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Background Checks & Onboarding Requirements

Drug Testing – US Only

April 1, 2020

Gain insight on temporary drug testing screening waivers for companies to maintain business continuity with onboarding their contingent labor workforce in a timely way.

Q: What impact is COVID-19 having on drug testing as it relates to background checks and onboarding requirements?
Many companies that provide drug test and background check services are beginning to see temporarily reduced access and closures of courthouses and other law enforcement databases, which they need to access to conduct criminal background checks. Consequently, we anticipate that their cycle times will extend beyond the current turnaround periods. In addition, some health center locations that provide drug testing services are converting their locations to offer COVID-19 testing. We have also seen that some individuals who are asked to be drug tested are concerned about going to healthcare locations where they might be exposed to the virus.

Q: Are companies relaxing testing requirements given these concerns and delays?
A: This is an option for companies to maintain business continuity with onboarding their contingent labor workforce in a timely way. For example, in this new normal, a worker could potentially start and end a contract assignment before results are available. Clients and suppliers are encouraged to discuss each situation as it arises.

Q: How should my business implement a different approach to drug testing?
A: Companies have two options. They can agree to 1) waive drug testing for a predetermined, agreed-upon number of days on a person-by-person basis, or 2) for a period of time, waive drug testing for specific roles and/or all requirements altogether. Whichever option you choose, clients must sign a waiver permitting the suppliers to onboard a contract worker prior to the worker’s background check or drug testing results being received. In other words, suppliers must not have contract workers begin work without the customer’s written waiver. Clients still need to approve the start without screening and understand the risks.

As a best practice, clients should work closely with their AGS Program Office to manage their program’s drug and background waiver terms. Each client will also need to work with their internal departments to identify the minimum screening requirements to be completed before the contract employee can start working. Again, any waiver form does not release the supplier’s obligation to have their contract employees screened; it only allows them to start their assignments while the remaining checks are in progress. For example, clients may require that the federal background check be completed before signing a waiver to let the contract employee start the assignment while the drug screening is in process and the results are pending.

In addition, offer letters should reflect the waiver terms that the client has agreed to. The Program Office should be working closely with their contract employees to schedule appointments, as well as ensure the contract employee can travel and that test facilities will be open.

Q: What do I do if I am experiencing significant delays with my drug and background check vendor?
Suppliers should follow up closely with their provider. If the vendor cannot provide concrete information (e.g., turnaround estimates, office hours, etc.), they should engage the their AGS Program Office to work with the client and develop alternatives to allow their contract employee to start their assignment as soon as possible.

Q: What role do staffing suppliers play regarding the use of such waivers?
A: Suppliers must obtain waivers and maintain records of them. A waiver does not remove the supplier’s obligation to initiate drug and background screenings. Instead, suppliers will still initiate the screening process, like they usually would, and provide results when they become available. If any results are unfavorable, the customary escalation plan should ensue.

Q: What do I do with the waiver once signed?
A: The waiver form needs to be stored in the VMS, where drug and background clearance documents are normally archived. Add screening results to the VMS, once available, for audit purposes.

Q: How long should I use such waivers?
A: Waivers are available for use as long as businesses are comfortable with the longer than anticipated cycle times for drug and background results, which could extend several weeks through the pandemic period. Upon return to business as usual, the program office will audit all active contractors within their program to ensure all drug and background checks were completed. Any failed results should be actioned accordingly if they were not addressed already.

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Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9)

May 22, 2020

Learn which employers can temporarily review documents for Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) remotely.

Q: Do I still need to complete Form I-9 for new hires in a remote-only environment?
A: Yes, but on March 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that due to precautions being implemented by employers and employees related to physical proximity associated with COVID-19, DHS will defer the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Their action allows employers more flexibility, providing them alternative ways to review documents remotely, via webcam, fax, or email, followed by a later review of original documents.

Q: Which employers can take advantage of this remote review?
A: Only employers and workplaces operating manually can take advantage of this temporary provision.

Q: So what if an employer isn’t operating remotely?
A: If there are employees physically present at a work location, no exceptions are being implemented at this time for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. However, if newly hired employees or existing employees are subject to COVID-19 quarantine or lockdown protocols, DHS will evaluate this on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Is this a temporary change?
A: The DHS’ original March 20, 2020 announcement permitted employers to adopt these provisions for a period of 60 days – through to May 19, 2020 – OR within three business days after the termination of the National Emergency, whichever comes first. On May 14, 2020, the original deadline for rules flexibility was extended another 30 days due to continued pandemic precautions.

Q: How does it work?
A: Employers must inspect the Section 2 documents remotely (e.g., over video link, fax, or email, etc.) and obtain, inspect, and retain copies of the documents, within three business days for purposes of completing Section 2. Employers also should enter “COVID-19” as the reason for the physical inspection delay in the Section 2 Additional Information field once physical inspection takes place after normal operations resume. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate.

Q: If new workers are onboarded using remote verification, what happens once normal operations resume?
A: All employees who were onboarded using remote verification, must report to their employer within three business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. Once the documents have been physically inspected, the employer should add “documents physically examined” with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate. Any audit of subsequent Forms I-9 would use the “in-person completed date” as a starting point for these employees only.

Q: Do any of these updates impact guidance around designating authorized representatives?
A: DHS guidelines allow employers to designate an authorized representative to act on their behalf to complete Section 2. An authorized representative can be any person the employer designates to complete and sign Form I-9 on their behalf. The employer is liable for any violations in connection with the form or the verification process, including any violations in connection with the form or the verification process, including any violations of the employer sanctions laws committed by the person designated to act on the employer’s behalf.”

Q: What else do I need to know?
A: Employers who avail themselves of this option must provide written documentation of their remote onboarding and telework policy for each employee. This burden rests solely with the employers. Monitor the DHS website for up-to-the-minute updates.

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Government Support – Singapore & Hong Kong

May 8, 2020

Wage support for employers is now available through two programs in Singapore and Hong Kong to help enterprises retain local employees.

Q: What is the Job Support Scheme (JSS), Singapore?
A: JSS is a temporary scheme for 2020 that provides wage support to employers to help them retain their local employees (Singapore citizens and permanent residents) during this period of economic uncertainty

The Singapore government will co-fund the first SGD$4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to each local employee for nine months. Furthermore, wage support for April and May 2020 will be topped-up to 75% for all sectors. For the remaining months, employers will receive a 25% cash grant on the gross monthly wages of each local employee from whom mandatory Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions were made – capped at a monthly wage of SGD$4,600 per employee.

The JSS period will cover nine months of wages, and the payment will be made in four tranches.

Q: What is the Employment Support Scheme (ESS), Hong Kong?

