Gins And the Coronavirus Pandemic

Well this is an unprecedented situation we face. I can’t remember anything quite like this. We’ve received a few calls and emails asking some very good questions as we move into the second full week of the screeching halt that has become life in the US.

One of the most important things to remember is that given the current circumstances, it appears that the virus will work its way through society over time. Over how much time seems to be one of the most pressing questions. Without some significant changes, it’s not a matter of if but when someone you know will be affected by the virus. The outcomes in all but a few cases are good. The vast majority of people do get better. What I have read today is that most will get better in a few days just treating the symptoms. Some will require a hospital stay and that could be a significant time away from work even if the hospital stay is short. The idea is to keep the wave of patients to the hospitals below their capacity.

All of the things that we have seen implemented have been to reduce the impact to the medical community and ultimately to humanity. So what does that mean for you the cotton ginner? The first thing it means it to make sure anyone who is symptomatic to stay at home. It also means following the CDC guidelines and using common sense. Keeping distance, implementing increased hand washing and use of sanitizers and PPE where washing and distancing are not as practical. Keeping gatherings to a minimum or eliminate them altogether.

A really good place to start is the CDC. Follow their Guidelines for employers. Another source of information for employers is OSHA. OSHA put out Guidelines for employers last week at www.osha.gov. This has been updated and will continue to be as this evolves. We work closely with Fisher and Phillips who are a nationwide law firm. They have started a COVID-19 response team of lawyers on how employers can prepare and help themselves moving through this. Please go to their page on the COVID response. It is also continually updated as they see necessary. All these pages should be checked often.

As far as government response. Of course, you need to follow the guidelines in your local area. We’ve seen and will continue to see stronger response in some areas over others. Congress has passed one bill and will pass more to help alleviate the impact on employers and employees. Please refer to THIS SUMMARY of the first bill. It provides for up to 80 hours of paid sick leave and expands job protections for employees to all businesses. Please refer to the Summary for more details. President Trump just today said there will be relief for small businesses along with bailouts for airlines and cruise industries but no details were given.

This is a very VERY VERY fluid situation. In just over a week we went from a handful of cases to thousands and whole cities being put on lock down with highly restrictive travel. We’re monitoring the situation and please let us know if we can help.

PS: Keller and Heckman put out info on Insurance and the Coronovirus

DSF

Wage and Hour Audits Coming to a Close

Due to an emphasis program in our region, many gins received investigations/audits from the Wage and Hour division of the Department of Labor. These audits have bee fairly extensive and have been a lot more drawn out than some in the past. Most of the audits occurred back in the early Fall but few have gotten the results yet. A few have just now begun to find out if they owe any back wages and if so how much.

We have only seen a couple of the forms that gins have received and the ones we have reviewed so far have some issues. Some alleged violations of MSPA or other laws were mis-applied and back wages were mis-calculated. We’re working through these and these are not typical for the agency to miss these issues.

If you were lucky enough to get audited by the Wage and Hour division, we encourage you to have a second set of eyes look at the proposed back wages and/or penalties. We can look at it, your attorney can look at it or others but make sure you discuss this with someone that knows the laws surrounding the alleged violations. It could save you a lot of money.

Give us a call if you have any questions.

DSF

New I-9 Published Today

On Jan. 31, 2020, USCIS published the Form I-9 Federal Register notice announcing a new version of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, that the Office of Management and Budget approved on Oct. 21, 2019. This new version contains minor changes to the form and its instructions. Employers should begin using this updated form as of Jan. 31, 2020.

The notice provides employers additional time to make necessary updates and adjust their business processes. Employers may continue using the prior version of the form (Rev. 07/17/2017 N) until April 30, 2020. After that date, they can only use the new form with the 10/21/2019 version date. The version date is located in the lower left corner of the form.

USCIS made the following changes to the form and its instructions:

Form:

Revised the Country of Issuance field in Section 1 and the Issuing Authority field (when selecting a foreign passport) in Section 2 to add Eswatini and Macedonia, North per those countriesā€™ recent name changes. (Note: This change is only visible when completing the fillable Form I-9 on a computer.)

Instructions:

  • Clarified who can act as an authorized representative on behalf of an employer
  • Updated USCIS website addresses
  • Provided clarifications on acceptable documents for Form I-9
  • Updated the process for requesting paper Forms I-9
  • Updated the DHS Privacy Notice

A revised Spanish version of Form I-9 with a version date of 10/21/2019 is available for use in Puerto Rico only.

For more information, visit I-9 Central or join a free Form I-9 webinar

March 2 is Right Around the Corner

Beginning in 2019 employers that are required to electronically file their OSHA 300A form data will have to do so by March 2. OSHA had been phasing in the electronic rule and has recently finalized an updated rule affirming the March 2 date.

Employers with 20 or more employees (at any point in the calendar year) and in certain industries (agriculture is on the list) are required to send in OSHA 300A log summary data each year by March 2 of the following year. So what this means is that cotton gins that had 20 or more employees must send in their OSHA 300A log summary information to OSHA for calendar year 2018 by March 2, 2019.

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How’s your I-9 Compliance?

One of the issues discussed at this year’s state unit meetings was that of the new I-9 Employment eligibility form. The I-9 form must be filled out by every new hire or rehire before going to work and they must present documents proving they are eligible to work by the 3rd day of work. This seems simple enough but the I-9 is one form that has employed countless attorneys and whole careers have been made defending employers and keeping employers in compliance with this deceptively simple form.

In addition to the new form coming out, another reason to pay attention to this form is concern among employment law attorneys that the Trump administration will pick up where the Bush administration left off with workplace raids and employer audits. We haven’t seen that much yet and no gins that I know of have been subject to USCIS audit but there has been a slight increase in the number of employer audits in a number of industries. They aren’t widespread but it is typical for Republican administrations to be a bit more tough on illegal immigration and with the rhetoric during the campaign, we should be on guard.

The USCIS has created some decent resources in its I-9 Central Page. This is a page that is dedicated to helping employers and employees complete the I-9 properly and helping to Continue reading

Fifth Circuit Court Agrees to Expedited Appeal on Overtime Rule

As we mentioned last month, a Federal Court judge in Texas issued an injunction blocking the implementation of the Department of Labor’s white collar exemption changes. The judge implied that the 21 states and various business groups had a potential to win their case and that there would be significant harm in allowing the rule to go forward. This week the Department of Labor filed an appeal of the injunction at the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans.

The Fifth Circuit not only agreed to hear the case but also agreed to an expedited schedule for arguments. For all intents and purposes, the court will hear all the arguments and accept all of the amicus briefs by the end of January. The Court will rule shortly thereafter on whether or not the injunction was properly issued.

The timing of the appeal could make things quite interesting. President-elect Trump has said Continue reading