On this week’s episode, Sue and James discuss what leave benefits your employees who were previously furloughed are entitled to when they come back to work after coronavirus closures are lifted.
James: Welcome to our Podcast. I’m your host, James Venable, and I’m the Vice President of Compliance and Employment Law for Reed Group, a Guardian company. Joining me on the podcast is Sue Woods, Senior Compliance Counsel at Reed Group.
These podcasts are designed to provide quick, easy to understand information about COVID-19 and how it’s affecting employers. On today’s podcast, we’ll discuss the challenges employers face as they begin to reopen and acclimate furloughed employees back into the workplace.
Sue, one of the questions we have been getting is what are some of the things employers should be thinking about as furloughed employees return to the workplace especially with regard to leave benefits?
Sue: Thanks James. First let’s talk about the difference between furloughed employees and laid off employees because they differ in terms of the rights these employees have.
When someone is furloughed, they are on a temporary unpaid leave from work, but they remain on the company’s payroll as an employee. When an employee is laid off their separation is permanent, and they are no longer on the company’s payroll.
A furloughed employee also maintains certain rights that a laid off employee is not entitled to.
James: Thanks for that explanation Sue, so what are some of the leave benefits rights a furloughed employee is entitled to when they return to work?
Sue: There are several things an employer should be looking at in the leave and benefits space when they start to return furloughed employees back to the workplace. First, employers should ensure that the employee’s leave benefits are reinstated including any accrued leave time.
This is very important as employers need to remember that they cannot reduce time from the employee’s FMLA leave bank. So, the employer should make sure that the time employee accrued before being furloughed hasn’t changed. Another point to remember is that even though the employer can’t deduct the time the employee missed from work during the furlough, that time away from work does not count toward accrual of hours an employee needs to earn FMLA. Under the law, only actual hours worked can be counted toward calculating FMLA time. If they are not working, they are not earning time for FMLA.
James: That’s important for employers to know Sue. Side question Sue, I know we’ve been talking about leave benefits. What about benefits in general? For example, what about health benefits, are those still intact?
Sue: This really depends on the employer’s health and benefits plan. For example, some plans allow an employee to continue paying the portion of their premiums while they are on furlough. Employers should be reviewing their plans so they can be sure what the employees are entitled to as they return, and if the plan was discontinued during the furlough how they can get their employees back on the company plan with full coverage. This is an issue that will vary by company.
James: Thanks Sue. I know that some company plans allow employees to use paid time off or vacation pay to cover their wages while they were furloughed. How does that work when they come back, do they get a new bank of PTO time?
Sue: There is a lot of uncertainty for employees when they are furloughed and accrued paid and sick leave will be an important question for returning employees if they used that time during the furlough. Employers should be prepared to communicate with employees about the status of their PTO and sick leave bank and how the furlough impacted what they’ve accrued and used. It will be very important for employers to have strong tracking tools so that when the employee returns to work, they will know how much they have used and how much they have remaining. Another important question is when does the clock start for them to begin accruing paid leave time again. This is especially important because in some instances, an employee returning to work from a furlough may be entitled to leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act the day they return to their jobs. That’s why keeping track of leaves is key.
James: Great, thanks Sue. You talked about the need for employers to review their paid time off and sick leave policies. What about union shops, is the approach any different when unionized employees return from a furlough?
Sue: Very important question, because collective bargaining agreements typically have very specific guidance that employers are contractually obligated to follow in the case of furloughed employees. Specifically, regarding the areas of pay in terms of any increases that occurred pursuant to a pay increase schedule in the agreement. Also, very important is seniority in terms of where that person comes back on the seniority ladder and whether their seniority has been impacted or remains status quo. This is another important area for employers to keep front and center as they plan the return of furloughed employees in a unionized workforce.
James: Great information Sue. As employers begin to reopen it’s clear they’ve got a lot of things they need to be aware of as they transition their employees back into the workplace.
Employers should continue to monitor the latest developments related to COVID-19 on both the Guardianlife.com and ReedGroup.com, as well as information provided by the CDC, DOL, and other applicable resources.
Thank you for tuning in and we hope you’ll join us for our next podcast.
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Information provided on this podcast is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide legal advice. ReedGroup does not provide legal services. Consult an attorney for legal advice on this or any other topic.