A: In this case, the government will provide eligible employers with wage subsidies to retain their employees in return for employers undertaking not to implement redundancy.

Government subsidies are calculated based on 50% of wages, subject to a wage cap of HK$18,000 per month for six months. All employers making Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) contributions will be eligible, except those on the exclusion list (e.g., the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, statutory bodies, and government subvented staff).

Employers must fulfill the following conditions to get subsidies. First, after approval of the ESS application, the number of employees on payroll shall not be less than the number of employees in March 2020. Secondly, the wage subsidies applied by employers must be used fully for employees’ wages. Thirdly, payment is to be distributed in two tranches with the first payment before the end of June 2020 to subsidize employers to pay employees’ wages from June to August.

The government and relevant stakeholders are still finalizing payment mechanisms and implementation details. These will be released before application for the first tranche of ESS payment is invited.

Q: What is AGS’ approach to the Schemes?
A: As a valued partner, AGS is pleased to announce that we will be passing the applicable subsidy back to our client, in full.

Q: How does this translate to the fees being paid to AGS?

A: The government’s subsidy funds support employees’ wages and not the fees that your suppliers charge for their service. As detailed above, AGS will be passing this subsidy back to our client, in full. There will be no adjustment to our fee structure or margins.

Q: How will AGS manage the process for the JSS, Singapore?
A: The process differs per client and should be discussed with your AGS Program Director.

Q: What should you expect your suppliers to do?
A: AGS’ intent of the subsidy is to pass it back to you in full. As the registered employers, your suppliers will be able to consult with you to discuss their approach to the Schemes, and as such, you should contact them directly to agree on a plan.

Alternatively, as your managed service provider, AGS can contact your suppliers to agree on a plan. In this case, we would escalate any suppliers that do not agree to refund the subsidy back to you, our client, for further discussion. Please let AGS know your preference.

Q: Who arranges the application for the Schemes?
A: For JSS, Singapore, JSS is activated automatically by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), with funds credited directly to the employer in April based on CPF contributions from October to December 2019 payroll.

For ESS, Hong Kong, the detailed application and payment mechanisms are still being finalized. The government is liaising with MPF trustees and relevant stakeholders to work out the implementation details, which will be announced before application for the first tranche is invited. Further communication around the application process will be shared once this is known.

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Furloughs/Job Retention Scheme – UK

May 12, 2020

Employers of furloughed contract workers can now seek up to 80% of monthly wage costs and other fees through the UK’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to pay such workers. Learn about which workers are eligible, considerations for clients, any contract changes that may be required, and how self-employed workers may also benefit.

Q: What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?
A: The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a temporary scheme open to UK employers from March 1, 2020. The Scheme was originally set to end by the end of June 2020, but the UK Government has recently announced an extension to October this year. It is designed to support employers whose operations have been severely affected by COVID-19. The Scheme is open to all UK employers that had created and started a PAYE payroll scheme by March 19, 2020, and have a UK bank account. Employers will be able to use a portal to claim for 80% of furloughed contractors’ (contractors who have agreed not to work) usual monthly wage costs, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrollment employer pension contributions on that wage, up to £2,500 a month. Employers can use the Scheme at any time during this period. Contractors will be taxed on the amounts they are paid.

Q: Which contract workers are eligible for the Job Retention Scheme?
A: In your MSP program, this Scheme may apply to PAYE and umbrella company workers (contractors), and the employer will be either the contractor’s supplier or the umbrella company. AGS can provide reporting about eligible contractors who fall into this category and are on a PAYE payroll in line with the March 19 start date, should you need or want this information. Contractors who have been furloughed cannot undertake any work for the employer that has furloughed them. Any contractors who are placed on furlough under this Scheme must be furloughed for at least three consecutive weeks in order for a claim to be made. Contractors may be furloughed several times, but on each occasion for a minimum of three consecutive weeks. It is important to note that this Scheme does not impact an employer’s ability to run a non-paid furlough across its workforce in line with usual business practices. Clients should reach out to their AGS Program Executive for assistance on any furlough plans. The contractor must have a valid contract to cover the entire period of the furlough. If the contract is due to end, then it must be extended to cover the furlough period.

AGS Job Retention Scheme Eligibility Diagram

Q: What do I need to do as a client?
A: While the Scheme is not mandatory, the supplier or umbrella company, as the contractors’ employer, is responsible for applying for the grant and making payment to the contractor, should they choose to participate in the Scheme. Clients are responsible for communicating to the supplier or AGS that they wish to furlough a contractor under this Scheme and their intention to return the contractor to work once the agreed furlough period is complete.

Q: When is the Scheme open?
A: The HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) portal opened on April 20, 2020, with payments expected to be made beginning on April 30. Payments will be processed within four to six working days. The government has released a step-by-step guide on how to apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Q: What types of contract changes would be required?
A: It is the responsibility of the supplier, as the deemed employer, to agree on the furlough with their worker. As the end client, you will need to discuss the intention to furlough any contingent staff with your AGS Program Executive. As with employees, contractors should perform no work for, through, or on behalf of, the supplier that has furloughed them while they are furloughed, including for the supplier’s clients.

The current guidance states that employers should discuss the Scheme with their staff and may need to make changes to their employment. There should be a documented agreement between the contractor and the employer (supplier) that they are being furloughed. This agreement must be retained for five years. Further, any agreement with the contractor should state clearly that no work can be undertaken for the employer during the furlough period as doing so would be a breach of the Scheme rules. The agreement should also set out the payment that the contractor will receive. 

Q: What about Self Employed Workers and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme?
A: Self-employed people will be able to apply for a grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month. HMRC will use data from 2018-2019 tax returns to identify eligible workers and invite them to apply online. The money will be paid in a single lump sum, but HMRC has stated that it will not begin to arrive until the beginning of June at the earliest. At least half of the person’s income needs to have come from self-employment, and the Scheme is open to those who have self-employed trading profits of less than £50,000 a year. Unlike the employee Scheme, the self-employed can continue to work as they receive support.

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Layoffs and Furloughs – US Only

March 25, 2020

Many companies are re-evaluating their financial positions and their current and short-term needs for contingent labor. These FAQs address some of their options to move forward.

ACompanies face unexpected economic headwinds due to the financial impacts of COVID-19 measures being voluntarily taken and/or imposed throughout the United States. As such, companies are increasingly considering an array of solutions in an effort to keep their employees working as best they can. As always, layoffs and traditional furloughs are only two of those choices. Naturally, those difficult financial decisions will also impact how companies move forward with their contingent workforce.

Q: Are layoffs and furloughs the same?
A: No, they are not. Here are some basic definitions:

  • Layoffs: A layoff is the temporary or permanent suspension (aka termination) of workers’ employment. Customers who make the economic decision to layoff or reduce their contingent workforce by ending contract workers’ assignments should partner with AGS about the next steps in effectively communicating those decisions to their supply base and executing the logistics of offboarding.

