Continued Changes in “Safer at Home” Type Orders; Re-opening Guidelines; and Return to Work Issues

May 21, 2020

Does anyone even remember what day it is in this crazy new world? For me, I’ve lost track as my head is constantly spinning just trying to keep up with the changes, updates, and guidelines that seem to come out, change, and end every time I look away. Let’s dive into some of the hot topics from this week. As always, I am here to help and offer COVID-19 specific support at an approachable price. Please feel free to reach out if you think I can help!

End of Milwaukee County Safer at Home

Milwaukee County’s version of Safer at Home expires Thursday, May 21, at 11:59 p.m. There is no planned extension of this order, nor a comprehensive county update. Instead, things are going hyper local. For example, villages and cities in the “North Shore” (Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay) have detailed guidelines for their phased re-opening and information regarding the next steps in further reopening phases. Other municipalities such as Wauwatosa have adopted very similar guidelines and plans. Meanwhile, the city of Milwaukee remains under its version of their latest order, “Moving Milwaukee Forward,” until the “gating criteria” is met. (I swear to Zeus, Milwaukee, if you change your order after I hit publish, I may have to take it personally.) And, on the other end of the spectrum, we have some counties and local municipalities with no orders nor formal guidelines or limits on reopening.

It would be impractical for me to cover every municipality here, so I will leave you with the recommendation that you get real familiar with your municipality and figure out what, if any, rules apply to you. It’s worth noting many municipalities are still referring local businesses to the WEDC resources and the Badger Bounce Back plan.

Re-opening Guidelines

Because the guidelines are so vastly different, I’m going to once again recommend you get really familiar with your local government. See what they say. Are there limits on number of people who can be in your business? Specific hour limitations? And then once you feel like you have your head wrapped around that, what are best practices and guidelines specific to your industry? What do you feel comfortable with?

And let’s talk about your team for a minute. Are they super clear on what is expected of them? Do you know how you’re going to screen them? What about break times and shift changes? What about personal belongings? Is your staff expected to do any screening of your customers or clients? Or enforce any of these limits? If you’ve been itching for stuff to do as a business owner, you’ve certainly got it now. Think microscopic about your business right now. From open to close and everything in between, go through every detail, and then clearly communicate that like your therapist wants you to. Do you have questions? Of course you do. Run through it with a trusted friend or colleague. Sometimes it needs a fresh set of eyes. Or, failing that, I’m here to help.

Return to Work Issues

Lastly, as you reopen, you are likely going to face a wide range of responses from your employees. In addition to all the training, planning, and communicating you will do with them, remember they are likely to have their own concerns, questions and situations.

The FFCRA laws that were signed back in March never really had much time to apply to the businesses that had to shut down partially or completely. Now as reopening happens, you may encounter employees who can’t return to work due to lack of childcare or school closures. In those cases, the EFMLA may apply to you. Or as more people reemerge into the community, one of your employees may get sick with COVID-19 or have come into contact with a COVID-19 positive person. In these situations, the employee may be eligible for EPSL and/or EFMLA benefits. I wrote a substantial post on this when the law first came out you can review. Also recall rates of these paid benefits can vary based upon the both the employee’s schedule and the reason for the leave.

Because these laws are so new and apply to many business owners who usually are otherwise exempt from the FMLA, reviewing them closely now and developing processes and forms may save you time in the future as things are operating. Tracking this leave is also important because there are both tax credits and, in some cases, “advances” in tax credits a business can obtain for providing this leave; connecting with your accountant and/or payroll on this topic is advised. Lastly recall that with these new laws, there are posting requirements. Even if you are not set to reopen, you can provide these notices now electronically to your employees – particularly if they are doing remote work.

Next week we’ll do a bit of a deeper dive into the FFCRA and business owners FAQs on that topic. We’ll also review the latest in financial aid information AND do an overview of the PPP Forgiveness Guidelines that came out earlier this week.

Does this have you feeling overwhelmed? Let me help. Figure out what your top questions and concerns are and reach out for COVID-19 specific support. As a fellow small business owner, I understand the delicate balance of expenses and time; that is why I’m offering these support services at approachable price points, aimed to provide you with the essential answers or forms you need, allowing you to focus on your business operations.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMERS:
1. The information above does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. Please consult your attorney with specific questions.
2. As this situation is constantly changing, we will make every effort to stay current on this topic, however this information is provided as general guidance and may not apply to your situation, nor should it be relied upon exclusively. Please consult and confirm with your attorney if you have questions about these updates or their applicability.  
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