What Companies are Doing for Holiday Parties During Pandemic

Christmas party Pandemic

One of the hallmarks of the holiday season is the company Christmas party, but with the COVID-19 pandemic in hyperdrive, many companies are rethinking their plans.

A number of businesses have cancelled their parties altogether, but other managers feel that in light of this very difficult year for many people, a company Christmas party might be just what employees need to lift their spirits for a while.

On the other hand, with the Centers for Disease Control even recommending that people not get together for family celebrations like Thanksgiving and Christmas, an office party would completely go against those recommendations.

Also, you could face liability and potential legal action if you do hold an in-person party and members of your staff come down with COVID-19.

Instead of in-person events, many companies are planning Zoom teleconference “parties” and they are asking their workers to join in by getting dressed up and bringing their favorite beverages and snacks to the online do.

According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., 55% of human resources professionals surveyed said their company is not having a holiday celebration this year, which is the highest number since the consulting firm started surveying employers about their holiday plans.

Here’s what the survey found:

  • 45% of HR professionals said their company had cancelled holiday party plans due to the pandemic.
  • 3% said cost-cutting was the reason for cancelling their party.
  • 4% said they never host holiday parties.
  • 23% said they were unsure of holiday plans and were awaiting state and local guidance before deciding.

“It is no surprise that many companies are forgoing the holiday party this year,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “It’s difficult to celebrate and implement all the precautions needed to keep everyone safe. The last thing any employer wants is an outbreak due to their year-end party.”

Additionally, the survey found that 55% of respondents continue keeping most of their staff working from home and another 5.5% have all of their employees telecommuting.

When asked when employers plan to bring all workers back to the office, 44% were unsure or did not answer. Another 21% planned to bring all workers back in early 2021, and 8% will wait for a vaccine.

Precautions for an in-person event

The companies that said they would be holding in-person holiday events plan to take steps to reduce the chances of COVID-19 spreading among their workers by taking the following precautions:

  • Requiring social distancing while at the party.
  • Requiring all attendees to wear masks.
  • Providing hand sanitizers, alcohol wipes and face masks.
  • Taking temperatures of all workers when they arrive.
  • Limiting the number of employees at the party.
  • Holding the event in a large area where employees can socially distance from one another (venues should be well-ventilated with several doors and windows).
  • Keeping hand sanitizer in various locations around the office.
  • Hosting outdoor events.
  • Regularly checking the CDC’s website to be up to date on precautions and advice.
  • Keeping up on state and local guidelines to get more accurate information on current case levels in their area.

Other options

Some companies that plan to skip festivities this year have come up with other ways to celebrate and reward their employees during the holidays, including:

  • Organizing virtual gift exchanges or virtual Secret Santa exchanges.
  • Giving away cooking classes or gifts like Apple Airpods or other small electronics (the cost per person will often be less than if you held an actual party and paid for the facility, catering, decorations, entertainment and drinks).
  • Assembling care packages with baked goods or gift certificates and delivering them to employees’ doorsteps.

 

Daunting Emergency COVID-19 Workplace Safety Rules on Tap

Workplace safety

The Cal/OSHA Standards Board is set to vote on new emergency regulations that will impose strict rules on employers to implement safeguards in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in the workplace.

The board on Nov. 19 will vote on the sweeping proposal that extends the reach of protections to employer-provided housing and transportation, as well as imposing new reporting requirements on employers who have workers that contract the coronavirus.

The board is expected to approve the new regulations and they could take effect Nov. 30. Employers will therefore need to ramp up quickly to comply with the new rules.

Here are the highlights of the emergency regulations:

  • Physical distancing and mask-wearing are required unless it is not possible to wear masks on the job. If physical distancing is not possible in the workplace, the employer would have to explain why not.
  • Employers must provide face coverings and ensure they are worn by employees over the nose and mouth.
  • At fixed work locations where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing, the employer shall install cleanable partitions that effectively reduce aerosol transmission between employees.
  • Employers must implement cleaning and disinfecting procedures for frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, equipment, tools, handrails, handles, controls, bathroom surfaces, and steering wheels.
  • Employers will be required to have a written COVID-19 prevention program. Cal/OSHA will allow the program to be incorporated into an organization’s existing injury and illness prevention plan or be stand-alone.
  • Employers must identify and evaluate COVID-19 hazards with participation from employees, and then correct those hazards.
  • Employers must investigate coronavirus cases among their employees. If they discover one of their staff has contracted COVID-19, they will be required to notify all employees or their authorized representatives, independent contractors, or employees at a worksite who might have been exposed, within one day. Workers who may have been exposed must be offered COVID-19 testing at no cost.
  • Employers must report coronavirus cases in their workplaces to local health authorities.
  • Employers must maintain medical records related to COVID-19 and provide those records to the local health department, the California Department of Public Health, Cal/OSHA, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (upon request).
  • Employers must implement a system of record-keeping to track all COVID-19 cases in the workplace.
  • Employees with COVID-19 symptoms may not return to work until at least 10 days since symptoms first appeared, and not until after 24 hours have passed since the employee had a fever of 100.4 or higher and after all symptoms have passed.

There are even rules for disinfecting and cleaning employee housing and transportation if the company provides them.

The regs also include provisions that are beyond the scope of workplace safety regulations, such as requiring employers to maintain employees’ earnings, seniority and benefits when they are off work because of COVID-19.

Key takeaways

You can find the full proposed emergency regulation here.

With this regulation expected to be approved, California employers may only have until Nov. 30 until the new rules take effect. During that time, companies should:

  • Prepare for new record-keeping requirements,
  • Start writing their COVID-19 prevention programs,
  • Consider implementing testing protocols as per the regulations, and
  • Prepare policies and procedures for notifying affected staff and others of possible COVID-19 exposure.

