(703) 369-4738

21
Jun
2022

The Right to Exclude!

By Martin Crim, Esq.

Should hunters be able to enter other people’s land to retrieve their dogs?

Should police be able to enter land and peek through your windows to search for drugs?

Should relatives be able to visit the graves of their family members on private land?

What if the land is posted “no trespassing”?

Few people would complain if firefighters or EMT’s responded to a genuine emergency on their property, and it’s hard to imagine a judge saying that they commit a civil or criminal wrong by coming onto your property to provide emergency help.  This is true even if you didn’t give them your approval. Your approval is implied in a situation where public or private necessity outweighs the practicality of seeking permission to enter your property ahead of time.

But what is there is no emergency? What if you look out your kitchen window and see a stranger standing there on your property? You might, understandably, be alarmed. In this situation, you might assume that the law will back you up if you tell the stranger to leave. But in some circumstances, the law won’t back you up. So, what happens then? Let’s examine some circumstances where the right to exclude may not apply.

First, let us consider a situation of a property owner who wants a particular person to stay off their property. The property owner has the option to issue a “no trespassing letter” to that person, even if the property is normally open to the public, like a school or church. Local governments have a role in enforcing such letters, and in order to do so need to know things like “who has the authority to issue the letter” and “what if the person needs to enter the property for a valid purpose like voting or a parent-teacher conference”? For example, at my church, we have a policy saying exactly who has the authority to exclude someone from the building, to avoid having a situation where it’s unclear who is in charge.

A related issue comes up when a local government tries to protect homeowners’ right to exclude people. In that situation, it becomes a difficult task to specify who is permitted to approach your front door without your approval – and local governments have run afoul of the U.S. Constitution by providing a list of exceptions that allowed everyone but religious missionaries to do so.

Now, what if a homeowner wants to enforce a prohibition against certain visitors? In that case, homeowners have the option to post signs that prohibit certain classes of people – door-to-door salespeople, political canvassers, or whoever.  But what consequences can a homeowner impose upon someone who violates this prohibition? If the trespasser harmed the homeowners in some way, maybe a court would let them collect money from the trespasser. Without some tangible harm, the legal remedy becomes less clear. But what are rights without enforcement mechanisms?

Next, let’s consider a scenario where a loved one’s grave is located on private property. A 1993 Virginia law says that relatives of people buried in a cemetery, along with people who own burial plots there and genealogists, can enter and cross private property to reach the cemetery. There are, limitations, of course. Such visitors have to give notice, limit their activities there, and act appropriately, but the private property owner where the cemetery is located has lost the ability to say, “keep out.” They’ve lost the right to exclude, at least in part.

Next, consider a warrantless police search. US Supreme Court precedents say that police can enter “open fields” even if there are signs warning against entry and fences to keep people out. Under these circumstances, the police can also search your property using aircraft within “navigable airspace,” which means that the government took your right to exclusive use of the airspace over your property and used it to reduce the scope of your right to privacy.

Then we come to the hunting dogs. There’s a case pending in the courts right now that challenges Virginia’s law giving certain hunters the right to retrieve their dogs from other people’s lands. The plaintiffs are property owners who claim that they have been damaged by these dogs running loose on their property. The pending lawsuit builds off a US Supreme Court case that said a company could exclude union activity on its property.

Of possible relevance to the hunting dog case is the portion of the Virginia Constitution that says the people have a right to hunt, fish, and harvest game, subject to laws passed by the General Assembly. The Virginia Constitution also says that the right to private property is “fundamental,” which presumably means that it carries heavier weight than ordinary rights. Those competing rights collide with each other when hunters want to retrieve their dogs.

In some countries, there is a “right to roam,” which protects customary rights to travel, particularly in forests and coastal lands. In the US, a similar right protects “navigable waterways,” which allows people to use bodies of water that are “susceptible for use, by themselves or in connection with other waters, as highways for substantial interstate or foreign commerce.” That’s subject to a lot of interpretation – and potential abuse.

