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Archive for the ‘Employment Law Blog (US)’ Category

U.S. Department of Labor Issues Guidance on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act Before Legislation Goes into Effect on April 1, 2020

Posted on: March 25th, 2020

By: Robert Young

In the time since the President signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or the Act) into law a few days ago, employers have asked many questions about how the new legislation will affect them once it goes into effect. To answer these questions, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Wage and Hour Division (WHD) recently issued its first round of published guidance for employers.

The DOL guidance addresses critical questions employers may face in response to the (i) Emergency Family and Medical Leave (FML) Expansion Act, which adds a basis for FMLA leave related to employees whose children’s schools closed due to an emergency order, and (ii) Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, which requires emergency paid sick leave for certain COVID-19 related absences, in addition to any PTO that the employer already provides.

DOL Guidance for the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

In addition to providing a detailed overview of which employers and employees are covered and the duration of leave and calculation of pay under the FFCRA (explained in depth here), the WHD guidance provided answers to several previously unanswered questions. The latest guidance provides as follows:

Effective Date:

  • The FFCRA’s paid leave provisions are effective on April 1, 2020, not April 2, 2020 as previously indicated, and apply to leave taken between April 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
  • The FFCRA is not retroactive. Leave eligibility begins April 1, 2020. Therefore, if an employer is currently offering an employee paid sick time due to COVID-19 concerns, these employees would be still be eligible for 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave as of April 1, 2020.

FFCRA Coverage:

  • Covered employees who qualify towards the 500-employee threshold under the FFCRA include:
    • All full-time and part-time employees within the United States, including any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, or any Territory or possession of the United States;
    • Employees on leave;
    • Temporary employees who are jointly employed by the employer and another employer (regardless of which employer maintains the employee’s payroll); and
    • Day laborers supplied by a temporary agency (regardless of whether the employer is the temporary agency itself or the client firm of the temporary agency, as long as there is a continuing employment relationship).
  • For purposes of calculating the 500-employee threshold:
    • The number of employees is determined on the date the employee takes leave.
    • A corporation (including its separate establishments or divisions) is a single employer and its employees must each be counted towards the 500-employee threshold.
    • If two entities are found to be joint employers under the FLSA, all of their common employees must be counted in determining whether paid sick leave must be provided under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and expanded family and medical leave must be provided under the Emergency FML Expansion Act.
    • For purposes of the Emergency FML Expansion Act, if two entities are an integrated employer under the FMLA, then employees of all entities making up the integrated employer will be counted in determining employer coverage for purposes of expanded family and medical leave.
    • Independent contractors are not covered for purposes of the 500-employee threshold.
  • Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees will be required to document why they meet certain criteria set forth by the DOL to qualify for an exemption to the FFCRA, which will be established by the DOL in a forthcoming regulation. We will update you when this regulation is published.

Interaction of the Emergency FML Expansion Act and Paid Sick Leave Act:

  • An employee may be eligible for both types of leave, but only for a total of twelve weeks of paid leave.
  • Employees who qualify under the Emergency FML Expansion Act may use 80 hours of paid sick leave under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act for the first ten workdays. After the first ten workdays have elapsed, a covered employee will receive 2/3 of his/her regular rate of pay for the hours he/she would have been scheduled to work in the subsequent ten weeks under the Emergency FML Expansion Act.
  • Importantly, an employee can only receive the additional ten weeks of expanded family and medical leave under the Emergency FML Expansion Act for leave to care for a child whose school or place of care is closed or if child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons.

The published guidance includes a Fact Sheet for Employers (linked here), Fact Sheet for Employees (linked here), and a Questions and Answers document (linked here). The DOL stated it will provide a workplace poster required for most employers later this week, as well as additional facts sheets and guidance. We will update you when the DOL issues this information.

Additional Information: 

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues every day for the next week. We will discuss the impact of Coronavirus for companies in general, but also for business in insurance, healthcare, California specific issues, cybersecurity, and tort. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Labor & Employment, Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce educational content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.** 

IRS and DOL Announce Employers Can Take Immediate Advantage of Tax Credit Offsets Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Posted on: March 23rd, 2020

By: Jeffrey A. Hord

On Friday, the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Department of Labor issued an announcement regarding the timing of reimbursement by the federal government to employers for paid emergency leave and expanded FMLA leave required under the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”). This guidance (available here) represents an important step towards providing employers with greater clarity as to how and when their businesses can obtain tax relief relating to the cost of providing Coronavirus-related leave to employees.

As we covered in this Blog last week, the FFCRA requires private employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid sick leave and paid family leave for certain individuals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandably, small businesses have been extremely anxious about the financial burden of complying with these new requirements, particularly during this time of economic uncertainty and unrest. For this reason, the FFCRA created a series of refundable tax credits for employers providing paid emergency sick leave or paid FMLA leave.  As written, however, the FFCRA left unanswered many key questions regarding the process for obtaining these credits, the timing of subsequent reimbursement, and so on.

