24/21 at 3:30 p.m. Updates in bold

We appreciate the ongoing support of all of our members, including our Visionary Members: Bloomsburg University, First Columbia Bank & Trust, First Keystone Community Bank, Geisinger, Kawneer, PPL Electric Utilities, USG, & SEKISUI KYDEX
 

Business Operations

On Friday, November 5, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published in the Federal Register its emergency temporary standard (ETS) that will require private sector employers with 100 or more workers to ensure that employees are vaccinated against COVID-19. If employers do not want to dismiss employees who are not vaccinated, they have the option to allow those unvaccinated employees to submit a weekly negative COVID test and follow masking requirements when working indoors beginning January 5, 2022. Impacted employers will also have to require unvaccinated employees to wear masks as of December 5, 2021.

While this ETS is currently being challenged in federal court, employers are still encouraged to be prepared to meet the December 5 and January 5 timelines.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has developed a fact sheet for impacted employers.

Employers must provide to employees in a language (and to a literacy level) that they can understand: (1) information about the requirement of the ETS and workplace policies and procedures established to implement the ETS; (2) the CDC document “Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines”; (3) information about protections against retaliation and discrimination; and (4) information about laws that provide for criminal penalties for knowingly supplying false statements or documentation.

The full ETS is available from the Federal Register.

OSHA has posted a FAQ webpage.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides guidance regarding employees requesting an exception from vaccination requirements.

– While Pennsylvania’s face covering order has been lifted, the PA Department of Health continues to urge individuals to follow CDC guidance for wearing a mask where required by law, rule, and regulations, including healthcare, local business, and workplace guidance. For the protection of themselves and others, individuals who have not yet been vaccinated or are partially vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask when in public. The CDC requires individuals to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs, such as airports and stations. Masks are also recommended, regardless of vaccination status, while indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission. As of August 30th, Columbia and Montour counties are at a high transmission rate.

The latest CDC guidance regarding masking indoors is not an OSHA regulation. However, an employer could be cited for creating an unsafe working condition if a claim is filed, according to OSHA’s Wilkes Barre office.


Vaccination and Testing

 

Vaccination

The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Geisinger in encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated. Click here for information. 

Click here to find vaccination sites statewide. 

Resources to help employers communicate with their employees about vaccination are available from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, provides recommendations for developing a workplace vaccination strategy.

Testing

Geisinger offers both symptomatic testing and testing for travel.  Visit here for details.

If you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, contact your physician for a referral to a testing site.


Financial Assistance

 
Federal programs

– The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced significant enhancements to the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, a federal disaster relief loan designed to support small business communities dealing with the pandemic, especially hard-hit sectors such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels. The SBA is ready to receive new applications immediately from small businesses looking to take advantage of these new policy changes.

Key changes include:

  • Increasing the COVID EIDL Cap. The SBA has increased the COVID EIDL cap from $500,000 to $2 million. Loan funds can be used for any normal operating expenses and working capital, including payroll, purchasing equipment, and paying debt.
  • Implementation of a Deferred Payment Period. The SBA will ensure small business owners will not have to begin COVID EIDL repayment until two years after loan origination so that they can get through the pandemic.
  • Establishment of a 30-Day Exclusivity Window. To ensure Main Street businesses have additional time to access these funds, the SBA will implement a 30-day exclusivity window of approving and disbursing funds for loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans over $500,000 will begin after the 30-day period.
  • Expansion of Eligible Use of Funds. COVID EIDL funds will now be eligible to prepay commercial debt and make payments on federal business debt.
  • Simplification of affiliation requirements. To ease the COVID EIDL application process for small businesses, the SBA has established more simplified affiliation requirements to model those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Businesses can apply directly with the SBA for EIDL loans.

Businesses needing assistance in applying for an SBA loan can contact the Small Business Development Center network.

Columbia & Luzerne County businesses – wilkes.edu/sbdc
Montour County businesses – bucknell.edu/sbdc

The Employee Retention Credit is extended through December 31, 2021. The new credit, beginning January 1, is 70% on $10,000 in wages per quarter (or a maximum $28,000 per employee through December 31, 2021).

