August 25, 2020

As you are aware, the 2020 Special Session began Tuesday, August 18th, and so far, we have seen several pieces of legislation introduced that will have an impact on our members if passed. We summarized a few of the major bills below. To view a full list of bills we are tracking, please click here.

How this impacts you:

You will see four major issues below: Paid Leave, Workplace Safety, Unemployment Compensation, and Civil Liability Immunity. The legislation that has been introduced in the first three categories creates additional burdens and mandates on business, which has an even greater negative impact during such a trying economic crisis. The last category of Civil Liability Immunity could be very helpful to our members if it were to pass. We consider this legislation business-friendly legislation.

 

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Paid Leave

There are two pieces of legislation in Special Session that would require all employers to provide a form of paid leave for employees. The Senate Version, SB 5076, has already been defeated in Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Thank you to all of our members who took the time to reach out via the action alert we sent out last week, your efforts were helpful in defeating this bill.

The House Version, HB 5116, is written so it applies to the COVID-19 pandemic and would apply to all employees that work an average of at least 20 hours a week, regardless of how long an employee has been employed by said employer. The leave may be used to care for oneself or for another who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or to care for oneself or another that has been required to quarantine without a diagnosis. The bill prohibits employers from taking certain retaliatory actions against an employee related to paid quarantine leave or if the employee is not eligible for/has already used quarantine paid leave and said employee is absent from work without compensation for the same purposes of the paid quarantine leave. The bill provides that an employee is authorized to bring a civil action against the employer for violations of the bill's provisions. The bill sunsets upon the expiration of the state of emergency declared by the Governor in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Executive Order 51 (2020). It is likely that this bill will be heard in House Labor and Commerce Committee this Wednesday, August 26th. VRF opposes this legislation because of the additional burden it places on employers and the one-size-fits all mandate it creates during this unprecedented economic crisis retail faces today.

Workplace Safety

VRF opposes HB 5102

Delegate Chris Hurst has introduced, HB 5102, which requires that an employer that hires a crew of 50 or more temporary employees during any declared public health emergency due to COVID-19 is required to participate in the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) for the duration of the public health emergency. Such employer is required to submit an application and receive approval from the Commissioner of Labor and Industry prior to commencing the relevant project and to comply with all relevant standard for VPP participation. The way this legislation is written, it could have huge impact on seasonal/temporary workers hired for the holiday season, and because of this VRF opposes the legislation.

Unemployment Compensation

VRF opposes  HB 5054

Delegate Subramanyam introduced HB 5054, which relates to unemployment compensation. This legislation provides that under specific conditions related to COVID-19 unemployment compensation cannot be denied to an otherwise eligible individual for refusing to accept new work under the following specific conditions: (i) if the individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms and has been advised by a health care professional not to attend work, (ii) if a member of the employees household has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or the individual is providing care for a family member/member of household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; (iii) if during the COVID-19 pandemic the individual is an elevated risk of severe illness from COVID-19; (iv) if the individual is the primary caregiver for a child or other individual in his household who is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the individual requires the school or facility in order to work and is unable to find a reasonable alternative; or (v) if the individual has a reasonable belief that his workplace is not in compliance with the Department of Labor and Industry's standards for the prevention of COVID-19.

Civil Liability Immunity

VRF supports the concept of Civil Liability Immunity

There have been multiple pieces of legislation introduced to provide immunity from civil claims related to the transmission of or exposure to COVID-19. All of this bills will be rolled into one House version, which is likely HB 5074, and one Senate version, which is likely SB 5067. Both of these pieces of legislation provide immunity from civil causes of action arising from any act or omission alleged to have resulted in contraction of or exposure to COVID-19, provided that such person/employer has complied with applicable federal, state, and local laws, policies, procedures and guidance regarded COVID-19. The bill requires reasonable notice of actions taken for the purpose of reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to individuals present on the premises. The legislation also contains an emergency clause and states that the provisions of the bill apply to claims arising no later than 180 days after the expiration/revocation of all states of emergency declared by the Governor related to the COVID-19 pandemic. VRF supports this legislation because of the benefit it could provide our members.