    In this fast-paced and constantly changing moment, the federal, state, and local laws are in continuous flux, all with the aim of supporting workers everywhere. We all must stay abreast of, and comply with, all applicable local, state, and federal EEO laws, notice requirements, and other laws applicable in the jurisdictions where the impacts will occur.

  • Furloughs: A traditional furlough is an alternative to layoff where an employer requires employees to take a certain amount of unpaid time off. Furloughs have defined start and end dates. The expectation is that the person who is furloughed returns to work on a certain date, resumes his or her previous position, and returns to previous schedules or hours. During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are adjusting by considering changes to workers’ schedules and reducing hours, among other options. Note: Further, a furlough plan must be developed in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws.

Q: Is there a difference between furloughs and terminations?
A: As indicated above, a furlough is typically meant to be for a finite period of time. Workers placed on unpaid leave expect to return to work. A furlough may not be indefinite. For example, a furlough with an end date and no job at the end of the period is effectively a termination. Such a plan should be considered an “End of Assignment.”

Q: Are there impacts on worker benefits between layoffs and furloughs?
A: Yes. Furloughs and layoffs impact the benefits workers have in place prior to those job actions. Companies and staffing suppliers must provide the contract workers all applicable notices about any impacts to the workers’ benefits. In the case of a termination/layoff, a worker could more quickly apply for state unemployment benefits. (Contact your local unemployment insurance program for details.) On the other hand, depending on what type of changes are made, there may be impacts to workers’ abilities to qualify for unemployment and/or other financial resources being made available under new legislation (e.g., the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is applicable to impacted US workers employed by private entities with less than 500 employees).

Q: If my company chooses to pursue layoffs or furloughs – particularly impacting newly remote workers – how are businesses managing the collection of company assets (e.g., the return of laptops and building access/identification cards)?
A: A best practice (which increases the rate of return of the assets) is for the company to provide shipping boxes with pre-paid postage and/or arrange for the pickup and delivery of all assets that must be returned.

Q: Does AGS have recommendations for customers considering workforce reductions?
A: AGS recommends that customers considering a reduction in the size of their contingent labor workforce proactively work together with AGS and the staffing suppliers in their MSP programs to find the best solutions for the customers and the workers. Because the staffing companies ordinarily employ the contract workers, they are integral partners in discussions concerning the end of assignments or alternative work arrangements, as well as how, in the future, customers may re-engage when they are ready to have contract workers return to work.
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Immigration – US Only

April 24, 2020

As a result of the pandemic, employers face changing conditions that obligate them to handle H1-B employees certain ways when furloughs, layoffs, or hour reductions occur, while simultaneously contending with processing delays in documentation and onboarding that could slow a lawfully employed noncitizen’s start date, as well as actions that temporarily halt certain immigrant visa applications all together.

Q: What’s the latest news about immigration in the US?
A: On April 22, 2020, President Trump signed a Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending the entry and processing of certain immigrant visa applications for the next 60 days. The Order prevents individuals who are outside the US from completing the green card process and entering the US.

Q: What impact will the Proclamation have on a company’s ability to access talent abroad?
A: We do not believe the Proclamation will affect the filing or processing of Adjustment of Status applications, which is the final stage of the Green Card when the applicant is filing from inside the US. The Proclamation is not clear on this point but instead defers to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to decide how to implement this particular point. Further, because companies have more workers in the H1-B and L-1 processes than in the Green Card process, the impact of this change will be felt less by organizations.

Q: Is there an impact on nonimmigrant workers – namely those on H1-B visas, for example?
A: While the April 22 Proclamation does not have an immediate impact on nonimmigrant workers, including the H-1B, L-1 or TN visa programs, the DHS and Department of Labor (DOL) were instructed to review these programs and provide recommendations within 30 days. We cannot speculate on the impact, but it is possible that recommendations from these agencies could result in future restrictions to these programs.

Q: Outside the recent Proclamation, and considering conditions amid the pandemic, is a current worker’s immigration status impacted if they are asked to work from home due to COVID-19 containment efforts?
A: Having people working from their homes could impact their immigration status. DHS has provided guidance, and some related requirements have been loosened, such as the recent decision to temporarily lift requirements for companies to view identity and employment authorization documents in the physical presence of the worker. (See our related I-9 FAQs here.)

Q: What obligations do employers have regarding current H1-B employees when furloughs, hour reductions, or layoffs occur?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic may have affected a sponsored employees’ employment. And when furloughs, hour reductions, or layoffs occur, employers are obligated to do the following:

  • Reduction of Hours: Employers must pay the wages entered in the approved, H-1B petition for at least 35 hours per week throughout the H-1B validity period. If the hours must be reduced to less than 35 hours per week, the following can be considered: 1) A company can prepare and submit an amended H-1B petition with the USCIS, setting the new minimum hours; or 2) The company can supplement the hours worked with bench time so that the total hours per week is at least 35 hours.

  • Furlough/Terminations: The Department of Labor mandates that H-1B workers be paid the “required wage rate for all nonproductive time caused by conditions related to employment, such as lack of assigned work, lack of a permit, or studying for a licensing exam.” Accordingly, at any point when an H-1B employee is not performing work or not in productive status due to a decision of the employer, the employee must continue to receive the wage listed in the labor condition application filed for the H-1B petition for at least 35 hours per week. In other words, even in instances of plant closures, holidays, or other periods of nonproductive time, which affect both US and H-1B workers, H-1B employees must be paid their wages. The requirement stands even if US workers aren’t paid during such times. An employer’s obligation to pay its H-1B employees, even for nonproductive time, ends only with bona fide termination. When employment ends, the H-1B worker is typically afforded a 60-day grace period or until the current H-1B status expiry date, whichever is shorter. This allows the H-1B worker to remain in the US for up to 60 days after the date of termination. During this grace period, the H-1B worker is eligible to file a new H-1B petition to resume employment in the US, albeit with their current employer or another employer or to change status (i.e. H-4, B-1/B-2). If the H-1B worker is not able to file a new petition within the 60-day grace period, s/he must physically depart the U

Q: Should I expect paperwork processing delays?
A: While DHS’ US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) staff will provide emergency services for limited situations, companies and workers will likely experience delays in visa decisions and immigration interviews, which ultimately slows a lawfully employed noncitizen’s start date. Applicants and petitioners with scheduled interviews will be contacted by USCIS to reschedule. Monitor the USCIS Office Closure page, and review some known temporary suspensions, announced on April 2, 2020:

  • Routine, in-person services until at least May 4, 2020

  • All biometrics appointments

  • Premium processing for all Form I-129 and 1-40 petitions until further notice, including new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions

  • Any new requests for premium processing

Visit the Check Case Processing Times page and the H-1B page on the USCIS website for further updates.

