COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused all of us to adjust to a new way of life. As much as it has impacted your personal lives, we also imagine it has impacted your business and professional lives as well. In challenging times, the attorneys at Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima want to ensure you that help is available when you need it. While Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has issued a Stay-At-Home Order, legal services were deemed essential and exempt from the Order. While we are limiting physical interaction between clients and staff to the maximum extent possible, our office remains OPEN with the capability to conduct most, if not all, meetings virtually and to enable you to sign many documents electronically.
In this ever-changing environment, there are a litany of articles and resources available online. While you are encouraged to stay up to date on them, the vastness can be overwhelming, so I’ve complied some of the most pertinent information for you below.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a significant amount of help for small businesses. This includes up to $10,000 in emergency grants for small businesses to cover operating costs in the immediate future. This grant process is being handled through the U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”). A link to the funding program home page can be found here.
Most notably, CARES is offering a loan program to provide cash loans to many small businesses (including sole proprietors and independent contractors). These loans – which can be up to $10 million per business – are available to keep workers employed and on payroll, to cover things like rent and mortgages for the business, and to continue to pay the costs of health care. Unlike most SBA loans, CARES loans do not require personal guarantees or pledged collateral (although there is some discussion that if you have it, the SBA may ask you to offer up collateral). The main requirement is that workers (only those making less than $100,000) remain employed through the end of June. If this occurs, the loans may be partially forgiven if certain requirements are met. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also put out a very helpful informational sheet about how this loan program will work which I would encourage you to read here. If this program could be useful to your organization, reach out as soon as possible to the SBA and apply as the system will get overloaded quickly.
If you are able to keep employees working – either through the CARES loan program or because your business has been deemed essential – it is also important to be mindful of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). The FFCRA requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. While we are still awaiting final guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, the FFCRA will likely apply to employers with less than 500 employees. Notably, the FFCRA requires covered employees to provide employees with: 1) two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at an employee’s regular rate of pay because they are quarantined by a governmental or medical order and/or experiencing COVID-19 systems and seeking a medical diagnosis, and 2) two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay because they are unable to work due to the need to care for a family member who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
For any employee who has been employed for at least 30 days, an employer is also required to provide an additional 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay where an employee is unable to work due to a legitimate need for leave to care for a child whose school or child care provider is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.
Violations of the FFCRA will be enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor, but due to the evolving situation, there will be a 30-period – beginning on April 1, 2020 – where there will be no enforcement so long as the employer acts in “good faith.” According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “good faith” exists when violations are remedied and the employee is made whole as soon as practicable by the employer, the violations were not willful, and the Department receives a written commitment from the employer to comply with the Act in the future.
Under the FFCRA, all employers must post a notice concerning the new laws in a conspicuous place. A model notice put out by the DOL is available here.
One of the more challenging decisions facing businesses is whether they can continue to pay their employees. If you qualify for the CARES loans discussed above, keeping individuals on payroll is required. If you have no choice but to furlough or lay individuals off, though, CARES adds $600 per week in federal assistance on top of whatever base amount an induvial receives through the Ohio Unemployment System. This “boosted” payment will be available for a total of four months. CARES will also provide 13 week of additional unemployment insurance. Importantly, CARES also extends unemployment benefits to those who are either self-employed or contractors through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program.
In Ohio, the Governor has already announced relaxed requirements – including the elimination of a one week waiting period for benefits and the need to look for replacement employment – for those employees laid off during this health crisis. While the system is experiencing technical difficulties periodically due to the sheer number of claims being filed, please encourage your employees to stay vigilant in ensuring that they get their claims filed as soon as possible.
Tax deadlines in most places have been extended until July 15. These include both 2019 returns as well as 2020 estimated payments. Many Americans will also be receiving checks from the U.S. Treasury under the CARES Act. Individuals earning less than $75,000 can expect a one-time cash payment of $1,200. Married couples would be eligible for $2,400 if their adjusted gross income is below $150,000. Married couples are also eligible to receive $500 in assistance per child. These rebate amounts will be reduced by $5 for each $100 that a taxpayer’s income exceeds the above thresholds. These payments are not without strings attached, though, and are likely to be considered as an advance of a tax credit that would otherwise have been available when filing future tax returns. You should immediately contact your tax professional to discuss how these payments will impact you and your family and plan appropriately.
Are open and operating, but with restrictions. If you have a case in litigation now, it is likely that deadlines are going to be extended or adjusted unless there is just cause not to continue them. Rest assured, our work on your cases unrelated to court deadlines continues in earnest.
For cases not yet filed, Ohio House Bill 197 – which was signed into law last week – provides, among other things, that any statute of limitations set to expire between March 9, 2020 and July 30, 2020 (or whenever the Governor’s Stay-At-Home Order is lifted) is tolled. While tolling is not an enlargement of the statute of limitations, it does essentially pause the time period. Call today if you believe you have a case which might be impacted by the tolling provisions to ensure that you do not forfeit any legal rights.
Information changes frequently. At Rittgers Rittgers & Nakajima, we are doing our best to stay abreast of all pertinent developments, and we will continue to update you. Please reach out with any specific questions or needs.