In law school, students read a case about someone sailing on a lake who ties up at a pier during a storm, even though told not to do so. The principle being taught there is the doctrine of necessity, which forms a defense against the claim that the sailors were trespassing. There is a fundamental moral principle that the right to exclude people from your property has to yield to their right to remain alive in an emergency. But that raises other questions, such as “what constitutes an emergency?”

As that brief survey shows, the right to exclude is an important aspect of the right to property, but like most rights, it is not absolute. Legislators and courts will continue to have to balance competing rights. Businesses, property owners, local governments, and others can’t rely on basic principles like the “right to exclude” because there are often competing principles that affect the legal rights in issue.

If you have a property rights problem, you should consult an attorney to learn your rights and how you might enforce those rights. You should also be cautious dealing with that stranger standing on your property and don’t assume that your property rights are the only thing the law cares about. I have been practicing in this area of the law for 30 years and encourage you to reach out if you have any questions regarding your right to exclude or about what circumstance may allow someone to enter your property without your consent.

Martin Crim is a shareholder at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, and has been practicing law for over thirty years, primarily for cities, towns, and other local governments. If you have additional questions or concerns contact Martin Crim at mcrim@vfnlaw.com or call us at 703-36-4738.


This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer

10
May
2022

Billboard Regulation Survives at the US Supreme Court

Written By Martin Crim, Esq.

I think that I shall never see
              a billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
 I’ll never see a tree at all.
—Ogden  Nash

In the 2015 case of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a new rule that restricted local government regulation of signs. That case broadly defined “content-based” regulation in a way that caused alarm in local government circles because it threatened to render unconstitutional many zoning ordinances that addressed signs. One of the fears that it generated was that we might no longer be able to have one set of rules for signs that advertise products and services sold on-site and another set for signs that advertise products and services that are sold elsewhere (a/k/a on-premises v. off-premises signs).

Most billboards are off-premises signs, and the billboard industry aggressively protects its interests in those signs. The Reed opinion gave them an opportunity to increase the number and value of their stock of billboards if they could turn on-premises signs into off-premises signs by getting courts to strike down local ordinances that discriminated against off-premises signs. Federal and state beautification laws dating back to the 1960’s and 1970’s have curbed the ability to put up new billboards, so most billboards you see are “grandfathered” under zoning law – allowed to remain as long as they do not expand in size or upgrade their technology.

Since 2015, billboard companies have filed several challenges around the nation against ordinances that used the on-premises/off-premises distinction, arguing from Reed that an ordinance was unconstitutional if you have to read the sign to apply the ordinance – even if you need just a cursory examination. This became known as the “pillar of salt” theory, after the Biblical story that Lot’s wife got turned into a pillar of salt as punishment for looking back despite being commanded not to look.

Although Justice Alito’s concurring opinion in Reed said that on-premises/off-premises distinctions were still permitted, the failure of the majority opinion to agree with him cast doubt on whether a majority of the Supreme Court would agree. The lack of clarity in the Reed majority opinion left room for the “pillar of salt” theory to persuade some judges. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of local governments had sign ordinances that distinguished between on-premises and off-premises signs.

On April 21, 2022, the Supreme Court finally answered the on-premises/off-premises question, in a case (Austin v. Reagan National Advertising of Austin) brought by two advertising companies who wanted to digitize some grandfathered billboards. Austin’s sign code prohibited that, so the advertising companies sued. The case made its way up the Federal appellate court system to the top, where Justice Sotomayor  delivered the opinion of the Court, rejecting the “pillar of salt” rule as “too extreme an interpretation.”

Instead, the Supreme Court has now allowed sign regulations to distinguish between on-premises and off-premises signs as long as the regulations meet so-called “intermediate scrutiny” (i.e., requiring more justification than the “rational basis” test but not as much as the “strict scrutiny” test). For that reason, the Supreme Court remanded the Austin case for the lower courts to determine whether the Austin sign code had an “impermissible purpose or justification” and whether it was “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.”

