Steve: Well, welcome everybody and you know one of the big challenges that many of our clients are facing these days is getting laid off or having some interruption in their employment because of the pandemic because either the employer doesn't have the business to support them or because they can't go to work. They can't work because of needs that they have for themselves or for their families. And so we’re very lucky to have Larissa LaRocco as a guest with us today. Larissa is a partner in the labor and employment group at the law firm Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP and she has some really interesting things to share with us about how you handle some of those situations. Larissa, thanks very much for being with us today. So let's start with some of the simplest possibilities. Let’s say somebody gets laid off during the pandemic what basic benefits programs are available to them. What are the long-term ones and what are some of the new ones that came up during this crisis.
LaRocca: Generally speaking, if somebody gets laid off because the employer doesn’t have work for them as a result of the pandemic they going to be eligible for New York State unemployment insurance just as they would any other time if they were laid off and then there are some circumstances where somebody otherwise would not be eligible they may also be eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance which is a similar program.
Steve: You and I were talking yesterday and that kind of thing came up and that was something that really fascinated me. So some people who otherwise would not be eligible for unemployment, I'm assuming because they chose to leave because they had to take care of themselves or family, or because there was something else going on. Can you tell us a little bit more about that kind of benefit that you can collect if you wouldn't otherwise be eligible for unemployment?
LaRocca: Under the CARES act they created a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program that each state operates if you would not otherwise normally be eligible for unemployment. This includes people who are self-employed who otherwise would not normally be eligible for New York State unemployment as well as somebody who would not be eligible because maybe their employer still does have a job open to them but because of a COVID related reason they may not be able to accept that job and continue working. In those circumstances, they could still be eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance which is similar to New York State unemployment but expands the eligibility criteria.
Steve: Let's say somebody gets sick or they have family members that that get sick that they need to take care of what are some of the options that people have for getting ongoing income in that kind of circumstance?
LaRocca: In addition to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which would be one option, if they work for a company that has fewer than 500 employees there is a new program called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, or FFCRA. That provides up to 80 hours of paid leave. That applies for someone who has been diagnosed with COVID 19 or has to take care of a family member who has been diagnosed or because they are home with a son or daughter under the age of 18 whose school is closed or whose daycare is closed because of COVID 19. So there are those options for the first 80 hours. Then an extended leave program for people who are impacted by just the childcare obligation for up to an additional 10 weeks of paid leave for up to two thirds of their regular pay.
Steve: So that's a pretty big deal. If you're struggling because you know you're in a job but your kids are home from school and you need to stay home to watch them there is a benefit that people can collect even if even if you are not sick, and even if no one in your family sick
LaRocca: Absolutely. It is a voluntary choice if the employee wants to take it employers are obligated to provide it but there is a benefit to the employer as well because they get a dollar for dollar tax credit for those wages. Sometimes employees are nervous to ask for those kinds of benefits because they worry about how it will impact them after the fact but it’s a program that will really benefit the employee and the employer.
Steve: So that’s worth a lot more to the employer because if they pay salary they just get a deduction but if they are covered under this program they actually get a tax credit.
LaRocca: That’s correct, it’s a credit against their payroll taxes.
Steve: I'm thinking you know about this not so much for the people who work for big companies but for the people who work for smaller companies where you know they have closer relationships with the owners of the firm and say that someone is struggling with you know how do I balance all the stuff and how do I work all this out. You know what kinds of things could they talk about with their employer to try to figure out something that would benefit both of them and enable both of them to move forward out? What is working to try to figure out right child care schooling during the work.
LaRocca: I think really just having that open line of communication, being very upfront and direct about what their concerns are. I found that most of the employment clients that I counsel are very willing to work with their employees to find a way that will benefit both the employee and the company. It may be something like flexing their hours. If they are not available because they have to help with childcare or homeschooling during the day, but they have the opportunity to work after the kids are in bed a lot of companies are willing to work with people to flex their hours. I think it’s really just a question of trying to be open and upfront about what your concerns are and what obstacles you are facing and recognizing so many other people are facing similar obstacles and employers are really willing to try to address those things to retain good employees.
Steve: I know that we have a family friend who is really struggling with that because she's got two kids that that really need a lot of attention and she's a single parent and you know she's burning the midnight oil to keep up with the work stuff to and it's really just taking a personal toll and its probably not good for her certainly is not good for kids but there are things that she could do other ways that she could work with an employer, or even just things like the family leave kind of thing that she could say listen I just have to take this and I'm thinking that you know in addition to people who are struggling with that kind of thing you could potentially consult with they could also recommend that their employer call you because there may be ways that the employers could benefit like we're talking about with the tax credits that they may not know about and consulting with someone like you might enable them to create a better situation for the person who's really struggling to do the work.
LaRocca: In the last month we have dealt with a lot of clients who are brand-new to this who may not normally otherwise have to worry about things like FMLA coverage because they don’t usually have enough employees to be a covered employer and so they don’t know about these things. Doing a lot of that kind of counseling to understand what kind of benefits they may get from it. It’s creating a much better situation for a lot of companies and their employees.
Steve: Well Larissa if an employee is in that working situation, or if they are an employer or if someone wants to refer their employer over how can how can they get a hold of you to see if there's something you can do for them?
LaRocca: Probably the best way to get hold of me is by email, LLarocca@woodsoviatt.com and happy to respond to any of those inquiries
Steve: Thanks, Lorissa!