Updated 11/24/21 at 3:30 p.m. Updates in bold
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
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.
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.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
Unemployment, Benefits & HR Issues
The PA Department of Labor and Industry provides UC guidance for employers with impacted employees.