Navigating the American Rescue Plan’s Employment-Related Provisions

On March 12, 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) was signed into law, providing an estimated $1.9 trillion stimulus package to address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the ARP’s key provisions include a number of employment-related sections that build upon prior legislation to create a scaffold of employer obligations and worker entitlements arising from the pandemic’s impact on the U.S. economy.

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Minnesota Employers Are Given the Green Light to Return to the Office, Subject to Continued Limitations

On March 12, 2021, nearly one year to the day after Minnesota declared a peacetime emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Tim Walz issued Executive Order 21-11, which rolls back certain restrictive measures aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

Chief among the changes is a relaxation of the mandate that all employees who are able to work remotely must do so. Commencing on March 25, 2020, pursuant to Executive Order 20-20, Minnesota employees have been required to work remotely whenever they are able. This requirement will cease on April 14, 2021, at 11:59 p.m. Employers are now strongly encouraged to allow Minnesota-based employees to work from home when they are able to do so. Employers are also strongly encouraged to implement reasonable accommodations for those employees who are at-risk for infection or who reside with a household member with an underlying medical condition that has not yet become eligible for vaccination. This softens obligations previously set forth in Executive Orders 20-54 and 20-55 in light of the expanded access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

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Minnesota Supreme Court Rules That Handbook Policies Can Be Contractual Notwithstanding Disclaimer

On February 3, 2021, the Minnesota Supreme Court decided Hall v. City of Plainview, holding that a general contract disclaimer in an employee handbook did not, as a matter of law, nullify a breach of contract claim with respect to a paid time off (PTO) policy within the handbook. As the Hall Court explained, the PTO policy at issue was sufficiently detailed to create a unilateral employment contract such that the employer would be obligated to follow its terms. The decision reminds employers of the importance of careful planning and drafting when it comes to their PTO policies. In light of the Court’s holding, employers should also review their handbooks for other policies and procedures that could be construed as contracts.

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D.C. Signs Broad Ban on Noncompetes and Anti-Moonlighting Policies

With the issuance of the D.C. Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Amendment Act of 2020 (the Act), the District joins the growing list of jurisdictions subjecting noncompetes to intense scrutiny. D.C.’s Act goes much further though, and once in effect will be one of the broadest limitations on such agreements in the country. While the Act’s precise effective date remains unclear, employers should begin reviewing their existing policies and form agreements now to ensure compliance with the sweeping prohibitions.

For the full alert, visit the Faegre Drinker website.

EEOC Issues Opinion Letter on Older Workers Benefit Protection Act Disclosure Requirements for Non-U.S. Employees

In a new Opinion Letter published January 14, 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) clarified a long-standing ambiguity as to whether non-U.S. employees working outside of the United States should be included in the description of the “decisional unit” in OWBPA-compliant waivers of federal age discrimination claims. This opinion presents helpful guidance to multinational employers who face a byzantine process when it comes to workforce reductions.

For the full alert, visit the Faegre Drinker website.

The Lost Wage Assistance Program Provides Relief After the CARES Act $600 Weekly Benefit Expired

On August 8, 2020, President Trump authorized the creation of the Lost Wage Assistance (LWA) program to provide lost wage assistance to unemployed individuals as a result of COVID-19. The LWA is intended to provide additional unemployment assistance after the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act’s $600 per week supplement expired on July 31, 2020. Under the LWA program, eligible claimants may receive $300 or $400 in supplemental benefits.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will provide grants to participating states, territories and the District of Columbia for lost wage assistance. States may provide eligible claimants $400 per week, with a $300 federal contribution, in addition to an individual’s regular weekly unemployment benefit (UI) amount. The benefit is funded using 75% from the Disaster Relief Fund administered by FEMA and the remaining 25% through state unemployment insurance funding.

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