California State COVID-19 FAQs
As California begins to re-open and businesses start planning for restoring operations, we at Paychex remain dedicated to serving you, your employees, and your business. Please see below for guidance and best practices around some common questions related to these new challenges for California.
Who is eligible to apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI) and what criteria is needed?
Specific eligibility requirements can vary by state; however, employees generally qualify if they:
- Become totally or partially unemployed through no fault of their own, which may include situations due to a lack of available work or a reduction of hours.
- Are physically able and available to work.
- Are ready and willing to accept work immediately. In California, the Employment Development Department (EDD) may also consider whether the work offered is “suitable” given the degree of risk involved to the individual’s health and safety.
- Are actively looking for work.
- Meet their specific state’s requirements for wages earned or time worked during a set base period.
For more information on eligibility requirements, how to apply for, and how to file unemployment insurance claims, please visit California’s Employment Development Department website, or the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
I’m a professional who is normally excluded from qualifying for UI benefits. Can I apply?
Under the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA), persons who typically don’t qualify for Unemployment Insurance, such as business owners, self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and freelancers, can now apply for assistance. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis.
For more information, please visit California’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program website, or the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
Can employees who need to stay home with children apply for Unemployment Insurance?
Employees who need to stay at home with children due to a COVID-19 disruption (i.e. closure of school or daycare) may be eligible for full or partial unemployment benefits; however, eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis. An EDD representative can assist in determining this after conducting a phone interview with the employee and gathering information from the employer.
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), individuals staying home with children due to a COVID-19 disruption may also be eligible for Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) or Expanded Family and Medical Leave (EFML). However, if they’re already receiving paid leave benefits, either under the FFCRA, a state or local law, or under their employer’s policy (i.e., using sick leave), they may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Additionally, under the PUA, applicable individuals may also receive benefits if they are the primary caregiver for a child whose school or care facility closed due to COVID-19.
For more information, please visit California’s Employment Development Department website, or the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program page.
Can employees who make commission apply for Unemployment Insurance?
Employees who make commission may be eligible for full or partial unemployment benefits; however, eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis and specific guidelines may vary by state.
For more information, please visit California’s Employment Development Department website and/or commission page.
How do I address employees who do not wish to return to work because they make more money on Unemployment Insurance?
For an Unemployment Insurance claim to be valid, individuals must meet all applicable eligibility requirements set by state law for each week they certify for benefits. Exceptions to these requirements can happen, however, eligibility will be determined on a case-by-case basis by an applicable Employment Development Department representative via a phone interview with the employee and information gathered from the employer.
One specific eligibility requirement is being willing to accept suitable/available work; so, if individuals refuse a job offer for rehire that fits their previous occupational background, they may not be eligible for benefits, and employers should consider documenting such refusals on their UI claims received from the state.
Always discuss these issues with your legal counsel before making personnel decisions such as terminations or imposing any other discipline based upon an employee’s intent to file or for actually filing for UI benefits.
For more information, please visit the California’s Employment Development Department website, or the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
What are the general guidelines and qualifying factors for PPP loans?
Paychex has developed several online resources to help our clients navigate the complexities of the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP). One such resource is our PPP WORX article, which provides an in-depth overview of the program and also includes a number of related FAQs.
If an employer obtained a PPP Loan, can they also participate in the Work Share Program?
Work share programs have allowed employees to continuing earning wages and receive partial UI benefits. Employers often use a work share program in lieu of a layoff, and during the COVID-19 pandemic employers are increasingly exploring this option. However, if an employer has a PPP loan, it will need to balance the savings it receives in payroll costs through participation in a work share program versus the obligations to meet certain conditions to obtain loan forgiveness. Those obligations include ensuring that at least 75% of the loan proceeds are used for payroll costs. Failing to do so could jeopardize the PPP’s loan forgiveness provisions. Therefore, an employer should evaluate whether a work share program makes financial sense as compared to other cost-saving initiatives, particularly if it intends to seek loan forgiveness.
For employers with under 100 employees, another consideration is how a work share program impacts the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC). In general, employers with fewer than 100 employees are allowed to claim the ERC for all qualified wages paid to employees, allowing the employer to take advantage of both the work share program and ERC. However, this may not be available for employers with more than 100 employees. Employers are encouraged to seek advice from a tax professional for additional guidance on the ERC.
