Businesses across the country are beginning to reopen and state stay-at-home orders are slowly lifting. While we all try our best to find a way to get back to some kind of normalcy, there is a sense among some in Congress that there remains more that needs to be done to address the challenges created by COVID-19. To that end, Congressional democrats recently introduced 2 new bills in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Emergency Limitation Periods Extensions for Workers Act seeks to extend the statute of limitations for employees to bring claims against their employers under a variety of Federal employment laws. Specifically, the bill would allow employees to file claims under Title VII, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and a variety of other federal employment laws, up to and including “the 90th day after the last day” of the declared COVID-19 public health emergency plus the “overlap interval,” which is the period when the pre-COVID filing deadline overlaps with the pandemic. This means, for example, that while typically the an employee would have 180 days to file a Title VII claim with the EEOC (300 calendar days if a state or local agency enforces a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the same basis), the deadline would be extended much longer until sometime after the end of the government-declared coronavirus emergency. More specifically, if the bill passes, an employee who had just 5 days left to file a Title VII claim when the COVID public health emergency was declared in January, would not have blown the statute of limitations but rather would have 95 days after the COVID emergency to file his or her Title VII claim.
Another bill, called the Heroes Act, was introduced by the House. It is the next coronavirus relief bill in a series that includes the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”), the Coronavirus Aid and Relief Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response (CARES) Act and the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act. The Heroes Act would appropriate an additional $3 million to assist health care workers and other first responders working on the front lines during pandemic, include additional testing funds, and provide for another round of stimulus payments to certain qualifying Americans, among other things. According to the House Press Release, these are some of the key components of the bill:
- Provides $1 trillion to state, local, territorial and tribal governments to pay vital workers like first responders, health workers, and teachers;
- Provides $200 billion to fund hazard pay to essential workers who have risked their lives working during the pandemic;
- Provides $75 billion for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and isolation measures;
- Makes a second round of economic impact payments of $1,200 per family member, up to $6,000 per household;
- Enhances the employee retention tax credit to encourage employers to keep employees on payroll;
- Establishes a requirement under OSHA for employers to develop and implement infection control plans based on CDC expertise, and prevent employers from retaliating against workers who report infection control problems;
- Expands PPP by providing $10 billion for COVID-19 emergency grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program;
- Provides COBRA subsidies to allow employees who have lost employer -provided health insurance to maintain coverage and create a special enrollment period in the Affordable Care Act exchanges for the uninsured;
- Extends the extra $600 Federal unemployment benefits through next January; and
- Provides $175 billion in new supports to assist renters and homeowners make monthly rent, mortgage and utility payments and other housing-related costs.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders have said that the Heroes Act is dead on arrival at the Senate. It is similarly doubtful that the Emergency Limitation Periods Extensions for Workers Act will pass, given Republican control of the Senate.
While these bills probably will not pass in their current form, there is likely to be some continuing legislative response to the pandemic. The reality is that the virus is likely to be with us for some time. Federal, state and local governments will try to respond with new guidance, programs, and additional economic relief for individuals and businesses. New Hampshire and Massachusetts are both expected to provide revised guidelines on mobility and business reopening shortly. Businesses are well-advised to continue to assess how their legal obligations are affected by these ongoing changes. Individuals too should know their rights under any new laws and guidance. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor developments and provide updated information to help navigate this ever-changing world.