Tag Archives: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Charting the Course for H-1Bs and Other Visas Through COVID-19

Contributed by Jacqueline Lentini McCullough, May 27, 2020

USA visa in a passport – travel background

U.S. Immigration laws and regulations have always required immigration attorneys to have a certain level of creativity to problem solve. Keeping current on regulation changes, combined with creativity, helped me navigate the paths to my clients’ goals even when they took unexpected turns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken creative problem solving and preparedness to a whole new level.

Here are six situations I am helping clients navigate.

Work-from-Home Effect on H-1Bs

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a traditional organization that has not caught up with some of the modern work world’s innovations. They prefer brick-and-mortar offices as evidence H-1B employees are working.

On a temporary basis, given our reality in many states, H-1Bs working from home is okay within certain parameters. However, if work from home were to become a permanent change, it could jeopardize their status.

Compliance for H-1B Employees Working from Home

H-1B employees working from home need to post the company’s Labor Condition Application (LCA) notice in their home for 10 consecutive days and complete the posting sheet. The posting sheet must then be sent to the employer and placed in the employer’s Public Access File.

Though this procedure sounds silly, it is important to comply with USCIS regulations.

Work and Pay Reduction Effects on H-1Bs

Clients have asked if they can reduce all of their employees’ hours by 20 percent to avoid work force reductions and have their H-1Bs remain in good standing.

The answer is it depends.

If a wage range was listed on the LCA, it will work.

Otherwise, pay reductions would still need to maintain the prevailing wage or risk violating Department of Labor (DOL) regulations and incurring fines. Pay reductions will require filing a new LCA.

Depending on the person’s salary, a ten percent reduction may not negatively impact the H-1B visa holder’s status.

Work Force Reduction Effect on H-1Bs

H-1B status is based on continuous employment during the visa’s duration. Loss of a job jeopardizes the visa. If terminated from the job, the H-1B employee has 60 days to find another one and to amend the H-1B before losing status.

Employers who decide to terminate an H-1B employee must notify the employee and USCIS and offer the employee the reasonable cost of return transportation.

Application Filing During COVID-19

We are in the midst of H-1B filing season and are continuing to file L-1s, Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) and green card applications on behalf of clients.

All applications require a “wet signature,” meaning the applicant signs with ink and there is evidence the application is original, like having an indentation on the reverse side where the pen was pressed into the paper.

For the moment USCIS is accepting copies of wet signatures, but I am having clients send the originals as well just to be ready for any inquiries. E-signatures are not the same and are not accepted.

USCIS’s preference for brick-and-mortar offices to show green card applicants are gainfully employed makes applying for a green card dicey right now. I’m advising clients who can wait to do so.

For others who may be nearing the end of their 6-year H-1B stay, I am helping them assemble the best application possible given the circumstances.

Travel During COVID-19

Many embassies and consulates have reduced or suspended visa processing services. Some posts are starting to accept appointments for late July/early August, such as the U.S. Embassy in London and the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt.

Acquiring passport photos has become difficult. Walmart is now offering a service where you can upload photos taken following U.S. federal guidelines and they will print them for you to pick up.

Visa holder clients who had been planning to travel because their status was expiring have had to file with immigration because they can’t leave. Clients and their family members who have passports expiring soon have had to get extensions.

Visitors in the U.S. who came via the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa, have had trouble securing travel for when their 90 days has expired.

The U.S. Custom and Borders Protection (CBP) issued guidance to ports of entry to grant these visitors a 30-day extension via a request for Satisfactory Departure. To avoid jeopardizing their ability to visit the U.S. in the future, VWP visitors need to request Satisfactory Departure before their 90 days expire.

As you can see, the intricacies of immigration regulations coupled with COVID-19 complications require diligence and creative problem solving to keep visa holders in status and applications in process.

COVID-19 Illinois Workers’ Compensation Amendment

Contributed by guest author Matthew Horn, May 26, 2020

After the Workers’ Compensation Commission withdrew its proposed Emergency Rule declaring that any employee in an “essential industry” contracting COVID-19 will be rebuttably presumed to have contracted COVID-19 at work, the legislature and business groups met and worked through a proposed amendment to the Workers’ Compensation Act addressing the issue.

Under the proposed amendment, which appears set to pass, first responders, frontline workers, and most “essential employees” will be rebuttably presumed to have contracted COVID-19 at work, if they have a confirmed case of COVID-19, and the presumption is not rebutted by any of the following: 1) the employee was not in the workplace for 14 days prior to the contracting COVID-19; or 2) the employer complied with all local and CDC guidance to protect its employees from COVID-19; or 3) the employee was exposed to COVID-19 by another source, such as a spouse.  Notably, even if an employee is successful in making such a claim: 1) the employer’s MOD rate will not be impacted; and 2) the employer is entitled to a credit against any TTD benefits for sick leave or other benefits paid to the employee.