Employee Safety & Concerns
What privacy regulations should employers be aware of as they address employees who have contracted COVID-19 and those who have been exposed to an infected person?
Employees showing symptoms of COVID-19 should be sent home immediately and are encouraged to seek appropriate medical attention. If an employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, employers should advise other employees who could potentially have had contact with the infected employee about possible exposure to COVID-19. Employers may not, however, disclose the name of the affected employee and should take all possible steps to maintain confidentiality.
In addition, employers may:
- Ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
- Request that employees notify them if they or a close family member tests positive for COVID-19.
- Inquire if employees have come into close contact with anyone that is known or suspected to have COVID-19.
- Inquire about employees’ personal travel plans, whether to other countries or within the US (particularly regarding current “hot spots”).
An employer may not ask non-COVID-19-related medical questions, as these may impact an employee’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers must maintain confidentiality as required by the ADA and applicable state laws with respect to employee medical information.
Note: California-specific privacy law(s) such as the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act and the Constitutional Right to Privacy Act may also restrict employers from asking their employees specific medical-related questions. Be sure to always consult with an HR professional and/or legal counsel before asking employees’ specific medically-related questions to ensure compliance with state or local law.
As an employer in CA, how do I properly conduct COVID-19 temperature testing in the workplace? Who can perform these tests, and how should it be documented?
Temperature testing/screening can be conducted on-site at businesses to determine if an individual has a fever. Based on CDC guidance, a fever is one of many symptoms of COVID-19 and conducting temperature screenings may be one way to potentially protect your employees and business. However, a fever does not always indicate COVID-19 and some with COVID-19 never experience a fever. Therefore, it is one method to consider, but not necessarily the most effective way to protect a work environment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers temperature testing/screening as a “medical examination” and allowance is only due to the CDC and state/local authorities determining COVID-19 is community spread and a direct threat.
Some states and/or localities have imposed specific standards for temperature checks and others even have legislation regarding additional privacy requirements. For example, certain businesses in California that are covered by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) may be required to a provide a disclosure/notice form to their employees which details the general purpose for why temperature screenings were conducted, as well as what employee data was recorded.
Before conducting temperature testing/screening, be sure to consult with an HR professional and/or legal counsel to ensure compliance with state or local law.
If an employer plans to implement temperature screenings at their business after discussing their options with a Paychex HR professional or legal counsel, they should consider:
- Who will take temperatures,
- Where temperatures will be taken,
- When temperatures will be taken,
- How temperatures will be taken,
- How the information/readings will be recorded and confidentially maintained separate from the employees’ personnel files,
- What steps to take for a high temperature,
- What safety protocols will be put in place and how they will be communicated to the screener(s) and employees,
- Whether the time waiting for and undergoing the screening process is compensable time.
All temperature screenings should be administered based on legitimate and nondiscriminatory business needs and should be as non-invasive as possible. You may also consider whether a third-party vendor will be used to conduct such screenings. Further, you may be required to provide your employees a CCPA-compliant notification prior to or at the time of taking the temperature screenings if your company is subject to the CCPA. Consult legal counsel for further requirements under the CCPA.
What are some best practices for managing a remote workforce?
Here are some specific topics for managing a remote workforce:
- Setting clear expectations and documenting policies related to working from home
- Developing accurate time-keeping requirements for non-exempt employees’ hours (including overtime) and meal break periods
- Evaluating available technology
- Ensuring what, if any, reasonable business expenses (e.g. technology and internet) will be reimbursed to the employee as required by state law or company policy
- Promoting company culture and information sharing
- Providing meaningful learning and growth opportunities for employees
- Considering remote employee engagement and teambuilding activities
For more information, please explore our pre-recorded The Virtual Workplace Webinar, review our Paychex WORX articles on telecommuting and WFH data security, or visit the Paychex COVID-19 Help Center.