California’s COVID-19 Tracking Requirement Challenges Employers

COVID-19 tracking

SB 1159, signed into law in September, requires that when a California employer “knows or reasonably should know” that an employee has tested positive for coronavirus, it must report that positive case to its workers’ compensation carrier within three business days.

There is a lot of ground to cover in these reports and the legislation was passed without much publicity, so many employers may not even know about their obligations. And that could cost them: the fine for non-compliance is $10,000 per incident.

The law goes further than merely reporting a positive case: The report must include a number of details that employment law experts say will place a significant reporting burden on employers:

  • The date the employee tested positive;
  • The address or addresses of the employee’s place or places of employment during the 14-day period preceding the positive test, and
  • The highest number of employees who reported to work in the 45 days preceding the last day the employee worked in the workplace.

The task will be made even more difficult if an employee works at multiple worksites, and an employer could have to spend a significant amount of time doing all that detective work.

Making the task even more difficult, California employers will have to go through the same process every time an employee catches COVID-19.

At its essence, the law creates a presumption that employees who suffer illness or death resulting from COVID-19 between July 6 this year and Jan. 1, 2023, contracted the virus at work, which makes them eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. If a worker dies, their dependents will be eligible for workers’ compensation death benefits that range from $250,000 to $320,000 depending on the number of dependents.

The presumption applies to all employees:

(1) who test positive during an outbreak at the employee’s specific place of employment; and (2) whose employer has five or more employees.

The term “injury” below includes illness or death resulting from COVID-19, and all of the following conditions must exist for the presumption to apply:

  • The employee tests positive for COVID-19 within 14 days after a day that they performed labor or services at their place of employment;
  • The date of injury shall be the last date the employee performed labor or services at the employee’s place of employment at the employer’s direction prior to the positive test.
  • The employee’s positive test occurred during a period of an outbreak at the employee’s specific place of employment.

What is an ‘outbreak’?

An “outbreak” exists if, within 14 calendar days, one of the following occurs at a specific place of employment:

  • If the employer has 100 employees or fewer at a specific place of employment, four employees test positive for COVID-19;
  • If the employer has more than 100 employees at a specific place of employment, 4% of the number of employees who reported to the specific place of employment test positive for COVID-19; or
  • A specific place of employment is ordered to close by a local public health department, the State Department of Public Health, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or a school superintendent due to a risk of infection with COVID-19.

The Takeaway: Be Prepared

The most important thing is that you are prepared for the paperwork and detective work you’ll have to engage in in case one of your workers’ contracts the coronavirus. You may want to put systems in place now so that gathering the information will be easier and you can set up an efficient system to get the information you’ll need in case of a COVID-19 infection at your workplace.

Don’t Get Caught without a Business Succession Plan

business succession plan

Many business owners may be good at running their companies, but the majority of them are failing to address essential long-term planning that is critical to sustaining their businesses.

The one area that the majority of business owners often neglect is planning for business continuity if they die or become disabled, according to the “MassMutual Business Owner Perspectives Study.”

While the question of your death or disablement is not one that’s fun to ponder, it makes good sense for business owners to put plans in place in case the worst happens. This is especially important now amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has put the issue front and center for many business owners who want to ensure their company can survive should they become incapacitated or pass on.

One of the main ways to ensure your business’s survival is to have a buy-sell agreement, which would prompt the sale of your company in the event that you are unable to run it any longer.

Business owners in the survey identified these concerns:

  • The effect on the business of the death or disability of the owner or key employee.
  • Protecting the business from disability and death of an owner or key employee had the second and third highest levels of importance (44% versus 42%, respectively). However, these two pillars were not very top of respondents’ minds, with 55% saying they rarely or never think about the effect of disability and 59% saying they rarely or never think about the effect of death.
  • Of those with a buy-sell agreement in place, just over half said it was funded with life insurance, but only 5% said it was funded with disability buy-out insurance. The rest were either funded with cash flow from the business or not funded at all.

What’s a buy-sell agreement?

A buy-sell agreement, also known as a buyout agreement, is a legally binding agreement between co-owners of a business that governs the situation if a co-owner dies or is otherwise forced to leave the business, or chooses to leave the business. If the business has just one owner, then the agreement should specify who would be buying the company and continue its operation.

A buy-sell agreement should be designed to protect the business from the five D’s – death, disability, divorce, departure, and disqualification.

When properly executed, a buy-sell agreement can help ensure the continuity of the business when ownership needs to change hands for any reason. It is a legally binding agreement that requires one party to sell and another party to buy ownership interest in a business when a triggering event occurs, such as the death, disability, or retirement of an owner.

This agreement structures the method and manner in which the business will continue in the event of the owner’s death.

In a 2003 article for Franchising World magazine, Patrick Olearcek explains: “The proprietor and one or more key employees [or partners] enter into an agreement which provides that the proprietor’s estate will sell the business to the employee at death.

By agreeing to buy the company, the key partner, employee, or associate relieves the owner’s family of the responsibility and instead provides them with a lump-sum payment. A key employee, as opposed to the owner’s family, is in a much better position to continue the business operations properly.

Funding the agreement

The majority of buy-sell agreements are funded with life insurance. In the case of a sole proprietorship, a policy covering the life of the owner is typically bought and paid for by the key employee who has agreed to purchase the business.

The employee is also the beneficiary of the policy, which has a death benefit equal to the pre-determined purchase price of the business. Upon the death of the owner, the employee would receive the proceeds of the life insurance policy, then transfer that money to the owner’s heirs in exchange for all interest in and assets of the business.