June 16, 2020
The landscape of the pandemic and various related matters continues to change each week. Our hope is to keep you well-informed. Please read the items below concerning the Spanish-language version of the “Stage Two Regathering Checklist”; property insurance; the Paycheck Protection Program; and guidance regarding employee relationships.
STAGE TWO REGATHERING CHECKLIST IN SPANISH
A Spanish-language version of the online “Stage Two Regathering Checklist,” which supplements the guidance issued yesterday from our bishops, is now available here.
REMINDER: UPCOMING ZOOM CALLS (Zoom links e-mailed directly to clergy, wardens, treasurers)
A Zoom conference with representatives of Church Insurance Company will take place on Wednesday, June 17, 4:00-5:00 p.m. This Zoom conference is for Church Insurance policy holders. Churches insured by other companies are urged to contact their insurance agent directly. Please see “Coronavirus Safety Tips for Religious Organizations” provided by Church Insurance here.
A Zoom conference for churches that have rental agreements or make space available to community or recovery groups will take place on Tuesday, June 23, 3:00-4:00 p.m.
A Zoom conference for churches that have church-operated businesses, e.g. preschools and thrift shops, will take place on Tuesday, June 23, 4:30-5:30 p.m.
PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM (PPP)
June 30, 2020, is the last day for small businesses (including churches) to get approval for PPP funding. The borrower application form, revised June 12, can be found here.
The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act was signed into law on June 5, 2020, and updates provisions relating to loan maturity, deferral of loan payments and forgiveness provisions. Among the changes instituted through the PPP Flexibility Act:
· Extended “Covered Period” for using loan proceeds
· Reduced percentage of loan to be spent on payroll for forgiveness
· Expanded exemptions from loan forgiveness requirements
· Five-year repayment period for new loans
· Extension of loan deferral period
A more detailed summary provided by Morgan Brown & Joy, a labor law firm engaged by our diocese, can be found here. Please consult with your lender about how the PPP Flexibility Act changes affect your loan.
EMPLOYEE CONSIDERATIONS AND ACCOMMODATIONS
The safety and well-being of church employees is of utmost concern as church offices and parish-related businesses consider reopening. Morgan Brown & Joy has provided guidance for our congregations and related businesses to ensure that reopening is in line with CDC and Massachusetts directives, as well as best employee practices.
· All businesses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must develop a written control plan outlining how their workplace will comply with the mandatory safety standards for operation in the COVID-19 reopening period. These standards are included in Stage Two of A Journey By Stages but we recommend you also fill out the COVID-19 Reopening Control Plan for your office or workplace (a Word .doc version for customizing is available in the list of COVID-19 Response Documents at the bottom of our COVID-19 Updates webpage here). Each congregation or church-owned business must also post this compliance notice as required by Governor Baker’s directives to businesses.
· It is important to keep employees informed about safety measures should they return to work. Morgan Brown & Joy has provided sample templates, including a return to work letter for employees, a letter for communicating a positive COVID-19 test in your workplace and a work safety plan to share with all employees. (Word .doc versions for customizing are available in the list of COVID-19 Response Documents at the bottom of our COVID-19 Updates webpage here.)
· The CDC recommends that employers conduct daily health checks or have employees certify that they are conducting these daily self-assessments. Morgan Brown & Joy has provided a sample COVID-19 Health and Wellness Screening Certification for employees to use as a self-assessment (a Word .doc version for customizing is available in the list of COVID-19 Response Documents at the bottom of our COVID-19 Updates webpage here). In addition, the Massachusetts reopening guidelines require the distribution of this notice to all employers and this notice to all employees.
· Should an employee test positive for COVID-19, specific measures should be taken. Please refer to these guidelines provided by Morgan Brown & Joy.
· Morgan Brown & Joy also advises that if an employee lets you know that they have specific health conditions which they think might make it too risky for them to return, you should engage in the normal ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) interactive process with them, meaning you should ask them to get their health care provider’s recommendation in writing as to what they believe an effective accommodation for the condition would be. Assuming that their physician will recommend leave as an accommodation, and assuming it is feasible for you to allow the employee to take the leave, this time off can be unpaid, meaning that you do not have to pay them directly from payroll. However, under the MA Department of Unemployment Assistance’s greatly loosened requirements for unemployment eligibility. they will likely be able to collect unemployment while taking this leave, even though still technically a church employee. If the Department of Unemployment Assistance contacts you to determine the employee’s current status, as part of its inquiry in determining whether the individual is eligible for unemployment, you should simply respond truthfully that they remain a church employee but requested, and were granted, leave as an accommodation due to health conditions that their health care provider deemed too risky for them to return to work at this time.