What are the rules for employers around requiring a doctor's note for those who can return to work after recovering from COVID-19?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has specified that employers may ask employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 to produce documentation from a healthcare professional clearing them to return to work. These types of inquiries are currently permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as they’re not disability-related. The nature of fit-for-work documentation and notice may vary by state or healthcare professional, and the EEOC has advised employers to be flexible with the requested format (i.e. paper note or email), as the healthcare system may be operating at or above capacity. However, an employer cannot require employees to be released with “no restrictions;” and, any restrictions should be considered in light of the ADA and similar reasonable accommodation requirements.
Note: Individual state law may prohibit certain circumstances of inquiry. For example, the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) recently released new guidance outlining that employers may not require a doctor’s note when their employee’s use paid sick leave during local health emergencies relating to COVID-19. When requesting a sick day, employees must provide reasonable advance notification as a verbal or written request.
Employers should always consult with an HR professional and/or their legal counsel before making a business decision to ensure compliance with state or local law.
Employers should also refrain from asking unrelated medical questions, as these may impact an employee’s rights under the ADA. Employers should always maintain confidentiality as required by the ADA and applicable state laws with respect to employee medical information.
Lastly, company policy and employment or collective bargaining agreements may also dictate any return to work requirements.
Employee Pay & Release Options
What are qualifying factors and rules for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave?
The U.S. Department of Labor and the State of California have several online resources devoted to the Family and Medical Leave Act, Emergency Paid Sick Leave, the Emergency Family and Medical Expansion Leave Act, as well as other state-specific leaves. Some of these resources include:
- The Family and Medical Leave Act Fact Sheet
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employee Paid Leave Rights
- Temporary Rule: Paid Leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
- California Department of Fair Employment and Housing FAQs
- Employment Development Department FAQs
For a comparison between FFCRA leaves and California-specific leaves, please visit the State of California’s Department of Industrial Relation’s side-by-side comparison. This resource outlines qualifying reasons for leave, who is covered, when leave becomes available, and additional specifics such as the length and payment amount of applicable leaves.
Who qualifies as an "exempt” employee?
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) indicates that specific primary job duties, salary amount and basis, and incentive payments all are important considerations when classifying employees. For example, executive, highly-compensated, managerial, and outside sales employees are typically considered exempt. The FLSA also exempts certain computer employees. These types of employees are exempt from both minimum wage and overtime pay.
California also has additional requirements/exemptions for overtime and minimum wage.
For a general breakdown of the differences between exempt and non-exempt employees, and how COVID-19-related closures may effect these classifications, please visit our WORX article. You may also contact an HR professional to review whether your employees are properly classified.
CA Work-Share Program
How do I know if California’s Work Sharing Program would be the best option for my business?
California’s Work Sharing Program was designed to be an alternative that employers could use instead of simply laying off their employees and may be considered as an option in response to COVID-19-related closures. Application to and utilization of this program is voluntary and should be based upon your individual business’s needs.
By applying for the program, employers can minimize the need for layoffs, can keep trained workers employed and remain prepared for when businesses reopen, and can avoid the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees. The program also provides employees whose hours and wages have been reduced the ability to receive Unemployment Insurance benefits while keeping their current job.
Please visit the Employment Development Department Work Share Program website for more information regarding specific requirements, restrictions, and/or general FAQs.
Where can I find return to work information, safety guidelines, and regulatory updates?
As multiple states begin resuming business operations, Paychex remains dedicated to serving you, your employees, and your business. That’s why we’ve developed several online resources to help you remain up to date on your state's ever-evolving policies and executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic and return to work protocols.
Paychex Return to Work Resources:
- Paychex Return to Work Resource Page
- Return to Work Checklist
Paychex Safety/Legal Resources:
- Preventing and Managing Illness in the Workplace WORX article
- Coronavirus at Work FAQs WORX article
- Download Your Business Continuity Plan (BCP) WORX article
- White House Guidelines for Opening Up America WORX article
- Infectious Disease Outbreak Plan Considerations WORX article
- After the Pandemic: What’s Next for Your Employees WORX article
Paychex Pre-Recorded Webinar’s:
- COVID-19 Preparedness: Practical Ways to Protect Your Employees and Business
- The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
- Navigating COVID-19: Understanding New Regulations and HR Best Practices
- Navigating the California Workplace During COVID-19
- The Return to Work: Preparing for Week 1