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Posts Tagged ‘Health’

FAQ’s (and Answers) For Employers Dealing With The Coronavirus (Updated March 11, 2020)

Posted on: March 11th, 2020

By: Brad Adler

As I’m sure many of you have heard or read, a new virus (COVID-19 aka “Coronavirus”) first found in Wuhan, China in late 2019 has been spreading across the world and is now emerging in the United States on an increasing scale.  As employment issues surrounding the Coronavirus continue to arise, below are some answers to commonly-asked questions that employers may be asking in addressing Coronavirus-related issues.

In addition, employers should read and be familiar with the Guidance the CDC issued for employers in handling Coronavirus-related issues.  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html

What Is It?

Based on what health officials know right now, the Coronavirus is not a flu, but a pneumonia-like infection.  The virus symptoms manifest as a mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes at this time that symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure.

How Does It Spread? 

The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are spread when a person with the Coronavirus coughs or exhales. These droplets also then land on surfaces around the person and others can catch the Coronavirus when they touch these same surfaces, particularly if they then touch their mouth, nose or eyes.

What If An Employee Tests Positive For The Coronavirus?

Ask the employee to stay out of work until 14 days after the employee was diagnosed with the Coronavirus, unless a doctor certifies that it is safe for the employee to return to work earlier.  Further, you should promptly notify colleagues who work with that employee that they may have been exposed to a person with the Coronavirus and request that they visit their doctor to confirm that they did not contract the virus.  In the absence of a confirmed diagnosis of an employee, we suggest that you do not issue a blanket instruction that all employees have to get tested as such a directive could run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s general prohibition against medical examinations for employees unless “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

Further, employers should ensure the confidentiality of all employees’ medical information to prevent harassment or a violation of the ADA’s medical privacy rules.  If an employer believes it is necessary for the safety of other employees to identify a confirmed Coronavirus victim to others in the workplace so the employer can determine who may have been exposed to that individual, it is important to first discuss the issue with employment counsel (and possibly governmental officials) due to the privacy implications, both under the ADA and state law.

What Should An Employer Do If An Employee’s Household Member Tests Positive For The Coronavirus Symptoms?

We believe it is appropriate to ask employees to notify your designated Coronavirus-response person (typically someone in Human Resources) if a member of an employee’s household is diagnosed with Coronavirus.  Once notified, the employer should request the employee stay out of work until the employee visits his/her doctor to confirm that the employee did not contract the virus or they also can self-quarantine themselves for 14 days.

What Should An Employer Do If An Employee Presents Coronavirus Symptoms, But Is Not Confirmed With The Coronavirus?

If you have an employee who presents Coronavirus symptoms at work (but not yet diagnosed with the Coronavirus), we suggest that you send the employee home and request that they get tested and cleared from having the Coronavirus before returning to work or they also can self-quarantine themselves for 14 days.  If the employee exhibits the symptoms at home, ask them to stay out of work until they get tested and cleared from having the Coronavirus or they also can self-quarantine themselves for 14 days.  It is important that your Human Resources representative is involved in these situations so you can navigate any unique issues.

Further, you should try and determine who the employee interacted in close proximity with at work (typically six feet or less) in the previous 14 days, including by asking the employee for help in identifying those individuals.   After those individuals are identified, you should notify them of their potential exposure to an individual with the Coronavirus.

Employers, however, should avoid identifying the infected employee to other employees (or customers or vendors) to prevent harassment or a violation of the ADA’s medical privacy rules.  If an employer believes it is absolutely necessary for the safety of other employees (or customers or vendors) to identify a confirmed Coronavirus victim to others in the workplace (or customers or vendors) so the employer can determine who may have been exposed to that individual, it is important to first discuss the issue with employment counsel (and possibly governmental officials) due to the privacy implications, both under the ADA and state law.

What Should An Employer Do If An Employee Reports That He/She Interacted With Somebody Who Has Been Diagnosed With The Coronavirus?