In Friday’s announcement, the DOL and IRS made clear that employers can begin to “take immediate advantage” of these tax credits by retaining and accessing funds that they would otherwise pay to the IRS in payroll taxes. Here are some of the “key takeaways” highlighted in the announcement:

  • Complete Coverage
    • The tax relief provisions of the FFCRA are intended to provide “dollar-for-dollar,” 100% reimbursement for Coronavirus-related employee leave.
      • Health insurance costs are also included in the credit: the amount of the credit is increased by the employer’s “Qualified Health Plan Expenses” that are allocable to the qualified sick leave wages.
    • Employers face no payroll tax liability.
  • Prompt Recoupment of Employer Costs
    • Employers who pay qualifying sick or child care leave will be able to retain an amount of the payroll taxes equal to the amount of qualifying sick and child care leave that they paid, rather than deposit them with the IRS.
      • Payroll taxes available for retention include withheld federal income taxes and both the employer and employee shares of Social Security and Medicare taxes.
    • In other words, any taxes held in escrow for payment on FICA, Social Security and Medicare taxes now could be used to pay employees taking paid leave under the new law.
    • If these retained payroll taxes are not enough to cover the cost of leave paid out to employees, employers will be able file a request for an accelerated payment from the IRS.
      • The turnaround time for such requests is expected to be “two weeks or less.”
  • Relaxed Compliance
    • The Department of Labor is issuing a “temporary non-enforcement policy that provides a period of time for employers to come into compliance with the Act.”
      • Under this policy, DOL will not bring an enforcement action against any employer for violations of the FFCRA until May 2, 2020—thirty (30) days after its effective date—so long as the employer has “acted reasonably and in good faith” to comply.
        • According to DOL, “good faith” exists when: (i) violations are remedied and the employee is made whole as soon as practicable by the employer, (ii) the violations were not willful, and (iii) the employer submits a written commitment to comply in the future.
  • Small Business Protection
    • Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are eligible for an exemption from the leave requirements relating to school closings and/or unavailable child care.
      • As with the exemptions set forth in Sections 3102 and 5111 of the FFCRA, the employer must show that compliance would “jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern”; i.e., the ability of the business to remain open and continue operating.
      • DOL will be providing emergency guidance establishing simple and clear criteria defining the circumstances that will meet the standard of “jeopardy to the viability of an employer’s business as a going concern.”
    • While not referenced in Friday’s announcement, small business (with fewer than 50 employees) are already exempt from civil liability in an FMLA lawsuit relating to the FFCRA’s expanded family leave provisions.[1]

This announcement is sure to give some comfort to employers worried about how they would cover paid leave mandates without knowing when they might be reimbursed for those substantial costs. Cash flow concerns have already caused many businesses to make difficult furlough and termination decisions; hopefully, this guidance will help employers navigate through this unprecedented time.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Labor & Employment, Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

 **DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce educational content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.** 

[1] See Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, Section 3104.

COVID-19 Prompts Georgia to Adopt Emergency Rules on Unemployment that Penalize Employer Non-Compliance

Posted on: March 23rd, 2020

By: Andrew Kim

In response to COVID-19, on March 16, 2020, the Georgia Department of Labor adopted emergency rules making it a requirement for employers affected by COVID-19 to file partial unemployment claims on behalf of their employees. Barring subsequent action from the Georgia Department of Labor, these emergency rules will remain in effect for 120 days.

Emergency Rule: Mandatory Filing for Employers

Emergency Rule 300-2-4-0.5, containing Rule 300-2-4-.09(1), requires employers affected by COVID-19 to file partial unemployment claims on behalf of their employees.  For Partial Unemployment Claims filed on or after March 15, 2020, Employers must do the following:

  • File all partial unemployment claims online via the Georgia Department of Labor’s Employer Portal;
  • File partial claims with respect to any week during which an employee works less than full-time due to a partial or total company shutdown caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency.

For any violation of these requirements, the employer must pay the Commissioner the full amount of benefits paid to the employee.

Excluded Employees

Based on the Georgia Department of Labor’s guidance, employers do not need to submit partial claims for employees who:

  • Will be paid for the temporary layoff period (e.g., paid salary, paid sick leave, paid vacation or paid family leave);
  • Are or were on scheduled leave prior to the layoff period (e.g., leave of absence or medical leave);
  • Were employed a temporary agency and are currently working at your place of business;
  • Were employed in another state in the last 18 months (those employees should be directed to apply for unemployment benefits online);
  • Were employed with the federal government or on active military service in the last 18 months (those employees should be directed to apply for unemployment benefits online).