Q: Beyond processing delays, what additional issues are companies that rely on noncitizen, lawfully employed workers facing?
A: Companies that adopt work-from-home policies, close offices, or release workers should do so while also protecting noncitizen workers’ employment eligibility and immigration status. For example, if a person loses their job, their visa may no longer be in effect due to work requirements stipulated in their nonimmigrant visa, yet the person may not be able to fly home due to travel restrictions. (Today, as mentioned above, workers with H1-B visas who become unemployed need to find new employment within the 60-day limit or otherwise leave the country.) Work with your legal counsel and maintain compliance with the US Department of Labor and USCIS. Additional resources include Seyfarth Shaw’s Essential COVID-19 Immigration Planning for US Employers webpage and Ford Harrison’s Coronavirus Taskforce-Immigration webpage, among others.

Q: What are the implications of the USCIS’ announcement that the H1-B initial electronic registration selection process is complete?
A: In late March 2020, USCIS announced it reached the 2021 numerical limit on H1-B applications (nearly 275,000) and had notified all employers selected under a random process that they could prepare and submit applications for approval in order to receive H1-B petitions. What’s uncertain is whether employers will follow through. Given economic and labor conditions amid the pandemic, and historical evidence, overall demand for H1-B visas could decline. Note, USCIS sets an annual limit on H1-B visas at 85,000. Companies selected in the lottery, which occurs just once annually, have 90 days to choose whether to submit applications.

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Remote Work

Work From Home Arrangements

March 18, 2020

As more people begin to work remotely, it brings up several questions around how to best enable this shift.

Q: If a customer would like some/all of its contractors to work remotely, how would the customer activate that process?

A: Our customers may discuss remote Work From Home (WFH) options with their AGS program office. Those interactive conversations will involve a review of the customer’s readiness in terms of technology, devices, and the type of network access available for the contract workers. Depending on the contracts and information security obligations currently in place, the customer, the suppliers, and, if necessary, AGS, will need to memorialize in writing the new arrangements requested by, and put in place for, the customer.

Q: In a WFH arrangement, where many contractors are working remotely, who is responsible for directing the contractors?
A: The customer maintains the same responsibility to direct and control the work of the contract workers. Managers who currently oversee the contract workers and provide their assignments will maintain those responsibilities. Contract workers should stay connected with their contacts/recruiters at the supplier.

Q: How will the time for WFH contract workers be captured?
A: Programs should continue to use their Vendor Management System (or other designated time-keeping system) for web-based time and expense entry, as normal. To ensure timely pay, contractors should continue to submit their hours worked for approval by their regular deadlines. If the workers have direct deposit or cash pay, this approach to pay will continue for the contract workers as normal. For those programs without an online or web-based Time & Expense tool, please consult directly with your program office.

Q: What types of expenses would a customer have to pay for in a WFH scenario?
A: Several states (e.g., California, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the District of Columbia) have laws that provide that an employer must reimburse expenses incurred by employees for tools, equipment, and the like that are “necessary” to the performance of their job duties. Under the current situation, AGS anticipates that, at a minimum, a customer will need to reimburse contract workers for their internet usage. If other materials will need to be reimbursed (i.e., paper, toner, etc.), we can have conversations about these items with the suppliers. We also know that some companies have offered a flat amount to cover these expenses (i.e., Workday).

Q: May I restrict a contract worker from working from home if there will be children in the home during working hours?
A: Under ordinary circumstances, having children in the home during work hours would disqualify a worker from a WFH alternative arrangement. However, during this COVID-19 pandemic, and in light of the many cancellations of schools by school districts across the country, our customers are relaxing this requirement because so many children are home from school. Some customers are making provisions to provide their employees and contract workers supplemental financial support to cover additional costs of childcare. Unless there are specific business reasons for doing so, treating parents differently than other workers is not advisable. Be sure to set clear expectations with workers for WFH arrangements.

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Expense Reimbursements – US Only

March 26, 2020

Individuals new to remote work may incur costs that could be reimbursable. Here, we discuss typical office and childcare expenses.

Office Expenses

Q: Now that more contractors and employees are working remotely as part of COVID-19 containment efforts, are companies broadening their reimbursement expense policies to cover workers’ related costs?

A: Contract workers and employees may indeed experience additional expenses (e.g., home internet, mobile phone service, and printing) in work from home (WFH) scenarios. Companies should, therefore, conduct conversations and enact policies regarding which costs may be reimbursable – ideally in advance of instituting WFH – as well as how such funds would be distributed – whether through a reimbursement model or proactive distribution of funds in a set amount. Ultimately, companies should evaluate plans on a case-by-case basis and follow state regulations, including the tax treatment of these reimbursements.

Q: What types of expenses may a customer expect to pay for in a work from home scenario?
A: Several states like California, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the District of Columbia have laws requiring an employer to reimburse expenses incurred by employees for tools, equipment, and the like that are “necessary” to the performance of their job duties. Under the current situation, a customer will likely need to reimburse contract workers for their internet usage. If other materials will need to be reimbursed (i.e., paper, toner, etc.), we recommend clients and suppliers have conversations about these items in advance.

Q: How are companies managing expense reporting and management?
A: We have seen examples where companies are offering a pandemic accommodation, a flat monetary amount to cover work-related expenses (e.g., Workday). Note that such expenses could be for items other than just laptops (e.g., monitor, phone, printer, chargers, office supplies, and similar materials). Clients and suppliers should have detailed conversations to determine procedures for reimbursement, including but not limited to, proof of the expense and what that looks like. For example, is a bill summary sufficient, or must the worker also provide an itemized breakdown of all costs? Additionally, it’s critical to discuss which expenses require pre-approval and at what level of management, how workers will submit expenses and if digital platforms can be used, how long it will take for workers to be reimbursed, and in what format reimbursement will occur – whether through a typical paycheck, separate payment, gift card, etc. The more companies can work through various scenarios in advance, the better-informed workers will be about allowable expenses, and the more streamlined the reimbursement process will be.

Childcare Expenses

Q: What happens to workers, particularly hourly workers, who cannot physically go to work at open businesses because they have children at home and lack alternative childcare options?
A: All situations are different, but a recent Willis Towers Watson survey found only 36% of employers report they will continue paying hourly workers when they stay home because they don’t have childcare. Clients and suppliers should discuss each situation individually and then establish a clear policy for handling such cases.

