COVID-19 PANDEMIC " WHAT IMPACT ON EMPLOYMENT AND LABOR ???
The sudden emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic is dealing a severe blow to state economies, businesses and workers.
First and foremost, states are strengthening their health care capacity in the event that demand for medical services surge. Ensuring there are enough licensed health care professionals is a key component in this preparation.
States are also restricting access to in-dining restaurants, theaters, concert halls, some retail stores and other non-essential businesses where large groups of people risk coming into close contact with one another. Additionally, public health officials and experts have warned Americans to stay home as much as possible and avoid doing anything that requires close contact with others. Many other businesses have voluntarily closed to protect their employees and the public as a whole. Perhaps the most visible closure has been the nearly universal shutdown of the professional sports industry. Those exposed to the virus are being advised to self-quarantine for at least 14 days presenting financial challenges for workers without paid sick leave.
These unprecedented challenges are having economic ripple effects across the country as thousands of Americans unexpectedly find themselves out of work with the potential for significant increases in unemployment. States are taking action to address the employment concerns facing Americans and to protect those who are no longer able to work. Some immediate issues on the minds of policymakers include expanding paid leave for workers, preparing state unemployment insurance benefit programs for surges in demand and helping businesses transition to full-time teleworking.
Federal legislation addressing unemployment insurance benefits, paid leave and economic stimulus is currently making its way through Congress. NCSL is watching this legislation closely and advocating for state legislatures around the country. Updates on federal action and its impact on states will be made as they happen. See NCSL's blog on the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act for details on the new paid sick leave mandate and changes made to the federal unemployment benefits law.
OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING DURING PUBLIC EMERGENCIES
COVID-19 Pandemic presents an unprecedented crisis for states, requiring swift action on many issues, including the process for licensing essential workers. Temporary suspension of occupational licensing laws in emergency situations is a common approach states take to help manage short-term crises. States have experience in adopting emergency licensing processes, most often in response to natural disasters and their aftermath. Typically, states will lift licensing restrictions on aid workers, including those providing health care, infrastructure and other services critical do disaster recovery. To respond to COVID-19, states are also exploring the temporary suspension of licensure requirements for volunteers and aid workers.
PAID SICK LEAVE
COVID-19 is causing very high numbers of workers to take sick leave. Many workers are not paid when they get sick. Currently, 12 states and Washington D.C. for example require employers to provide paid sick leave benefits. NCSL's Paid Sick Leave webpage provides details on each state's program.
UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE BENEFITS
The Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program provides temporary unemployment benefits to eligible unemployed workers. As states work to slow the spread of COVID-19, thousands o workers are finding themselves unemployed leading to a surge in applications for unemployment benefits. States are responding to this employment crisis including expediting the application process for unemployment insurance benefits and expanding eligibility to those under quarantine. NCSL's Unemployment Benefits webpage provides specific examples of the actions states are taking.
DEFINING ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES AND WORKERS
While the federal government has recommended that all Americans stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19, it is up to states and local governments to enact these recommendations. So far, 41 states have issued stay-at-home orders forcing the closure of all non-essential business properties. What constitutes an "essential" business is complex and varies from state to state. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has guidance for states on critical infrastructure workers covering areas like healthcare services, public utilities, food services, public transportation and financial services.
The federal guidance serves as a basic framework for most state policies. From there, states tailor their definition of essential workers to meet their own unique needs as well as their mechanisms for enforcing the orders. These definitions often include numerous exemptions and can change from day-to-day. The National Governor's Association has compiled a thorough breakdown of how each state is defining essential workers.
The COVID-19 outbreak is rapidly changing the workplace. As the race to containment continues, millions of Americans are moving their work spaces to their homes as states ask employers to offer flexible work arrangements, such as teleworking, and develop plans to ensure continuity in government.
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@ Jackie San