Once notified, the employer should request the employee stay out of work until the employee visits his/her doctor to confirm that the employee did not contract the virus or they also can self-quarantine themselves for 14 days.  Further, you should try and determine who the employee interacted in close proximity with at work (typically six feet or less) in the previous 14 days, including by asking the employee for help in identifying those individuals.   After those individuals are identified, you should notify them of their potential exposure to an individual with the Coronavirus.

Employers, however, should avoid identifying the infected employee to other employees (or customers or vendors) to prevent harassment or a violation of the ADA’s medical privacy rules.  If an employer believes it is absolutely necessary for the safety of other employees (or customers or vendors) to identify a confirmed Coronavirus victim to others in the workplace (or customers or vendors) so the employer can determine who may have been exposed to that individual, it is important to first discuss the issue with employment counsel (and possibly governmental officials) due to the privacy implications, both under the ADA and state law.

What Should An Employer Do If An Employee (Or An Employee’s Household Member) Returns From An International Trip, But Has Not Exhibited Any Coronavirus Symptoms

This is tricky so you have to make sure you are watchful in dealing with this type of situation.  As of March 3, 2020, the State Department has advised travelers to avoid all non-essential travel to China, Italy, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan and Iran https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/.  The CDC also has advised identified Japan (Level 2) and Hong Kong (Level 1) as areas of heightened risk for the coronavirus.  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.

As a result, if an employee does travel internationally to China, Italy, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan and Iran, even if they present no symptoms, it is advisable to require that employee to either wait 14 days or visit their doctor to confirm that they did not contract the virus before returning to the workplace.  If an employee travels to Japan or Hong Kong, but exhibits no symptoms, you can require the employee to wait 14 days before returning to the workplace, but you should typically avoid requiring an employee to present any type of clearance from a doctor.  If an employee travels internationally to a location that is not on the CDC or the State Department’s coronavirus travel advisory list and exhibits no symptoms, then we do not advise imposing any type of return to work condition.

Do I Have To Pay The Employee While Out Of Work?

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (federal wage/hour law), you do not have to pay non-exempt hourly employees while they are out sick.  If, however, they perform work while at home, you must pay them for those hours (so it is critical that the employees keep a record of their hours worked).  If a non-exempt hourly employee wants to use PTO while the employee is out sick and not being paid, that is permissible.  For exempt employees, unless they are out for an entire workweek, you should pay them their normal salary for the workweek in which they miss time because of your “stay out of work” instruction.  Of course, many states and some cities and counties have their own wage and hour, leave and paid time off laws that you will need to consider when assessing how you handle Coronavirus-related absences.

Can I Restrict Employees From Traveling Internationally?

If the travel is work-related, then an employer can ban an employee from traveling internationally.  If the travel is not work-related, then you typically will be permitted to restrict travel to international destinations, but it is prudent to limit the travel to areas designated as at least a heightened-risk of coronavirus by the White House, CDC or the World Health Organization as several states have laws that prohibit an employer from taking action against an employee for “lawful off-duty” activities.  These types of restrictions could prove important both to protect employees from exposure to the Coronavirus and to limit the risk of travelers becoming stranded by travel limitations or quarantines overseas.

How Do I Avoid National Origin Discrimination?

This one is pretty simple.  Don’t make judgments on how to treat an employee based upon the national origin (or race) of the employee.  Rather, your decisions should be based upon reasonably objective information that you have received from both the employee and the U.S. Government (or World Health Organization) on where the employee is going and whether he has interacted with an individual diagnosed with the virus.  Remember that an employer may deny time off for an employee’s personal travel, but it should be based on the employee’s travel destination, the business cost of any potential resulting quarantine, or other legitimate business-driven interest.

What If An Employee Wants To Wear A Respirator Or Mask At Work Or Requests Not To Come To Work?