When I worked on the model sign ordinance for the Local Government Attorneys of Virginia in 2016, we retained the on-premises/off-premises distinction, generally prohibiting all new off-premises signs. (Grandfathered signs have to be allowed as a matter of property law.) We held our breath at the time, and now we can breathe a sigh of relief.

If you have a question about whether a given sign ordinance is still constitutional – either in the abstract or in relation to an existing or proposed sign – I’d be pleased to consult with you and, if appropriate, to represent you in relation to that question.

Martin Crim is a shareholder at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, and has been practicing law for over thirty years, primarily for cities, towns, and other local governments. If you have additional questions or concerns contact Martin Crim at mcrim@vfnlaw.com or call us at 703-36-4738.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

16
Feb
2022

Why Do Preambles Matter?

By Martin Crim, Esq.

If a legislative bill has no preamble, readers are left guessing at what problem the drafter is trying to solve, if any. If the preamble identifies the problem to be solved, then readers can evaluate whether the proposed solution is effective, proportional, and practical.

Most Americans (and many others around the world) are familiar with the preamble to the U.S. Declaration of Independence:

In Congress, July 4, 1776: The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another …

This tells you who (thirteen states), what (declaration of independence), when (July 4, 1776), and most especially why (it has become necessary to dissolve the existing political bands). It sets up the self-evident truths and the list of complaints against George III that follow.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence helps you understand the rest of the document and (along with a strong “therefore” paragraph at the end) turns it from a treatise on the right of self-determination and why George III was a bad king into a founding political document that transformed the world.

Because of its preamble, readers of the Declaration of Independence immediately understood what the Declaration was setting out to tell them: The reasons why the thirteen states were assuming a separate and equal station among the powers of the earth. Readers could then evaluate whether altering or abolishing the current form of government would be an effective solution to the problem. They could evaluate whether the “long train of abuses and usurpations” were so awful that no other step short of rebellion was strong enough to address them. They could debate whether declaring the thirteen states “Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown” was practical.

In the same way, a preamble to a legislative bill informs the reader as to the reasons for its existence. What is it trying to accomplish? Why is it needed? Then we can move on to practical questions: Is it likely to work? Is the proposed solution a good fit for the problem? And will it create new problems, perhaps worse than the original problem?

Dear reader, I therefore ask you to read the preamble when there is one, and to ask, if there isn’t one, “why not?” Then you can evaluate the proposed legislation on its merits, looking for the likely results – both intended and unintended – of the bill.

Martin Crim is a shareholder at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, and has been practicing law for over thirty years, primarily for cities, towns, and other local governments. If you have additional questions or concerns contact Martin Crim at mcrim@vfnlaw.com or call us at 703-36-4738.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

31
Mar
2021

Town of Quantico: Chesapeake Bay Preservation

Olaun A. Simmons, as legal counsel for the Town of Quantico, Virginia, recently completed a lengthy and extensive review and revision of the Town of Quantico’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance and Comprehensive Plan in order to achieve compliance with Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

As a result of Mr. Simmons’s work and diligence, on March 30, 2021 the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality determined that the Town of Quantico’s Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act program is in compliance with the Chesapeake  Bay Preservation Act pursuant to §§ 62.1-44.15:69 and 62.1-44.15:71 and the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Area Designation and Management Regulations 9VAC25-830-260.

1
Dec
2020

2020 Virginia Business Legal Elite

Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C. is proud to announce that three of its attorneys have been recognized by the Virginia Business Magazine as being among Virginia’s “Legal Elite” within their various practice categories. We are extremely honored to celebrate their continued success and exceptional work!

19
Jun
2020

Marijuana, Arrests, Charges, and Convictions: A New Law Creates Changes For Employers.

**Part Two of a Four-Part Series: Click Here for Full Series**

By Kristina Keech Spitler, Esq. and Brendan F. Cassidy, Esq.  Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, P.C.