Q: As more states mandate closures of non-essential businesses, working parents find themselves working remotely (whether voluntary or otherwise) with kids at home 24/7 because schools have closed. Are companies offering financial support for childcare costs?
A: Working parents have plenty of experience adapting to unexpected school or daycare closures when they need to work remotely. But in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, conditions have changed, and many working parents are trying to fit in the typical demands of the workday while balancing caring for children. We aren’t seeing many instances of companies funding childcare costs, but there are several strategies working parents can adopt to perform both roles of worker and parent. For example, in two-parent homes, parents can switch off who is “on the job” and who is managing family duties. There may also be ways for working parents to claim childcare expenses on their personal tax filings. Consult a tax professional for details.

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Right to Work Verification and Wet Signatures - EMEA

April 2, 2020

With the help of technology, candidates can provide the relevant documents needed to clear pre-employment vetting to enable timely starts.

Many organizations are experiencing challenges with carrying out standard onboarding activities while self-quarantine restrictions remain in place throughout European countries. These challenges can include how to verify candidates’ right to work in your country and check their proof of identity documents such as passports, which are typically done in person by the recruiter. In some countries like Germany and Switzerland, wet signatures are required on contracts prior to candidates being able to start. These FAQs address some options to move forward in the face of these challenges.

Right to Work (RTW) Verification Checks

Q: Can suppliers and AGS, acting as an MSP, still ensure candidates are eligible to work in the country that they are in, as well as verify candidates’ identities if they cannot meet in person?
A: Yes. There are many video conferencing technology options available to enable virtual pre-employment vetting, leading to timely starts. First, a candidate will receive a registration pack and list of relevant Right to Work (RTW) documents (e.g., passport, NI card, and proof of address) to submit scanned copies via email to AGS. From there, AGS will schedule a video conference call with the candidate through Skype, for example, using the virtual time together to review the required documentation. While on the video call, a candidate holds up their required documents, so that AGS can match them against copies provided by the candidate via email. AGS then takes a print screen of the candidate with their documentation and saves it to the Contract Management System (CMS), should it be required in the future. Suppliers may have slightly different processes in place, so please reach out to your program office for further questions.

Q: How soon after virtual verification occurs is a candidate offered a contract?
A: Once the documents are in receipt and verified by video conference, AGS will issue a contract to the candidate. As a next step, AGS will confirm to the hiring manager that the candidate has cleared pre-employment vetting and signed a contract.

Q: Do digital verifications expire?
A: Yes. Digital verifications expire within two weeks and are tracked in the CMS. After those two weeks, the CMS will trigger an action for AGS to either upload documents verified in person or extend the deadline.

Q: Does this mean a physical review of documents must still occur?
A: Yes. A follow-up verification meeting must be held within the worker’s first week on site. Such notification is included in the contract that the worker needs to sign to clear pre-employment vetting. AGS will ensure follow-up verification meetings are booked and completed, as well as confirm with the hiring manager once that step is completed.

Wet Signature Collection

Q: Can clients still onboard a candidate in countries that require wet signatures on the contract for new starters?
A: Yes. In countries like Switzerland and Germany, where wet signatures are typically obtained from suppliers and the client before new contractors are onboarded, we are working with clients to find workable solutions to this process.

Q: What new process is in place to temporarily replace wet signature requirements?
A: We have communicated to suppliers via email that due to the current circumstances, we are unable to sign contracts with a wet signature; however, when we are back in the office again, we will sign accordingly. The hope is that suppliers and clients accept an email as confirmation of our intention, and the person signing could print off the signing page and rely on that as evidence of the agreement and send the entire agreement back in one email. Then, when back in the office, they would send the whole document. Another short-term option that has proven successful in Germany is to execute signatures with DocuSign, an American company that enables users to sign documents electronically. We are working with our suppliers locally to expand access to such technology.

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Sick Workers & Related Pay Issues

March 18, 2020

Read answers to questions around when workers are symptomatic or test positive for COVID-19.

Q: If a supplier informs a customer that a contract worker has tested positive for COVID-19, what should the customer do?
A: The customer should get as much information about where the contract worker was physically based so that the customer can know which team members, co-workers, and others may have been exposed and with whom they need to communicate. Again, the company should follow their state, local health authorities, and the CDC Employer guidelines. It is critical for the staffing suppliers and the customers to protect and maintain the privacy of the infected person.

Q: Will the contractor be paid by the supplier for the 2+ week timeframe in which he/she self-quarantines?
A: AGS and our suppliers are available to have discussions with, and to partner with, our customers about how to best support the customer during this unusual time by maintaining the customer’s operational ability.

Q: Can the customer be billed for the 2+ week timeframe when a contract worker is out sick?
A: At this time, AGS and our suppliers need to confirm with the respective clients how clients can and want to proceed with payment of contract workers who are ill. Everyone’s goal is to keep people working and compensated so that our clients may remain operational during this difficult period of time, our suppliers will not need to lay off workers, and contract workers will not be hurt financially.

Q: What should a customer do to clean the area where an infected worker was in the building?
A: The CDC has issued recommendations for U.S. community facilities with suspected/confirmed coronavirus disease. View the CDC’s Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations.

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The Stafford Act and Qualified Disaster Relief Payments – US Only

Since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency, employers can now take advantage of an Internal Revenue Code that allows them to make tax-free payments or reimbursements to help workers cope with the pandemic.

Q: What is the Stafford Act?
A: The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) is a 1988 US federal law designed to facilitate natural disaster assistance to state and local governments and their residents.

Q: Why is a law from 1988 relevant today?
A: The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, was designated as a disaster under the Stafford Act on March 13, 2020. As a result of this designation, employers are permitted to make certain tax-free reimbursements to employees as “Qualified Disaster Relief Payments” under Section 139 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Q: What are Qualified Disaster Relief Payments?
A: As defined in the Code, Qualified Disaster Relief Payments are tax-free payments made by an employer to an employee that are reasonably expected by the employer to be used by the employee to pay reasonable and necessary personal, family, living, or funeral expenses incurred as a result of a natural disaster – in this case COVID-19.

Q: Are there more specific rules that companies need to follow?
A: No regulations have been issued to provide guidance on exactly which expenses and under what circumstances reimbursement or payments may occur (particularly for something as unusual as a pandemic like COVID-19). That said, an employer can reimburse or pay for expenses reasonably believed by the employer to result from COVID-19 that are not covered by insurance or otherwise reimbursed. These expenses might include amounts for: (i) medical expenses; (ii) health-related expenses that are not medical expenses (e.g., over-the-counter medications and hand sanitizers); (iii) childcare due to school closings; (iv) tutoring expenses due to school closings; (v) increased home expenses due to telecommuting (e.g., home office set-up, internet, printer); (vi) increased cell phone expenses; (vii) increased utility expenses; (viii) transportation expenses due to work relocation; (ix) increased cost of home supplies (e.g., disinfectant and soap); and (x) critical care and funeral expenses.