At this time, there is no general requirement for non-healthcare employees to wear respirators or other types of personal protective equipment and the CDC is not recommending use of facemasks or any other protective equipment by the general public.  As a result, employers have a wide amount of discretion to determine whether to allow the use of a respirator or a facemask.  For any employee who requests to not come to work out of fear of being around others and contracting the virus, unless that employee has a reasonable objective belief that someone at the workplace has the virus, you can deny the request.  If an employee still refuses to come in, you are permitted to discipline the employee.  If the employee is exempt, you also likely can choose not to pay them for the all-day absence.  Of course, if the employee is non-exempt, you don’t need to pay the employee for any hours unless the employee is working.

What Can We Do To Help Reduce Potential Exposure To The Coronavirus?

Providing employees with a written reminder about effective steps for reducing the risk of exposure to Coronavirus is a great way to let employees know you are paying attention to the issue and looking out for their safety.  A few things to include:

  • Remind employees to cover their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze, and to immediately throw used tissues in the garbage.
  • Remind employees of the importance of regularly washing their hands (for at least 20 seconds with soap and water) and/or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  • Ensure you have enough relevant supplies, including soap, hand sanitizer, tissues, paper towels, disinfectant, and trash receptacles.
  • Encourage the regular cleaning of frequently-touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs.
  • Practice social distancing
  • Consider the use of tele-conferencing options instead of in-person meetings
  • Consider the feasibility of implementing a remote work policy

We know this is a new area for many employers so, if you have questions or need a sample “notice” to employees or a remote work policy, please do not hesitate to contact Brad Adler ([email protected]) or 770.818.1413.

2018 GA Legislative Session Adjournment Report

Posted on: May 4th, 2018

By: Allan J. Hayes

The Georgia General Assembly adjourned sine die the 2018 legislative session late night on March 29. What follows is a list and summary of all bills tracked by FMG this session. Governor Nathan Deal must sign or veto legislation within 40 days after sine die adjournment, or it becomes law without his signature.

The legislative session has been over for a month now and the Governor will begin signing bills (and rejecting some) on Wednesday, May 2. After the Governor takes final action on all this legislation, we will give you an update on the fate of the following bills:

 

Health

SB 118 amends the age limit on the current autism coverage statute (O.C.G.A. § 33-24-59.10). As finally passed, the bill requires coverage for an individual covered under a policy or contract who is 20 years of age (previously 6) or under. Also, as amended the bill removes the requirement that coverage for prescription drugs for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders shall be in the same manner as coverage for prescription drugs for the treatment of any other illness under the policy, and increases the annual limit on ABA to $35,000

HB 818 provides that contracts between a health insurer or its contracted vendor or a care management organization and a health care provider shall not contain restrictions on methods of payment to the provider in which the only acceptable payment method is a credit card payment. Prior to initiating or changing payments to a health care provider using electronic funds transfer payments, including virtual credit card payments, a plan shall notify the provider of all fees associated with a payment method, and provide clear instructions as to how to select an alternative payment method.

HB 783 provides for modernization and updates of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated for purposes of conformity. Also provides that any assets of the Commission on the Georgia Health Insurance Risk Pool existing as of June 30, 2018, shall devolve by operation of law and without further action on July 1, 2018. Any liabilities and obligations of Commission 2018, shall be transferred to and assumed by the State of Georgia, by such instruments as may be required to maintain the same.

HB 769 amends statutes regarding institutional and hospital pharmacies regarding remote order entries.  Provides that remote orders must be made by a pharmacist licensed in the state but does not have to be in the state. Authorizes remote orders when the licensed pharmacist will be physically present in the hospital pharmacy within 48 hours (previously 24) and removes the requirement that at least one licensed pharmacist be physically present in the hospital pharmacy.  Also provides for the establishment of the Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability, revises provisions relative to certificate of need, establishes micro-hospital definitions, and provides a grant program for insurance premium assistance for physicians practicing in medically underserved rural areas of the state.