In Part 2, we will address a new law that prohibits employers from inquiring into possession of marijuana for employee applicants, and a law that restricts state agencies and localities when inquiring about arrests, charges, or convictions for employee applicants.

Due to the enactment of these new laws in Virginia, businesses will need to understand what the laws require, update their employment applications, and educate and train their supervisors/managers accordingly.

State Agencies and Localities Prohibited from Inquiring about Arrests, Charges, or Convictions from Employment Applicants.

A new law prohibits Virginia state agencies and localities from inquiring whether a prospective employee has ever been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime until the staff interview stage of the application process. During or after the staff interview stage of the employment application process, a Virginia state agency and locality may inquire whether an employee has been arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime – but not before.     

However, the new law does not require a state agency or locality to wait until the staff interview stage under the following circumstances: positions designated as sensitive; law enforcement agencies; state agencies expressly permitted to inquire into an individual’s criminal arrests or charges; positions for employment by the local school board; positions responsible for the health, safety, and welfare of citizens or critical infrastructure; and positions with access to federal tax information in approved IRS agreements.

In response to the new law, Virginia state agencies and localities should remove from employment applications questions that ask about a prospective employee’s arrests, charges, or convictions. In addition, state agencies and localities should train employees not to ask applicants about arrests, charges, or convictions until the staff interview stage of the application process.

Prohibition Against Inquiring Into Possession of Marijuana for Employee Applicants

Private Employers

A new law provides that Virginia employers are prohibited from requiring employment applicants to disclose information concerning any arrest, criminal charge, or conviction for unlawful marijuana possession in any application, interview, or otherwise.

Public Employers

This new law also prohibits state and local government agencies, officials, and employees from requesting from applicants for governmental service, information regarding marijuana possession arrests, charges, or convictions.  Unlike the law discussed above – which prohibits state agencies and localities from inquiring into general arrests, charge, or convictions until the staff interview stage – state and local government agencies cannot inquire about marijuana possession arrests, charges, or convictions at any stage of the application process.

However, the new law does permit state agencies to use information from an arrest, charge or conviction that is open for public inspection, for purposes such as:

  1. Screening for full-time or part-time employment with the State Police or a police department or sheriff’s office that is a part of or administered by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision;
  2. Screening persons who apply to be a volunteer with or an employee of an emergency medical services agency;
  3. Screening for full-time or part-time employment with the Department of Forensic Science; or
  4. By the Department of Motor Vehicles for the purpose of complying with the regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Penalties for Public and Private Employers

Employers should take this new law seriously since a violation can result in criminal prosecution for individuals who violate the law. A person who willfully violates this law is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for each violation.

If an employer has a form inquiring whether an individual has been charged or convicted of a crime, they should include a carve out stating that this inquiry does not apply to the arrest, criminal charge, or conviction of a person for unlawful possession of marijuana. Similarly, employers should train employees not to inquire about any arrests, charges, or convictions for marijuana possession. Employers should also be aware of EEOC guidance regarding the use of employee arrests, charges, or convictions in employment decisions.


For further information or questions about these new laws, or for any questions regarding employment laws applicable to Virginia employers, please contact Ms. Spitler or Mr. Cassidy at Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian.  The attorneys in the employment law department of VFN are available to help you revise your employee handbook and policies as well as provide training so that your organization complies with these new and other applicable law.  Alternatively, if your organization does not have an employee handbook, our firm can draft a handbook tailored to meet your business’s needs.

For further information or questions, please visit our site
Employment Law or Call Us (703) 369-4738

3
Jun
2020

CARES Act Grant Funds Available for Manassas Businesses

The City of Manassas is launching a new small business relief grant program. The City anticipates receiving CARES Act funds from the Federal government which may be used, in part, to provide support for small businesses adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The City Council and the Economic Development Authority (EDA) intend to use some of these funds to establish a small business grant program. The grant funds are intended to provide support for small businesses of all types which have seen significant revenue losses due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The grant application and guidelines can be found on the City’s economic development website at www.ChooseManasssas.org. Or you can read more about this program in the EDA’s June 1st press release HERE.