The new law expands eligibility to include employers who experienced a decline of more than 20% in a qualifying quarter.

Employers can also apply to the PPP program and take advantage of the tax credit program, provided the same wages are not used.

The IRS has issued updated guidance on utilizing ERC.

Local programs

– The Chamber’s low-interest loan program is offering loans of up to $10,000 for members at 3% interest for 30 months, with interest only payments for the first 12 months. If you are interested in the Chamber’s loan program, contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber of Commerce at 570-784-2522 as funds are limited.

– SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) has created a loan program with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. For-profit businesses can apply for loans of at least $10,000 with an interest rate of 3.25%. Funds can be used for working capital and can be disbursed based on past working capital expenses. No payments are due in the first six months. 

There is a $500 underwriting fee and a $100 filing fee.

For more information, visit https://seda-cog.org/covid-19/ or contact SEDA-COG’s Business Finance Department at [email protected]


Unemployment, Benefits & HR Issues

 

 

The PA Department of Labor and Industry provides UC guidance for employers with impacted employees.

Wolf Administration Proposes Changes to Tipped Worker Regulation

On Friday, November 19, Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jennifer Berrier announced proposed regulations to update rules about how employers pay tipped workers.

The department’s proposed regulation covers five primary areas for tipped workers, including:

  • An update to the definition of “tipped employee,” adjusted for inflation since 1977, that increases the amount in tips an employee must receive monthly from $30 to $135 before an employer can reduce an employee’s hourly pay from $7.25 per hour to as low as $2.83 per hour.
  • Codification of a recent federal regulatory update governing employer tip credits to allow employers to take a tip credit under certain conditions, including that the employee spends at least 80 percent of their time on duties that directly generate tips, commonly known as the 80/20 rule.
  • An update to allow for tip pooling among tipped employees under certain circumstances.
  • A prohibition on employers deducting credit card transaction charges from an employee’s tip left on a credit card.
  • A requirement for employers to educate patrons on the employer’s use of service charges, clarifying that service charges are not gratuities for tipped employees.

This proposed regulation also updates the definition of “regular rate” for salaried employees whose overtime pay is determined by the fluctuating workweek method, clarifying that for the purpose of calculating overtime the regular rate is based on a 40-hour work week. 

The proposed regulation was published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, Nov. 20, which starts a  30-day public comment period. Comments can be emailed to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission at [email protected].  Reference Department of Labor and Industry, Regulation #12-114: Minimum Wage, IRRC Number 3322. L&I will review any comments submitted by the public, the General Assembly and the IRRC before submitting a final form regulation. A public hearing and review by legislative committees will precede a final decision by the IRRC. This process will take several months.

Chamber Board Opposes OSHA Vaccination and Testing Requirement

On Tuesday, November 16, the Board of Directors of The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution opposing the pending OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that would require employers with 100 or more employees to require vaccinations or weekly testing of workers. The ETS has been blocked temporarily by a Federal Circuit Court. The Chamber is also urging OSHA to delay any implementation of the ETS pending a final ruling.

As it’s currently published, employers need to have a vaccination plan in place and require unvaccinated employees to wear masks as of December 5th. The vaccination/testing requirement would take effect January 4. This requires businesses already struggling with employee shortages to devote resources to this process and implement policies that could make it even more difficult to attract and retain employees. While employers do not have to pay for vaccinations or testing, the availability and costs of weekly testing are of concern for employers and employees. Whether or not employees who fail to comply would be eligible for unemployment benefits is unclear.

The ETS is a result of an Executive Order by President Biden to compel individuals to get vaccinated. The Chamber Board feels that this “creates an excessive and inappropriate burden on employers” being put in the position of enforcing the order.

Copies of the resolution are being sent to Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey and Representative Dan Meuser.

Supporting Workplace Mental Health

Focusing on employee wellness not only benefits your employees but can boost your company’s bottom line as well.  Estimates that one in five Americans experience some form of mental illness, most without getting treatment, means that many will continue to struggle with their issues, impacting both family life and work life, if employed.  And although mental health struggles have long pre-dated COVID-19, the pandemic only served to exacerbate the health challenges for many individuals.