HB 64 requires any carrier that issues a health benefit plan in this state through an agent to pay a commission to such agent and shall not structure such commission in a way that directly or indirectly discriminates in the amount of compensation paid to such agent for the sale of a group health benefit plan or for the sale of an individual health benefit plan. Such commission shall be structured to compensate the agent for the first term and for each renewal term thereafter, so long as such agent reviews coverage and provides ongoing customer service for such plan; provided, however, that no such compensation shall be required for any individual health benefit plan sold during a special enrollment period. This shall not apply to renewals of any individual health benefit plan sold during a special enrollment period that renews during the open enrollment period. Nothing shall be construed to require a carrier to pay a commission to an agent who is employed by such carrier.

HB 782 authorizes the Georgia Drugs and Narcotics Agency to request prescription information to a prescription drug monitoring program operated by a government entity in another state or an electronic medical records system operated by a prescriber or health care facility, provided the program or system, as determined by the department, contains legal, administrative, technical, and physical safeguards that meet or exceed the security measures of the department for the operation of the PDMP.

HB 513 allows the Department of Community Health to promulgate rules for a sign to be developed and posted at any medical facility, fire station, or police station to inform the public that the facility is an authorized safe place to leave a newborn child. This is to prevent injuries and deaths of newborn children who are abandoned.

HB 701 amends definitions for drug testing for state employment to allow testing for all forms of opioids. It shall not be defined as an “illegal drug” pursuant to a valid prescription or when used as otherwise authorized by state or federal law.

HB 769 implements recommendations from the House Rural Development Council relating to health care issues. The bill revises provisions relative to pharmacy practices, as well as provisions relative to credentialing and billing. This legislation provides for the establishment of the Rural Health System Innovation Center and the establishment of micro-hospitals. Also, HB 769 provides for a grant program for insurance premium assistance for physicians practicing in medically underserved rural areas of the state. The bill also increases the value of the tax credit to 100 percent related to contributions to rural hospital organizations.

SB 357 establishes the Health Coordination and Innovation Council of the State of Georgia. The council will create a forum for innovative ideas, evaluation, maximization of resources, and an organized health care approach.

SB 364 authorizes a higher supervisory ratio for physician assistants who have completed a board-approved anesthesiologist assistant program. No primary supervising physician shall have more than eight physician assistants who have completed a board-approved anesthesiologist assistant program licensed to him or her at a time.

Local Government

HB 257 streamlines the reporting process for local government authorities to file their statutorily-required reports to the Department of Community Affairs. It also narrows the dates of reporting from two dates to one.

HB 489 requires the use of the Georgia Procurement Registry for advertisement of bid opportunities for goods and services and public works construction contracts by a county, city, or local board of education. The registry will be free to use by the local government.

HB 618 is a bill to incorporate the city of Skidaway Island.

HB 626 is a bill to create the city of Sharon Springs.

HB 899 removes the disqualification of bidders without experience with the “construction delivery method” when awarding contracts for public works projects through sealed competitive bids.

HB 995 provides a process for a consultant to disclose any conflicts of interest when contracting for services with a local governing authority.

SB 263 authorizes a local referendum for the creation of the city of Eagles Landing.

SB 397 allows counties and cities to contract with real estate agents or brokers to market county or city-owned property.

SB 404 prohibits local governing authorities from charging a separate fee for standby water service for fire sprinkler systems.

HB 381 creates the ‘Abandoned Mobile Home Act’ to provide counties and municipalities with the authority to appoint an agent to determine the condition of a mobile home and how to dispose of the property. The bill also establishes procedures for a landowner to follow if the landowner wishes to remove an abandoned mobile home from his or her property.

Insurance

HB 64 requires insurance carriers that sell health insurance through an insurance agent to provide the agent with a commission that is consistent with the amount proposed in the rates filed with the Department of Insurance.

HB 592 repeals the sunset on the compliance self-evaluative privilege for insurance companies. This privilege allows insurance companies to fix issues arising from an internal audit without suffering reprisal by regulators for the original mistake.