VF&N is legal counsel to the Manassas City Economic Development Authority (EDA) and commends the EDA’s efforts for providing resources and support throughout the crisis.

11
May
2020

Can a rescue squad protect itself from local government accountability by becoming a non-stock corporation?

The Local Government Attorneys of Virginia hired Martin Crim of Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian P.C. to draft an amicus curiae brief in the Virginia Supreme Court case of Dumfries-Triangle Rescue Squad v. Board of County Supervisors of Prince William County. 

The case started when members of the rescue squad falsified operational records and the County’s Operational Medical Director refused to renew the operating license for the rescue squad. In response, the Board of Supervisors dissolved the Rescue Squad pursuant to statute and the agreement between the County and the Rescue Squad.

The Rescue Squad refused to wind up its affairs, however, claiming that its incorporation as a nonstock entity in 1959 made it immune to dissolution by the County. The Virginia Supreme Court allowed the appeal on the questions of whether the County had the authority to dissolve the Rescue Squad and whether the trial court was right to order the Rescue Squad to distribute its assets to the County.

The appeal presented the novel question of whether a rescue squad can unilaterally protect itself from local government accountability by becoming a non-stock corporation.

The amicus brief pointed out the state law has, since 1970, authorized local governments to regulate and even dissolve volunteer rescue squads, and similar laws apply to volunteer fire companies. Rescue squads are funded in large part with donations from private individuals and local governments, so the amicus brief argued that local governments need to have the ability to supervise, regulate, and, when necessary, dissolve rescue squads. State law has granted local governments those powers since 1970, and such laws affect rescue squads that existed before 1970 because the General Assembly has the power to affect existing corporations with new legislation designed to protect public health and safety.


* NO GUARANTEE OF RESULTS: Our prior results, including successful judgments and settlements, do not guarantee a similar outcome. Each case we handle is different and therefore we cannot guarantee any specific result in your case.

30
Mar
2020

Virtual Meetings and Consultations Now Available

In efforts to continue to serve our clients in a safe and CDC compliant manner, we are now offering virtual meetings and consultations.

If you are interested in scheduling a virtual consultation or meeting with your attorney, please call 703-369-4738 and one of our legal assistants will schedule a zoom appointment.

23
Mar
2020

Resources to Help Employers Respond to Workplace Issues From COVID-19 (Corona Virus)

By: Kristina Keech Spitler, Esquire

FOR THE MOST UP TO DATE INFO, PLEASE VISIT OUR COVID-19 PAGE

DOWNLOAD REPORT FOR PRINT

Given the fast-paced and changing nature of the impacts of the COVID-19 (Corona Virus) pandemic, businesses are working to respond in the best manner possible for the safety of their employees and customers while remaining in compliance with various employment laws and evaluating their ability to keep their businesses viable. On the evening of March 18, 2020, President Trump signed Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) which amongst other provisions, includes the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, and the Tax Credits For Paid Sick and Paid Family and Medical Leave that generally apply to all employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Businesses are evaluating how to respond to this pandemic which includes dealing with the following challenges (to name just a few of the many issues and concerns):

  1. Determine how to keep their employees safe and comply with various federal, state and local mandates, laws, and guidance.
  2. Determine how to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act.
  3. Evaluate if they can continue business operations by allowing employees to work remotely, and if so, which employees can work remotely. Ensuring that employees have the technology in place to effectively work remotely, and determine what policies and practices need to be put in place or amended.
  4. Determine what leave they should or must offer to their employees and whether they need to amend their existing leave and vacation policies and practices. Determine how to continue to comply with existing Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requirements (generally applicable to employers with 50 or more employees) and now comply with the new Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act requirements pursuant to the FFCRA.
  5. Determine how to comply with laws that prohibit discrimination based upon disability.
  6. Determine how to correctly pay employees (exempt and nonexempt) under the Fair Labor Standards Act given all the variables in play.
  7. Evaluate whether they should just close down and conserve resources with the hope of being able to reopen in the future.
  8. Evaluate what unemployment benefits can employees who have been terminated, laid off, or furloughed may be eligible for through the Virginia Employment Commission.

