An employer’s duty to bargain may change during emergency situations, and the General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board released a series of case summaries Friday to help employers navigate the exceptions. General Counsel Peter Robb summarized nine Board cases addressing both general public emergencies and emergencies particular to individual employers.  Robb did not make any declarations about how the COVID-19 outbreak and associated response might affect bargaining obligations, but the summarized cases provide good examples of bargaining exceptions that may or may not apply.
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The Department of Labor released posters that employers with fewer than 500 employees must use to meet the notice posting requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The DOL issued two posters, one for federal employers, available here and one for all other covered employers, available here.  The DOL also provided a questions and answers page regarding the notice posting requirement here.


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The House amended its Coronavirus Response Bill late on March 16, 2020 and sent it on to the Senate.

Paid Sick Leave Changes

 The sick leave provisions of the bill remained largely intact, and would entitle employees of employers with fewer than 500 employees to take up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for coronavirus-related reasons, including required quarantining, caring for family members with the illness, or for emergency school closings.  To review our initial summary of the bill, which includes discussion of portions of the bill that were unaffected by the technical amendments, click here.  The amendments include a $511 daily cap for leave benefits for employees with their own personal coronavirus-related medical conditions, and a $200 cap for employees caring for others with such symptoms or for school closings.

Importantly, the sick leave amendments also allow the Secretary of Labor to grant exemptions to employers where the secretary determines that imposition of the paid sick leave requirements would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.”  It also allows healthcare and emergency response employers to apply for exemptions from the Secretary of Labor so that the law would not apply to their employees.


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Workers’ compensation provides the exclusive remedy for injuries and illness that employees suffer arising out of and within the course of their employment.  In the early stages of this pandemic, work-related travel to high impact countries or work-related exposure in a case that was being tracked by public health authorities provided support for work-related exposure.  In health care settings, work-related exposure will likely be established when exposure to infected patients occurs.  But in other settings and as the diseases spreads in the United States, the analysis about whether an illness is covered by workers’ compensation will be more difficult.
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Employers with collective bargaining agreements and union relationships know they generally cannot make unilateral changes to terms and conditions of employment.  But in an unprecedented emergency like the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak we are all facing, union bargaining obligations may be relaxed, either based on the terms of a collective bargaining agreement, or under National Labor Relations Board law.  As employers are forced to make ever more difficult operational decisions in the face of this emerging threat, here are some issues unionized businesses should consider when contemplating major workplace changes.
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