Moving forward, employers should comply with all local and CDC guidance, and prepare a questionnaire to be filled out by employees with confirmed COVID-19 cases, inquiring as to the employee’s COVID-19 exposure—much like an accident report. Employers can use those questionnaires when evaluating a workers compensation claim.

Another Symptom of COVID-19: Union Organizing

Contributed by Beverly Alfon, May 26, 2020

Labor Law Lawyer Legal Business Internet Technology Concept.

If your “essential” workforce is not already organized, consider this your wake-up call. 

As this pandemic has worn on, and more “essential workers” have fallen ill to COVID-19, labor unions have become noticeably more active. Just last Monday, the AFL-CIO filed suit in federal court to compel the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue an emergency temporary standard, aimed at forcing the agency to mandate certain safety actions by employers. 

Noticeably, the rhetoric from the AFL-CIO has been focused on “all workers” as opposed to “their members.” Plagued by a continuing decline in membership, unions seemingly recognize that they cannot let this opportunity to organize more workers pass them by. In an April 30 opinion piece published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Gary Perinar, executive secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, declared: “The importance of unions is more obvious than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic…Of all the injustices exposed by this public health crisis, the risks faced by non-union workers are the most apparent.” It was a direct call to non-union workers. 

Indeed, many of the headlines about labor activity during this pandemic have not involved unions. For example, there have been walkouts to protest unsafe work conditions in nonunion workplaces such as Amazon warehouses in Staten Island, New York; Amazon-owned Whole Foods grocery stores in Chicago and other locations; and McDonalds workers in Chicago have sued the corporation over safety concerns (albeit, this one was financially backed by the S.E.I.U.). Even gig workers delivering groceries for Instacart called for a work stoppage. Such activity, of course, confirms that some workforces are ripe for union organizing. 

As businesses begin to reopen (and essential businesses begin to move forward), they will be forced to deal with employee concerns and demands over personal protective equipment, wages, hazard pay, paid sick leave, disability accommodations, and the status of laid off employees.  These very matters – job insecurity, safety concerns, and benefits – are what unions rely upon to organize workers. 

So now what?  Get your union avoidance plan in place. 

  1. Identify who your “supervisors” are (as defined by the National Labor Relations Act) and get them trained on identifying and dealing with union organizing. A “supervisor” cannot be represented by a union. They are also agents of your company, so training is key. They should be directed on what their role should be in avoiding union organization and what they can and cannot do in the event that union organizing has already begun.
  2. Review policies for clarity, perceived unfairness, and employee relations. A union will often focus employees on unfair policies. 
  3. Benchmark wages and benefits. A union will often promise more money. So, it is best to be prepared with a response.
  4. Identify employee relations problems now and deal with them before employees turn to a union. Get feedback from the group of employees who are vulnerable to union organization. Sometimes, it is as simple as tweaking a supervisor’s management style.
  5. Train management on positive employee relations. Your supervisors need to know about the importance of providing regular feedback to employees and maintaining open communication with them.
  6. Get a communications plan in place in the event that union organizing begins or has begun. 

While you may already have much to consider during these unusual times, being aware of the potential threat of union organizing at your workplace is not enough. Assessment and planning are necessary so that if the need arises, response can be timely, effective, and within the parameters of the National Labor Relations Act.

OSHA Revises COVID-19 Guidance….Again

Contributed by guest author Matthew Horn, May 22, 2020

Previously, OSHA issued guidance indicating that most employers only had to record or report confirmed COVID-19 cases when provided with objective evidence that an employee contracted COVID-19 at work.  In practice, this put the burden on employees to submit evidence to employers establishing that their COVID-19 cases were contracted at work.

OSHA recently issued revised guidance on this issue, which goes into effect on May 26, 2020. Under the revised guidance, OSHA puts the burden on the employer to make a “reasonable determination” as to whether a confirmed COVID-19 case was contracted at work. In order to make that determination, OSHA suggests that employers:

1) Question the employee as to how he/she believes he/she contracted COVID-19;

2) Discuss with the employee his/her out-of-work activities that may have resulted in exposure; and

3) Review the employee’s work environment for potential COVID-19 exposure.

If, after taking those steps, the only logical explanation is that the employee contracted COVID-19 at work, then the case should be recorded or reported to OSHA, as appropriate. 