To help businesses with these challenges, I have provided some helpful information, a summary of some applicable employment laws, and identified where you can find additional useful resources.

Please note that this summary is designed to provide general information, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and should not be utilized as a substitute for professional services in specific situations. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, please consult with an attorney.

Employers have a number of issues to consider in this difficult time. If you need legal counsel, please feel free to contact me at 703 369 4738 or kspitler@vfnlaw.com. In addition, please stay safe and healthy.

Employee and Customer Safety

Employers should frequently review the website for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) regarding guidance and regular updates including its Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html

Employers should also frequently visit the website for the Virginia Department of Health. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/

Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”)

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to comply with safety and health standards and regulations promulgated by OSHA or by a state with an OSHA-approved state plan. In addition, the Act’s General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” This statement is contained in OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. Employers should review this resource at the website referenced below. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

Remote Working/Telecommuting

While working remotely (also called telecommuting or teleworking) is not new and many employers (both small and large) have been allowing employees to do so and/or providing it as a benefit to employees for flexibility and work/life benefit reasons, the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing all employers to consider this as an option for business continuity reasons. If you already allow remote working, you should review and if necessary, amend existing policies – particularly if you previously only allowed remote working for limited periods such as one day per week. If you are new to teleworking or who have previously been reluctant to allow it, there are many resources available on the internet that can help you manage teleworking employees. Below is a site for an article from Harvard Business Review on how to manage newly remote workers. https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers

Employee Leave

Employee leave is not a simple issue and involves various laws (and now including the newly enacted Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act). Employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with leave laws.

Generally, employers will need to comply with their current policies or amend them regarding any paid or unpaid leave to provide employees. Employers should also look at their vacation policies. Employers will need to decide if they are going to allow employees to take advance leave/vacation and/or go into the negative if employees need to take leave related to the Corona virus or other illnesses. Employers may need to amend various policies to address these issues. In addition, please see the FFCRA summary below as the Act requires paid sick leave related to the Corona virus under certain conditions for all employers with fewer than 500 employees.

Employers will also need to comply with existing FMLA laws and regulations. Generally, the FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius and would not apply to smaller employers. However, please see the FFCRA summary below as the Act amends the FMLA to deal with the Corona virus and applies to all employers with fewer than 500 employees.

For convenience, I have included the website below for Department of Labor’s “COVID19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Family and Medical Leave Act Questions and Answers” which was published prior to the enactment of FFCRA. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla/pandemic

Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

The FFCRA was enacted quickly in response to the Corona virus and, in part, requires all private for-profit and not-for-profit employers with fewer than 500 employees along with government employers (“Covered Employers”) to provide certain paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave to employees. It also provides that these employers will get a tax credit as described below. There are a lot of unanswered questions about this new legislation. As of the date of this article, DOL has not published any regulations or guidance on compliance with FFCRA. Stay tuned as guidance is expected. Both the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act provide that they “shall take effect not later than 15 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.” As part of FFCRA, it was signed by President Trump on March 18, 2020 so that it would go into effect under the Act by April 2, 2020 at the latest. Both acts end on December 31, 2020.

FFCRA Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

Covered Employers shall provide employees for immediate use (regardless of how long they have been employed) with up to 10 days of paid sick leave if the employee is unable to work or telework for the following reasons:

  1. The employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
  3. The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  4. The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order as described in (1) above, or has been advised as described in (2) above;
  5. The employee is caring for a son or daughter whose school or place of care has been closed, or the childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions; or
  6. The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

The amount of hours of paid sick time for full-time employees is up to 10 days (80 hours). Part time employees are entitled to “a number of hours equal to the number of hours that such employee works, on average, over a 2-week period.” Unused paid sick leave may not be carried over from one year to the next.