Q: Are there any specific exclusions?
A: Yes. Qualified Disaster Relief Payments are not allowed to be used to replace lost wages, lost business income or unemployment compensation, or for expenses that are otherwise reimbursed to the employee (e.g., through insurance).

It should also be noted that under Revenue Ruling 2003-12 issued by the IRS, generally applicable documentation requirements do not apply to Qualified Disaster Relief Payments. This means that the IRS will not require individuals to account for actual disaster-related expenses if the amount of the payments is reasonably expected to be commensurate with the expenses incurred.

Q: What tax implications exist for employees who receive a Qualified Disaster Relief Payment?
A: Qualified Disaster Relief Payments are excluded from gross income and are not treated as wages, net earnings from self-employment, or compensation subject to tax. Thus, they are not reported on Forms W-2 or 1099 and are not subject to federal income, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment (FUTA), or self-employment taxes.

For employees in California, the employee may be subject to ETT (employee training tax) and SDI (disability insurance) concerning any Qualified Disaster Relief Payments received.

Q. Along these same lines, what are the tax implications for employers that make a Qualified Disaster Relief Payment?
A: As noted above, Qualified Disaster Relief Payments are not reported by the employer on Forms W-2 or 1099 and are not subject to federal income, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment (FUTA), or self-employment taxes. In addition, Qualified Disaster Relief Payments generally are deductible by the employer.

For Qualified Disaster Relief Payments made to employees in California, there is a potential state unemployment tax impact to the employer. In particular, the employer is responsible for paying state unemployment tax at the rate of 6.2%, which would apply if the employee’s wages have not met the California wage base of $7,000.

Q: Are there best practices for companies looking to make Qualified Disaster Relief Payments to contractors?
If a client requests to make Qualifying Disaster Relief Payments to its contractors working on the client engagement, the client can make those payments as long as the following guidelines are followed:

  • The payments must be client-funded.

  • The payments must be of a reasonable amount given the types of expenses that may be reimbursed as Qualified Disaster Relief Payments as described above. 

    • In general, a Qualified Disaster Relief Payment of not more than $1,000 per impacted contractor is reasonable, given the nature of the disruption and additional expense contractors who are affected by COVID-19 are experiencing.

    • Any request to make a Qualified Disaster Relief Payment in excess of that amount will require additional documentation to support the payment level.

    • Depending on the length of time contractors working for the client are impacted by COVID-19, additional Qualified Disaster Relief Payments (not exceeding $1,000 per contractor per payment) may be considered if it is determined they are reasonably necessary to reimburse the contractors for additional qualifying expenses they have incurred since the prior payment. 

  • The client should provide a written request to the suppliers and/or AGS (which may be by email). requesting that the Suppliers make Qualified Disaster Relief Payments to contractors working on its engagement and stating that: (i) the client will fund the requested payments; and (ii) the client believes the amount of the requested payments is reasonable given the circumstances and is consistent with what the client is doing for its own employees.

  • The Suppliers or AGS should consider whether, in any given instance, it is necessary to add an administrative charge (e.g., 1%) to the amount charged the client to cover the cost of administering the Qualified Disaster Relief Payments. In addition, to the extent any contractors receiving the payment are in California, the Suppliers should take into account whether the Suppliers will need to make any state unemployment tax payment with respect to the Qualified Disaster Relief Payments for those employees (generally 6.2% until the employee exceeds the California wage base of $7,000).

  • The Suppliers should document the payments as Qualifying Disaster Relief Payments, and they should coordinate with payroll to ensure the payments are coded correctly in their payroll system.

  • In communicating with contractors regarding the payments, the Suppliers should indicate that the payment is for contractors working on the specific client’s engagement. Suppliers should also state that it is a Qualifying Disaster Relief Payment under Section 139 of the Internal Revenue Code and is intended to reimburse them for expenses reasonably incurred as a result of COVID-19.

Q: Is there a known end-date for how long employers will be permitted to make Qualified Disaster Relief Payments?
A: This program is effective as of March 13, 2020, and ceases once the disaster declaration with respect to COVID-19 under the Stafford Act expires.

Workplace Preparedness

AGS' Preparedness

March 18, 2020

When the unexpected happens, companies need to have a plan in place, so they’re ready to respond to emerging needs.

Q: Does AGS have a pandemic plan?

A: Yes, we have a staff mitigation plan to address office experiences due to illness in employees or their family members while still allowing essential business functions to continue. The plan enables us to be flexible based on the level of severity and take additional steps for serious situations as needed. Our pandemic plan is incorporated into the overall Business Continuity Plan for AGS and tested annually.

Q: Has AGS tested its network capacity to allow for an increased number of remote workers?
A: Yes, we have sufficiently tested our network capabilities, including VPN bandwidth, to support our workforce with working remotely. By default, our network is designed for high availability through the use of load balancers, redundancy, and failover technology. As a standard practice, a portion of our workforce works remotely on a standard business day. We have sufficiently ramped up to support the additional users that may connect remotely.

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Essential Workers Documentation – US Only

March 26, 2020

Get answers to what essential workers may need in order to document their need to be physically present on a work site.

Q: Who is an “essential” or “critical” worker?

A: With efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 both in communities and work locations across the nation, some states and local governments have mandated the closure of certain non-essential or non-critical businesses, in some cases, on penalty of misdemeanor charges. These Executive Orders identify which industries and types of companies are considered “critical,” “critical infrastructure,” or “essential” in that particular state or jurisdiction. Companies or industries that are deemed to be critical may remain open, and their essential workers are exempt from the movement restrictions imposed by the governmental executive orders on non-essential workers. Essential workers are permitted on a work site, so long as that permission is also in alignment with the business’ decision to remain open.

Where there is no guidance about which industries are considered critical infrastructure, a company may look to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS defines critical infrastructure industries as those in food and pharmaceutical supply, as well as healthcare services, among others. Again, workers in these industries are deemed by DHS to have a “special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.”

Q: Who determines what defines an essential worker?
A: If the customer is deemed to be a critically important business that falls within the definition of a state’s Executive Order, the customer, in turn, must identify who it deems to be an essential worker for its organization in accordance with the applicable state or local definitions.

Again, where there is limited guidance coming from the issuer of the Executive Order, DHS provides some guidance. But in the end, DHS defers to state and local leaders when it says, “state, local, tribal, and territorial governments are ultimately in charge of implementing and executing response activities in communities under their jurisdiction, while the Federal Government is in a supporting role.”