Filing Partial Claims Online

 

To file a partial claim online, an Employer must be a registered user that has administrator or user privileges permitting them to submit partial claims through the Employer Portal.  Employers who are registered but are not permitted to file partial claims are directed to contact their Employer Portal administrator for assistance. Employers that are not registered on the Employer Portal must establish an Employer Administrator Account.

Steps to file partial claim on the Employer Portal:

  • Log into the Employer Portal
  • Select the employer account number under Registered Account
  • Select the File Partial Claims link under Common Links
  • Follow the on-screen instructions

Considerations When Filing:

The Georgia Department of Labor provides several points to consider when filing:

  • Employers must file a partial claim for each pay period. A week of partial unemployment consists of an employer’s established pay period week.
  • Once a pay period is established, it should remain the same.
  • Accurately report the employee’s name, social security number (SSN), and date of birth. They must match the Social Security Administration’s records.
  • There must be seven (7) days between payment week ending dates.
  • Do NOT submit claims until after the week ending date on the claim. The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) cannot accept claims filed prior to the week ending date on the claim.
  • Report any vacation pay, holiday pay, and/or earnings during the week in which it was earned, NOT during the week it was paid to the employee.
  • Report any additional income employees are receiving to the GDOL, except Social Security benefits, jury duty income, and pay for weekend military reserve duty.

Emergency Rule: Waiver of Work Search Requirements

Emergency rule 300-2-0.4, containing Rule 300-2-4-02., has waived all work search requirements for claims filed on or after March 14, 2020. This rule remains in effect until either the Governor declares the Public Health State of Emergency over or 120 days from the adoption of the emergency rule.

Additional information: 

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues every day for the next week. We will discuss the impact of Coronavirus for companies in general, but also for business in insurance, healthcare, California specific issues, cybersecurity, and tort. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce educational content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.** 

U.S. Department of Labor Issues COVID-19 Guidance on FLSA and FMLA

Posted on: March 20th, 2020

By: Catherine Scott

As the federal government continues to grapple with questions from employers regarding COVID-19, the federal agencies have begun to roll out new guidance. The latest comes from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which has issued guidance for employers seeking answers concerning their obligations pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

DOL Guidance for FLSA

The FLSA provides rules and regulations concerning how employees must be paid, including the payment of wages and overtime. Employers around the country have wrestled with whether they can reduce salary and/or hours or furlough or lay off employees as the economy slows down due to COVID-19 and whether employees are required to be paid and in what manner.

The DOL has answered several frequently asked questions concerning these issues. The latest guidance provides as follows:

  • For non-exempt, hourly employees, employers can reduce their hours and/or pay, so long as minimum wage and overtime requirements are met. Non-exempt, hourly employees also can be placed on an unpaid leave of absence or furlough or be laid off due to an economic slowdown;
  • For exempt employees, employers are generally required to pay these employees their full weekly salary if any work is done during the workweek (subject to exceptions, such as when the employer is open for business and an employee, who has no PTO remaining or hasn’t qualified, misses an entire day of work).  Of course, exempt employees can be required to use any accrued, unused vacation or paid time off under the FLSA for any missed time so long as they are still being paid their salary.
  • All employees must generally be paid for telework performed at home, subject to the limitations described above;
  • Employees of private organizations are generally not allowed to volunteer their normal services without pay, subject to a few limited exceptions. Employees may volunteer for public organizations without pay if they (a) perform such services for civic, charitable or humanitarian reasons without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation; (b) offer their services freely and without coercion, direct or implied; and, (c) are not otherwise employed by the same public agency to perform the same services as those for which they propose to volunteer.

Pay issues can be complicated and very fact-specific (and state-specific) so if you have a question about furloughs, layoffs, or schedule or compensation reductions (whether temporarily or permanently), please contact us so we can assess the individual factual and legal circumstances of your situation.

DOL Guidance for FMLA

Similarly, employers have wrestled with their obligations under the FMLA and whether they must provide job-protected leave to employees who need time away for a qualifying reason.  Initially, it is important to understand that any employer that has between 50 – 500 employees should first familiarize itself with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as that Act (which will be effective April 2, 2020) substantially expands some of the obligations traditional imposed on employers under the FMLA.  For those employers, however, that are below 50 or above 50 employees, you should keep the following principles in mind in dealing with the Coronavirus.