HB 754 allows a Georgia domestic insurer to divide into two or more insurers and allocate assets and obligations, including insurance or reinsurance policies, to the new company. It does so by creating a process that is distinct from a merger, consolidation, dissolution, or formation.

HB 760 allows property and causality insurers, at the time of policy renewal, to simply notify the insured of reduction of coverage in the policy without having to cancel the existing policy and offer a new one.

HB 878 allows insurers and/or insurance agencies to let their insureds cancel their policy over the telephone.

HB 938 provides for a limited credit insurance agency license for the specific purpose of selling credit insurance.

SB 350 updates Georgia law regarding the notice requirements for an insurance company or agent to their policyholders in the case of policy renewal to comport with federal law.

SB 381 provides that a non-admitted insurer domiciled in this state is deemed a domestic surplus lines insurer, if all qualifications are met, and can sell surplus line products in Georgia.

Criminal Justice

SB 369 authorizes the clerk of court to collect a $5.00 fee when an individual enrolls in a pretrial diversion program, and to submit those monies to the secretary-treasurer of the Peace Officer’s Annuity and Benefit Fund.

SB 407 constitutes the reforms and recommendations offered by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The bill allows the Criminal Case Data Exchange Board to create rules concerning e filing in superior and state court criminal cases after January 1, 2019. In addition, all civil complaints in superior and state court are to be filed electronically after July 1, 2019.

HB 978 amends the Code relating to school buses to make it lawful for drivers who meet or pass school buses on a highway with separate roadways or a divided highway, including but not limited to, a highway divided by a turn lane. The bill also allows for the use cameras on school buses to be operated, maintained, or leased to a law enforcement agency and for the recorded images to be reviewed by the agent who provides this service to law enforcement. The bill further allows for placement of an automatic traffic enforcement device within a school zone after the school has applied for a permit from the Department of Transportation for the use of such device.

HB 419 expands the ability for local governments to regulate the ignition of fireworks through local noise ordinances. The bill adds Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day as holidays when local ordinance cannot prevent fireworks from being ignited; however, when areas of the state come under drought conditions, the governor can restrict the use of fireworks. Also, all dealers of fireworks must post the license authorizing the dealer to sell fireworks.

SB 17 allows for a local referendum to lower the initial time to allow for Sunday sales of alcohol from 12:30 p.m. to 11:00 a.m. for any licensed establishment that derives at least 50 percent of annual gross sales from the sale of food or a licensed establishment that derives 50 percent of annual gross income from the rental of rooms for overnight lodging.

Transportation

HB 930 creates the Atlanta-region Transit Link “ATL” Authority. This authority is attached to the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) for administrative purposes and will serve as the transit planning organization for the 13-county metro Atlanta region. The region is comprised of the counties currently under the jurisdiction of GRTA: Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding, and Rockdale Counties. The bill establishes the governance structure of the ATL, as well as funding mechanisms. The ATL oversees all transit planning, funding, and operations within the region.

Taxes

HB 658 extends the sunset date to December 31, 2053 for the eight percent hotel/motel tax allowed in a county where a coliseum and exhibit hall authority were created on January 1,1991.

HB 820 amends Article 2 of Chapter 5 of Title 48, relating to property tax exemptions and deferral, by adding a new section which allows a homestead exemption from the ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in an amount equal to the amount by which the current year assessed value exceeds the adjusted base year value of the homestead.

