In the last few weeks, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have risen with the increase in the Delta variant. As a result, I’ve started receiving more COVID-related questions. Here are some of the most-common questions and potential answers.
1. One of my employees has been diagnosed with COVID. Do I have to provide them with paid leave?
No. In Alabama, the laws mandating paid leave for COVID-related absence have expired. In 2020, Congress passed the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act. Those laws required employers to provide paid leave to employees suffering from COVID or caring for those with COVID. The paid-leave provisions of those Acts ended on December 31, 2020. As a result, employers are not longer required to provide employees with paid leave for COVID-related absences.
Nevertheless, employers can voluntarily provide paid leave and receive tax credits from the Internal Revenue Service. The American Rescue Plan Act was enacted in the Spring and allows employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid leave and get a tax credit through September 30, 2021. Here’s the Act IRS fact sheet discussing those credits: IRS Paid Leave Guidance
2. I recently terminated an employee. Am I required to pay their COBRA premiums?
The American Rescue Plan Act also provides a significant benefit to employees who are terminated from employment. From April 1, 2021 to September 30, 2021, employees who suffer a “qualifying event” and lose their health insurance can have their ongoing COBRA insurance premiums paid. A “qualifying event” includes: a reduction in hours (such as reduced hours due to change in a business’s hours of operations; a change from full-time to part-time status; taking of a temporary leave of absence; an individual’s participation in a lawful labor strike, as long as the individual remains an employee at the time that hours are reduced); or, an involuntary
termination of employment (not including a voluntary termination).
Employers are required to pay the cost of the COBRA premiums. But, employers can reduce their payment of federal employment taxes on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Here is the United States Department of Labor’s discussion: DOL COBRA Premium Guidance
3. Alabama has a new law prohibiting disclosure of vaccination status. How does this affect my business?
Alabama Act Number 2021-493 is Alabama’s “COVID Passport” law. For businesses, the law’s most-significant impact is its prohibition on refusing to provide goods or services, or refusing to allow admission, to an individual based on the customer’s immunization status or lack of immunization documentation. Many commentators have noted that the law does not have an enforcement provisions. So, it is unclear what penalties, if any, would be imposed for violating the law. Nevertheless, I generally suggest that businesses should comply with the law.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall has also issued guidance on implementation of the law, which can be found here: Alabama’s Vaccine Law. For purposes of this blog, the most notable portion of that guidance is the recognition that the act only “protects consumers of goods and services and does not address employer-employee relationships. Thus, it cannot be read to prohibit private employers from requiring employees to vaccinate against COVID-19.”