For the employer, the benefits of supporting employee mental health can be substantial. By showing an interest in the health and well-being of their staff they can help employees navigate through issues like anxiety, depression, burnout and traumas.  In addition to showing they truly care about their employees, providing mental health support can also increase productivity and improve the overall morale of the office.

The first step concerned employers can take is to look critically at their benefit portfolio to assure that the resources they are providing adequately meets the needs of their working populace.  Start by reviewing the mental health benefits provided by any base health insurance benefits, Employee assistance programs (EAPs) and Telehealth services, then make sure all these programs are being effectively communicated to employees so they will be able to take advantage of the resources being provided to them. 

Finally, employers can create opportunities for management and human resource personnel to open up supportive conversations with employees regarding mental health issues, helping to reduce the stigma wherever possible by sharing any of their own personal experiences and challenges.

The Columbia-Montour Chamber of Commerce offers its members access to My Benefit Advisor as a solution for employee benefits, including voluntary offerings.  For more information about My Benefit Advisor, visit our website at cmcc.mybenefitadvisor.com or contact Glynis Roberts at (800) 377-3539.

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Columbia County Commissioners Hosting Public Meetings to Review Preliminary Findings of Flood Mitigation Studies

The Columbia County Commissioners are holding another round of public meetings for all residents, businesses, and municipal officials to learn more about the Fishing Creek Watershed and West End flood mitigation studies.  The meetings will be held at separate locations: 

  • Tuesday, November 30th starting at 6:30PM – Fishing Creek Flood Mitigation Study
    • Held in the Large Meeting Room, 702 Sawmill Road, Bloomsburg, PA 17815. Entrance for the meeting room is at the rear of the building.
  • Wednesday, December 1st starting at 6:30PM – West End Flood Mitigation Study
    • Held at the Bloomsburg Fire Department, 911 Market Street, Bloomsburg, PA.

Reservations can be accepted online HERE or by calling, Flood Resiliency Program Analyst Geralee Zeigler, SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) at 570-522-7218. Individuals who are interested in attending should register for the session independently or for both sessions. SEDA-COG is assisting Columbia County in the grant administration of the studies. Both projects have been financed by grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Financing Authority and the Department of Community and Economic Development.
 
Matt Vanaskie, Senior Project Manager at Herbert, Rowland and Grubic, Inc. said, “HRG is excited to review progress of the Fishing Creek Watershed flood mitigation study with Columbia County municipalities and residents. To date our work has focused on understanding flooding and wet weather issues in the County based on available information and stakeholder feedback. At this meeting we are seeking to engage the community again to review noted problem areas and preview development/assessment of strategies and solutions that may mitigate flooding and wet weather issues.”
 
Borton-Lawson’s project Technical Lead, Tom Lawson said, “In this second public meeting we will be presenting an overview of our evaluation of existing flood impacts, results of the public survey, preliminary floodwall concepts, as well as non-floodwall flood mitigation alternatives. Before the formal meeting, we will have maps of the study area on display and team members will be available to answer any questions.”
 
SEDA-COG is a community and economic development agency in Lewisburg and is one of seven Local Development Districts in Pennsylvania.  SEDA-COG enhances the quality of life and economic advantage for residents and businesses in the 11 central Pennsylvania counties through its vital partnerships and initiatives. 

Bill to Stop Bridge Tolling Plan Passes House

From Representative David Millard

The House on Tuesday passed legislation to stop PennDOT’s plan to toll nine interstate bridges in Pennsylvania and reassert the Legislature’s oversight of, and community involvement in, any future tolling plans.

The Public Private Partnership (P3) law adopted in 2012 authorized the establishment of such partnerships to assist in funding road and bridge repairs across the Commonwealth. However, the initial approval last fall by the P3 Board of the Pathways Major Bridge P3 Initiative failed to offer any specific information about the proposal, including which bridges would be affected.

Senate Bill 382 would void this proposal and prescribe a more open and transparent process for future P3 projects. Specifically, a detailed analysis would have to be developed prior to any consideration by the P3 board, and a 30-day public comment period would be held following publication of the project in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Additionally, any P3 project that includes a user fee would require legislative approval. The measure now returns to the Senate for further consideration.