  • Employees who develop complications from COVID-19 may have a “serious health condition” that would trigger FMLA leave. The same is true of a “family member,” defined by the FMLA as a spouse, child, or parent, who develops complications from COVID-19;
  • However, leave taken by an employee to avoid exposure to COVID-19 would not be covered by the traditional principles of the FMLA;
  • The traditional FMLA does not currently cover employees who require leave to tend to healthy children or children who have been dismissed from school or childcare by their state governments;
  • The traditional FMLA provides only for unpaid leave to employees who qualify; however, the FMLA allows for employees to substitute paid leave in place of unpaid leave in certain circumstances and if the employer’s policies provide for such paid leave;
  • Employees seeking to use FMLA leave are required to provide 30-day advance notice of the need to take FMLA leave when the need is foreseeable and such notice is practicable.  In addition, employers may require employees to provide:
    • medical certification supporting the need for leave due to a serious health condition affecting the employee or a spouse, son, daughter or parent, including periodic recertification;
    • second or third medical opinions (at the employer’s expense);
    • periodic reports during FMLA leave regarding the employee’s status and intent to return to work; and
    • consistent with a uniformly-applied policy or practice for similarly-situated employees, a fitness for duty certification. (Employers should be aware that fitness-for-duty certifications may be difficult to obtain during a pandemic.)

The Department of Labor is generally encouraging employers to be flexible in dealing with situations involving employees affected by COVID-19, including re-examining both paid and unpaid leave policies in place at the employer and allowing paid telecommuting to occur.

Additional information: 

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues every day for the next week. We will discuss the impact of Coronavirus for companies in general, but also for business in insurance, healthcare, California specific issues, cybersecurity, and tort. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].

**DISCLAIMER: The attorneys at Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP (“FMG”) have been working hard to produce educational content to address issues arising from the concern over COVID-19. The webinars and our written material have produced many questions. Some we have been able to answer, but many we cannot without a specific legal engagement. We can only give legal advice to clients. Please be aware that your attendance at one of our webinars or receipt of our written material does not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and FMG. An attorney-client relationship will not exist unless and until an FMG partner expressly and explicitly states IN WRITING that FMG will undertake an attorney-client relationship with you, after ascertaining that the firm does not have any legal conflicts of interest. As a result, you should not transmit any personal or confidential information to FMG unless we have entered into a formal written agreement with you.  We will continue to produce educational content for the public, but we must point out that none of our webinars, articles, blog posts, or other similar material constitutes legal advice, does not create an attorney client relationship and you cannot rely on it as such. We hope you will continue to take advantage of the conferences and materials that may pertain to your work or interests.** 

What Rhode Island Employers Should Know About COVID-19

Posted on: March 19th, 2020

By: Jennifer Markowski and Catherine Scott

Governor Gina Raimondo has declared a state of emergency in the state of Rhode Island and implemented certain measures, such as the closing of public schools through April 3, that have a direct effect on Rhode Island employers. The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (RIDLT) continues to issue guidance to Rhode Island employers to help with these issues.

Unemployment Benefits

In light of the impact of COVID-19, many employers have needed to consider layoffs, furloughs, salary and time reductions, and other options for reducing costs.  Many affected employees are entitled to unemployment benefits.  To facilitate the receipt of benefits, RIDLT announced it would suspend the seven-day waiting period for unemployment claims related to layoffs or involuntary furlough due to COVID-19. Employers who are considering furloughs or layoffs due to COVID-19 can contact our office with any questions about these measures.

Paid Leave Benefits

Many employees in Rhode Island will be eligible to use their paid time off and/or sick leave if their offices remain open but they are unable to work due to an illness and/or childcare issues. The Healthy and Safe Families and Workplace Act provides most employees in Rhode Island with one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked up to 40 hours per year. The size of the employer will impact how the law is applied, and the waiting period will be determined by the class of the employee.

Additionally, the Coronavirus Response Act has been executed by President Trump. The federal legislation mandates that certain employers provide additional paid leave to their employers.  You can read here to find out more about the provisions and whether it applies to your business.

Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) and Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) Benefits

For employees whose offices are open but do not have access to paid leave benefits, Rhode Island offers both TDI and TCI insurance benefits. Similar to unemployment benefits, RIDLT announced it would waive the seven-day out-of-work period required before a claimant can receive TDI and/or TCI benefits. Claimants for such benefits will be allowed to temporarily qualify for benefits via self-attestation of quarantine due to COVID-19, rather than being required to supply medical certification. Moreover, employees who are required to stay home due to issues with childcare may be temporarily eligible for TCI benefits.

Unpaid Leave

We note many Rhode Island workers are likely entitled to job-protected unpaid leave under the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act and/or the federal Family and Medical Leave Act as it stands.

If you have questions about these laws or how they apply to your business, feel free to contact Jen Markowski at [email protected] or Cat Scott at [email protected].

Additional information: 

The FMG Coronavirus Task Team will be conducting a series of webinars on Coronavirus issues every day for the next week. We will discuss the impact of Coronavirus for companies in general, but also for business in insurance, healthcare, California specific issues, cybersecurity, and tort. Click here to register.

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients. Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the Coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments. For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at [email protected].