HB 918 is the “Largest Tax Cut in Georgia History.” It includes the following changes:

  • 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income floor for medical expense deduction is extended through 2018 and applied to all taxpayers;
  • Net operating losses may be carried forward indefinitely, but may not be carried back to apply against prior year’s tax liabilities;
  • Entertainment expenses are no longer allowed as business deductions; House of Representatives End of Session Report
  • Transportation fringes and other transportation benefits are no longer qualified deductions for employers providing the benefits;
  • Eligibility of building improvements for a 15-year recover period is expanded;
  • Like-kind exchanges are limited to exchanges of real estate;
  • The definition of capital asset is revised by removing patents, inventions, certain models or designs, and secret formulas or processes;
  • Gains from investment in a Qualified Opportunity Fund can be temporarily deferred and permanently excluded if the investment is held 10 years; and,
  • Disaster tax relief provisions, that: allow write-off of hurricane losses; suspend limitations on deductions for charitable contributions made for hurricane relief; give victims penalty-free access to retirement funds; and, eliminate the requirement that personal losses must exceed 10 percent of adjusted gross income to qualify for deduction.

The bill also doubles the state income tax standard deduction to $4,600 for single filers, $3,000 for married filing separately, and $6,000 for married filing jointly. The top personal income tax bracket rate and the corporate income tax rate are reduced to 5.75 percent in tax year 2019 and 5.50 percent in tax year 2020. The rate reduction for 2020 is dependent upon the General Assembly passing a joint resolution affirming the change and the resolution being signed by the governor. The changes in this bill expire on December 31, 2025. The bill also states that there shall be no liability for title ad valorem tax fees when obtaining a replacement title on a vehicle that is not less than 15-years old when the commissioner of the Department of Revenue is provided proof that the title no longer exists.

Budget

HB 684 is the $26.2 billion Fiscal Year 2019 budget. Highlights include:

  • More than $160 million toward boosting K-12 education, graduation rates, college accessibility, and career training programs, including a $35.6 million increase to the Zell Miller College Scholarship fund, and $12 million to expand Georgia’s College and Career Academy network;
  • More than $16 million toward children’s mental health programs, including $10.3 million for psychiatric crisis centers, $2.4 million for mental health care for foster children, and $1 million for suicide prevention programs;
  • $3.875 million toward an improved statewide health care system, including $1.5 million toward Georgia’s Health Coordination and Innovation Council, $375,000 for the Rural Health System Innovation Center, and more than $2 million toward the creation of more than 100 new residencies and preceptorships for doctors and nurses;
  • $7.5 million toward combating the statewide opioid and addiction epidemic, including $3.5 million toward a statewide drug task force and $4 million toward local community grants for substance abuse and recovery centers;
  • $6 million toward autism treatment and care programs;
  • $10 million to improve school safety through local community grants, in addition to $1.6 million for student metal health awareness training;
  • More than $1.2 million toward targeted rural Georgia funding, including $737,000 toward rural economic development and $858,000 toward the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation.
  • The bond package includes $489.8 million for higher education projects including those at the Board of Regents, the Technical College System of Georgia, and Georgia Military College. The budget provides state colleges and universities with $351.5 million for 32 projects including MRR; $5.9 million for Georgia Military College to complete renovation and equip Jenkins Hall; and $5 million for Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) equipment and infrastructure. Finally, the bond package includes $114 million for 12 projects within the Technical College System of Georgia, including $25 million for facility major repairs and renovations and $12 million for college and career academies.
  • $250 million, or 21% of the bond package, is dedicated to transportation and infrastructure funding, including: $100 million for the fourth year of funding for the repair, replacement, and renovation of bridges; $12.5 million for rehabilitation and improvements on state-owned rail; $100 million to the State Road and Tollway Authority to fund transit needs across the state; and $35 million to match federal funds and continue the Savannah Harbor deepening project.
  • The budget recognizes $1.83 billion in motor fuel funds in the Department of Transportation to continue capital construction projects, as well as local maintenance and improvements.
  • Finally, HB 684 includes $20.2 million for the second phase of a two-year plan to increase foster care per diem rates for relative and child placement agency (CPA) foster care providers, which brings the rate to the USDA’s southeastern average. The budget also includes $3.6 million to provide a 2.5% increase in the per diem rate for child caring institutions (CCI) and child placement agency(CPA) administrative costs.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Allan Hayes at [email protected].