WFH USA. It’s the End of the (Work) World As We Know It

Shelter-in-place. Social distancing. Elbow bumping instead of handshakes.

No more shared boxes of pizza. Massive stockpiling. Obsessive washing of hands.

The new habits and lexicon of the American workforce reflect the vocabulary of the COVID-19 coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan, China, in December and has spread globally, striking home in all 50 states and ushering in new habits and social awareness — along with fear and anxiety. […]

‘Seismic’ changes ahead

Welcome to Remote America, a world in the making that is constantly in flux, with widespread flex-time and WFH adoption, unexpected tech challenges for benefits professionals, greater emphasis on mental health benefits and attention from HR on a myriad of new issues. […]

Michael Gradisek, the head of the benefits group at Philadelphia-based Duane Morris, said his employer clients have been asking mostly about the legal differences between layoffs and furlough, COBRA healthcare plans and compensation issues.

“Furlough is a term of art that is a temporary layoff, where we can keep staff on health, mental and vision, but those benefits depend on the insurance contract,” which is typically classified as unpaid leave, he says.

Benefits coverage is “case-by-case by each company and each contract. No good deed goes unpunished. What happens if we keep you on the plan, and someone ends up on a ventilator for two months? Those are the questions insurance carriers will be asking. That’s their job,” he noted from his home office, where he’s been in self-isolation since returning on Friday from a business trip from London.

Gradisek noted that in Europe, many of the bars and restaurants were open, and the crisis didn’t hit home for many Europeans until owners canceled the Premier League soccer games, similar to the NBA, NHL and preseason baseball shutdowns in the U.S. “My company said, ‘Glad you made it back. Don’t come in for two weeks,’ ” he says.

Their benefits practice has been “crazy busy and going berserk with calls” during the crisis, he says.

“Employers are starting to hoard cash, which is a smart thing. Can we voluntarily not make payments for executive comp plans and large payments? These are the questions we’re getting,” he says. “Some CEOs don’t want to take bonus money and put the company in a cash-strapped position.”

He noted various questions about delayed comp plans, and cited IRS code 409A, which does not allow for voluntary deferrals. “The IRS wants executives to take the money and pay the tax,” he says, noting that there are exemptions only if not deferring payments or paying bonuses may “jeopardize the solvency of the service recipient” or the company as a going concern.

“Is a million bucks going to stop the company from being a going concern? Employers are talking about it in reviews and discretionary bonuses. Those are all based on company and market conditions,” he says, noting one client that was weighing layoffs and reduction of certain staff salaries by 30%. […]

To read the full article, visit the Employee Benefit News website.

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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