Q: Do contingent workers, freelancers, or employees need confirmation of their “essential worker” status while traveling to and from and working on site for a contracted employer? If so, who provides such documentation?
A: Yes, any worker deemed essential who needs to work on site at a customer’s location should be provided with the appropriate letter, stating the need to physically be present in the workplace. Such documentation helps to avoid any confusion while traveling to and from work, and addressing questions from security guards or other company staff as part of efforts to keep facilities maintained in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, the US Department of Labor, and other related organizations.

We are seeing many staffing suppliers create such letters for contractors that expressly name the essential workers at their locations. This is a similar effort to what customers are doing for their own employees. Ultimately, each company that falls within the critical infrastructure definition will need to develop its own form of documentation that reflects the Executive Order under which it is operating.

In advance of that, the end customers who are in critical industries should identify a list of their essential suppliers/vendors to whom that document will be provided. In turn, suppliers/vendors to those critically important companies will need to implement a similar process for their workers.

Whichever way the lists of essential workers are gathered, suppliers and clients are encouraged to work with their AGS Program Office for support in pulling together names of essential workers, so that customers can account for contract workers who need to be physically present on their sites.

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Temperature Checks — US Only

April 21, 2020

As companies work to manage workforce and workplace safety, temperature checks of workers and facilities visitors, now permissible by the EEOC, can help. But this raises questions around who can do it and how. We have answers.

Q: As the number of symptomatic and diagnosed COVID-19 cases increases, can I keep my company open for business?

A: It depends. Companies need to follow all state and local government mandates concerning closures. Most states, including CaliforniaIllinois, and Pennsylvania, as well as local jurisdictions, have issued stay-at-home orders, requiring non-critical businesses to close during the pandemic.

Where your state has not defined “critical infrastructure,” the recommendation is that you look to the federal government’s definition, which is determined by the US Department of Homeland Security. Once you have determined whether you can remain open, assess whether non-business-related or non-essential visitors should still be permitted to enter your facility. If your business is open, seek to minimize spread by following the Centers for Disease Control and Protection’s (CDC) Guidance for Businesses and Employers and 15 Days to Slow the Spread documents.

Q: If my business is open and operating in some capacity, may I conduct temperature checks to monitor workers’ health?
A: Yes. Measuring an employee’s body temperature is considered a medical examination temperature check, which is not typically permissible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting temperature checks is currently permissible in the US following the March 21, 2020 issuance of Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC also published a technical assistance document of questions and answers on April 17, 2020, with further guidance in its “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws.” Recommendations about screening employees, collecting related information, taking temperatures, and more are addressed on the page.

But with conditions evolving, the federal government’s guidance can change, so be prepared to follow updates from your state and local public health authorities, and the EEOC, as well as ensure compliance with the most current information on health safety from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In addition, companies should establish clear protocols around temperature checks, including what to do if a worker/visitor refuses a temperature check (i.e., sent home without pay, refused entry, or otherwise disciplined). Please consult the various resources referenced above for further information.

Visitors who present themselves at your facilities with a fever may be refused entry. Relatedly, it is permissible to post a notice at the designated point of entry, advising those seeking entry of the company’s requirements before access is granted. See example door signage.

Q: Who should conduct temperature checks?
A: It is up to the business to determine whether to hire an outside healthcare vendor to retain a traveling nurse or other healthcare professional to conduct the checks, or to use current employees to manage this process. Staff types in healthcare qualified to take temperatures include:

  • Certified Nurse Assistants

  • Patient Care Techs

  • EMTs

  • Medical Assistants

  • Licensed Vocational Nurses

  • Licensed Practical Nurses

  • Registered Nurses

If employees are conducting temperature checks, they should be given instructions and be trained in the protocols you put in place. For example, permit access via one entry point and use forehead thermometers that do not touch the skin as best practices. Also, be sure to follow social distancing, preventing workers/visitors from standing close together while awaiting testing.

Whoever is conducting temperature checks should also be provided guidance and trained in how to manage and resolve situations that involve fevers, the refusal of temperature checks, maintaining confidentiality, and following the company’s applicable policies. Follow or create best practices that are consistent with CDC guidelines.

Q: What do I do if a worker/visitor has a temperature?
A: It is essential to develop a protocol for the business in consultation with your HR team and your internal and/or external legal counsel. This is inclusive of whether you must or will pay workers while waiting to get their temperatures checked and if they are sent home. The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not interfere with employers following this advice. (See our Sick Workers and Related Pay Issues FAQs for further recommendations.)

If you record temperatures, there are regulatory issues under federal and/or state OSHA laws that may be required regarding the storage and destruction of this personal health information. See Littler’s OSHA Recording and Reporting of Cases of COVID-19 for details.

Q: What equipment should I have to temperature check workers/visitors?
A: Companies need to possess the right screening equipment and protection. Examples include:

Screening Equipment and Protection

  • Thermometers (non-patient touching or touching thermometers that require disposable covers for each use)

  • Masks

  • Gloves

  • Sanitizers

  • Possibly gowns

Assessment Stations

  • Stickers

  • Pens

  • Clipboards

  • Documentation paper

  • Tables

  • Pop-up tents

  • Trash cans

  • Red biohazard disposable bags

  • Caution tape markers (to maintain footing for social distancing between workers and healthcare professionals)

Q: What if I don’t have this type of equipment?
A: AGS Program Offices can assist and direct clients to an appropriate supplier that can support health screening upon arrival for work on-site or deliver even more comprehensive health management services.

For example, AGS has relationships with healthcare suppliers that can offer contingent labor within this workforce to execute questionnaires about past exposure history or current symptoms, as well as to conduct temperature checks. Contracts can range from an as-needed basis (per diem) to part-time or full-time contract assignments for days, nights, and weekends, with pricing established in each agreement.

If a company wants to put a more comprehensive solution in place, Program Offices could refer them to a full healthcare services supplier. Such a supplier can offer on-premise and virtual healthcare, as well as execute screenings to accommodate different temperature check needs (e.g., daily, by shift, throughout the day, upon entry/departure, etc.). Going a step further, comprehensive healthcare services suppliers can provide primary care, physical therapy, wellness coaching, fitness, occupational and behavioral health, condition management programs, and more.

Reach out to your Program Executive for a referral.

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Workplace and Workforce – Canada

April 3, 2020

New programs, resources, and insight can help businesses in Canada address COVID-19-related workplace and workforce challenges.

Workplace Topics

Q: What do we do about workers who self-select out of coming into work due to fears of COVID-19 in the workplace?
A: As more cases of COVID-19 are diagnosed, whether in the workplace or among family members, we’re seeing some voluntary actions where contract workers are choosing not to go to work. In some Canadian provinces, employees can refuse unsafe work, which could apply to exposure to COVID-19. In such cases, the AGS program office and suppliers should engage in discussions with their respective clients to determine how to proceed with payment of contractors, whether they are ill themselves or are calling out. The goal would be to explore options whereby clients can remain operational, suppliers can keep workers working, and contract workers can retain their jobs. This is an unusual time. AGS and its suppliers are available to partner with and support customers with creative solutions to prevent furloughs and layoffs.