Moving forward, employers should prepare a questionnaire to be filled out by employees with confirmed COVID-19 cases, inquiring as to the topics OSHA has identified in its guidance—much like an accident report. Employers can use those questionnaires to guide them in their OSHA-related decision making process, as well as if/when a workers’ compensation or civil suit is filed.

ON-DEMAND WEBCAST: COVID-19 in Skilled Care and Assisted Living: What You Must Do Now to Manage Risk and Impact

You CAN manage risk in senior living facilities during these trying times but understanding and following procedures is more critical now than ever to protect vulnerable residents and employees. In this recorded webcast, SmithAmundsen attorneys Betsy Ballek, Suzannah Overholt and Jennifer Stuart discuss how to most effectively ensure that the safety and health in your facility is not compromised. Topics include:

  • Overview of the state of long term care communities in the setting of COVID-19
  • Regulatory Impact and Potential Litigation
  • Immunity Laws and other Provider Protections
  • Employee Concerns and Testing

Can I go to Jail if My Business Violates a Stay-at-Home Order?

Contributed by Carlos Arévalo, May 18, 2020

How cities, counties and states are actively enforcing their COVID-19 orders is all over the map, but criminal and/or civil penalties are on the books in some areas.  For example, last Friday, May 15, the Illinois Governor directed the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to add an emergency rule called “Pandemic or Epidemic Respiratory Disease – Emergency Provisions.”  The emergency rule authorizes IDPH to “take means it considers necessary to restrict and suppress dangerously contagious or infectious diseases, especially when existing in epidemic form.”  This specifically includes the power to seek penalties pursuant to Section 8.1 of the Illinois Public Health Act, including seeking convictions of Class A misdemeanors that can result in up to 364 days in jail time and/or fines of up to $2,500.

The IDPH rule specifically restricts and greatly limits the following businesses:

  1. Restaurant and other food serving establishments (except those located in airports and hospitals);
  2. Fitness health clubs and non-medical wellness establishments; and
  3. Barbershops, hair and nail salons, and other establishments that provide non-medical personal care services.

Other states have taken a variety of similar approaches.  For instance, in Indiana, businesses that violate state and local orders will receive a verbal warning first, a cease and desist letter second, a removal of their license or permit, and then finally, criminal charges, namely a Class B Misdemeanor resulting in a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.  A violation of Michigan’s stay-at-home order can result in a civil penalty of up to $1,000, as well as criminal fines and up to 90 days of jail time.  In Ohio, a violation can lead to a second-degree misdemeanor, a $750 fine and up to 90 days in jail.  While Wisconsin’s state-wide order has been struck down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, local orders are still in effect in some cities and counties.  In some localities, a violation may result in 30 days in jail time and a $500 fine pursuant to the Wisconsin statute on Communicable Diseases.  Missouri’s state-wide order ended on May 4th, but some local cities and counties have extended its application to accommodate a phased reopening.  Pursuant to Missouri Revised Statutes, a violation of law or quarantine is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by 1-year in prison and a $2,000 fine.  Restaurants in Pennsylvania face suspension of their retail licenses and fines up to $10,000 per day.   Pursuant to Maryland’s amended order on May 6th, violations can result in $5,000 fines and jail for up to 1-year. Finally, in Texas, the initial COVID-19 order provided for fines up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail or both. However, in light of inconsistent and “overzealous” enforcement by some local agencies, particularly the arrest of a Dallas hair salon owner, Governor Greg Abbott announced he would ban cities from arresting individuals and would retroactively nullify any prosecutions.

Whether hard line enforcement will occur remains to be seen. In the interim, legal battle lines are being drawn. Any business that is not 100% certain of its rights and responsibilities in operating during the current crisis should consult with experienced legal counsel. The stakes are just too high.

Register Now! Complimentary Webcast: BACK IN BUSINESS: Returning Workers to the Workplace – May 29, 2020

“Business as usual” will be anything but for the foreseeable future. Business owners need to evaluate the issues and risks as they prepare to return workers to the workplace.
 
Join attorneys Jeff Risch and Suzannah Overholt on May 29th at 11:00 AM CT as they discuss how employers can get back to business as effectively as possible, including:

  • The latest guidance from local, state, and federal government on phasing in workers
  • Screening employees, including temperature checks at the door, and related privacy concerns
  • Protecting employees, including identifying appropriate PPE
  • Public transportation and commuting issues
  • Managing childcare issues
  • Avoiding discrimination claims and related pitfalls
  • Diminishing the threat of workers compensation claims
  • Supporting subcontractors/independent contractors without making them employees
  • Managing public relations
  • And more!

We hope you can join us for this timely webcast!