Q: Can we temperature check employees who do come to work?
A: At the time of this writing, there is no relevant case law on temperature checking employees in Canada. Companies are encouraged to follow recommendations of national, province, and local health organizations in terms of how to protect their people and their facilities. The Government of Canada’s website offers tips on prevention here. They also published risk-informed decision-making guidelines for workplaces and businesses to help companies take appropriate health actions during the pandemic. Companies should monitor Canada’s public health agencies as the rules around temperature checks could evolve.

Terminations, Layoffs & Rescinded Offers

Q: What if we have to rescind an offer for a new employee?
A: It is important to consult with legal counsel before rescinding offers because each Canadian province has a different set of rules around how they should be performed. For example, a person may have given notice to their prior job, but the new employer no longer needs their service. Even so, a business looking to rescind an offer as a way to preserve cash, slow hiring, and trim expenses should tread carefully to limit their liability as rescinding an offer could open the employer up to a wrongful dismissal case. Depending on the province, it could be necessary for the business to provide notice within specific timeframes or pay in lieu of notice. Consult legal counsel for more information.

Similarly, if a company wants to temporarily lay off or terminate a worker after they start their job, the effort needs to be coordinated carefully. For further details, view Littler’s COVID-19 and the Temporary Layoff of Employees article, which provides a thorough breakdown of federal and province-specific laws to keep in mind. As the authors suggest, however, layoff laws could evolve amid the pandemic, so seek legal counsel’s advice on best practices.

Q: How does job protection legislation impact individuals’ abilities to gain social assistance?
A: Efforts are underway to provide job protection legislation in an effort to keep more people on payrolls versus companies choosing to furlough (known in Canada as a temporary layoff) or lay off workers. So, in cases where an individual could be on a temporary layoff, questions about whether that individual could simultaneously apply for and receive government benefits are getting a lot of attention. Similar to how we’re seeing legislation evolve in the US, Canadian laws are being reexamined with new frequency to give companies more options to keep people at work.

In some instances, there is a growing middle ground where workers can receive temporary benefits (e.g., unemployment pay) while on a temporary furlough. In another development, the Canadian government recently introduced the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which would provide $2,000 a month up to four months for those who lose income stemming from the pandemic. CERB applies to wage earners as well as a self-employed and contract workers who aren’t eligible for Employment Insurance (EI). Workers still employed but whose income has been interrupted due to the pandemic would also qualify for CERB. EI-eligible Canadians who have lost their job can apply for benefits here.

There is also the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy, recently announced by the Government of Canada to help employers keep employees on payroll or return them to their jobs following shutdowns that result from COVID-19. As part of the plan, private businesses that realize a 30% drop in revenue would be able to seek a 75% subsidy from the government for a period of three months – retroactive to March 15, 2020. Employers are urged to consult with legal and tax counsel for clear guidance on the use of subsidiaries, meant to cover up to three-quarters of an employee’s salary.

Under that same March 15 to June 15, 2020 timeframe, and also a part of the Emergency Wage Subsidy program, small businesses with less than CAD$15 million of taxable capital would be able to seek a 10% subsidy without having to demonstrate a revenue decline. Some entities, such as most non-taxable corporations or public sector entities (e.g., hospitals and municipalities), do not qualify for wage subsidies through this program. Application details for both subsidy program will be available on the Canada Revenue Agency’s My Business Account portal shortly. Details on the plan are still being finalized.

Q: How best should companies recoup assets from laid-off employees?
A: A best practice, which increases the rate of return of the assets (e.g., identification badges and laptops), is for the company to provide shipping boxes with pre-paid postage and/or arrange for the pickup and delivery of all assets that must be returned.

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Workplace and Workforce – APAC

April 22, 2020

Immigration & Travel Restrictions

Companies and contract workers face delays that could slow the contract worker’s start date during the onboarding process. Read the latest guidance, accompanied by online resources.

Q: What are the implications of having hired a contract worker from overseas or who requires traveling for their role?

A: Programs should liaise with their staffing supplier and customer to consider necessary adjustments or delays to a new contract worker’s start date or travel requirements. Be mindful of the specific airline and country entry/departure restrictions, as well as quarantine requirements as outlined on this IATA Travel site.

For country-specific resources, see below:

Q: What happens if we have a new Singapore Employment Pass (EP) request in progress or require an extension for an existing foreign contract worker during COVID-19?

A: A valid Employment Pass (EP) is required for each foreign worker to commence or continue work in Singapore. For more information about any changes to work-pass services during the COVID-19 pandemic, refer to Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower site.

Work From Home (WFH) Arrangements

As more people are working remotely, it brings up several questions about how best to support this adjusted way of working and align with local government guidance.

Q: In a WFH arrangement, where many contractors work remotely, who is responsible for directing the contract workers?
A: The customer maintains the same responsibility to direct and control a contractor’s work. Managers who currently oversee contract workers and provide their assignments will retain those responsibilities. Contract workers should stay connected with their contacts/recruiters from the staffing supplier.

Programs can share insights with staffing suppliers and customers when it comes to specific countries and government guidance.

Q: How will the time for WFH contract workers be captured?
A: Programs should continue to use their vendor management system (or designated time-keeping system) for web-based time and expense entry, and adhere to regular deadlines. Any exceptions during COVID-19 will be communicated through the Program Office to the staffing suppliers.

Q: What types of expenses would a customer have to pay for in a WFH scenario?
A: Under the current situation, AGS anticipates that, at a minimum, a customer will need to reimburse contract workers for their internet usage. If other materials need to be reimbursed (e.g., paper, toner, etc.), the Program Office should have conversations about these items with the customer and suppliers. We also know that some companies have offered a one-time amount to support with WFH setup; however, such decisions or arrangements are customer-driven.

Q: As countries and local governments curb the number of new COVID-19 cases, what should Programs and customers factor into their current business response or return to work plan?
A: Each country is at a different stage of combating COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidance for businesses to plan and respond to COVID-19. For countries where new and open cases are successfully declining, initial insights, as outlined in a Bloomberg article, suggest a gradual transition for returning to work, where not all personnel should be allowed back to offices at the same time to maintain social distancing.

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These FAQs contain general information only, and AGS is not rendering legal advice. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business and compliance with all applicable laws, you should consult qualified legal counsel. AGS shall not be responsible for any loss whatsoever sustained by any person or company who relies on this information. Inclusion of any hyperlink or explanatory notes/summary do not imply any endorsement, investigation, verification, or monitoring by AGS of any information in any hyperlinked site.