The amount Covered Employers must pay to an employee who is unable to work or telework for one of the above reasons will be the following:

  • paid at the employee’s regular rate, up to $511 per day ($5,110 in the aggregate), to quarantine or seek a diagnosis or preventive care for COVID-19 (reasons 1, 2 or 3 above); or
  • paid at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate, up to $200 per day ($2,000 in the aggregate), to care for a family member for such purposes or to care for a child whose school has closed, or whose child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19, or the employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (reasons 4, 5 and 6 above).

Covered Employers may not require an employee to use other paid leave provided by the employer before the employee uses the paid sick leave provided under this Act. The Act does not address how to handle if the employer has already provided sick or other type of leave to employees prior to its enactment.

It shall be unlawful for employers to discharge, discipline, or in any other manner discriminate against any employee who takes leave under this Act and who has filed any complaint related to this Act or has or will testify about any such proceeding. Violations of this Act will be considered violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and employees may be entitled to unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

Covered Employers are required to post and keep posted in conspicuous places on their premises a notice regarding the rights under this Act. This notice will be prepared by the Secretary of Labor and available at a later date. Secretary of Labor shall make a publicly available model notice within 7 days of enactment.

Covered Employers of health care providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from the application of this subsection.

In addition, the Secretary of Labor shall have the authority to issue regulations to: 1) exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the definition of employee, including allowing employers of such health care providers and emergency responders to opt out; 2) to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the requirements of providing paid sick leave under reason #5 above (the employee is caring for a son or daughter whose school or place of care has been closed, or the childcare provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 precautions) when the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern; and 3) as necessary to carry out the purposes of this Act.

FFCRA Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act

This Act amends the existing Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. The Act provides that Employees who have been employed for at least 30 days with a Covered Employer will be entitled to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected Emergency FMLA leave for a qualifying need related to a public health emergency of COVID-19. The Act defines this to mean that the employee is unable to work or telework in order to care for a child (under the age of 18) if the child’s school or place of care has been closed or the childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19. The first two weeks of the Emergency FMLA leave are unpaid under this Act. During this time, Employee sick leave may be under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave described above or the employee may elect, but may not be required, to substitute any accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave already provided by the employer. Thereafter, the remaining 10 weeks would be paid Emergency FMLA leave. The amount of pay shall be no less that two-thirds (2/3) of the employee’s usual pay, up to $200 per day ($10,000 total). When the need for such leave is foreseeable, employee shall provide the employer with such notice as is practicable.

It is unclear at this time whether or how employer-provided paid leave would run concurrently with this Emergency FMLA leave and how it would interact with the traditional FMLA leave benefits.

As this is job-protected leave, this means that the employer must restore the employee to the same or equivalent position when s/he returns to work from such leave. However, for Covered Employers who employ fewer than 25 employees, the Act provides that this job restoration provision shall not apply if 1) the position does not exist due to economic conditions or other changes in operating conditions of the employer that affect employment and are caused by a public health emergency during the period of leave; and 2) the employer makes reasonable efforts to restore the employee to an equivalent position during the year following the conclusion of the leave period.

Similar to the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, Covered Employers of health care providers or emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from the application of this subsection. In addition, the Secretary of Labor shall have the authority to issue regulations to 1) exclude certain health care providers and emergency responders from the definition of employee; and 2) to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees when the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.

FFCRA Tax Credits for Employers Providing Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA Leave

Covered Employers who provide Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency FMLA Leave will be eligible for refundable tax credits on their payroll tax payments equal to 100% of the amount paid (up to the maximum amount authorized by each Act) during each quarter.

Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)

For employers who are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (15 or more employees), the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has provided guidance on complying with the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, including requirements for reasonable accommodations and rules about medical examinations and inquiries. On March 19, 2020, the EEOC clarified that while both Acts continue to apply, they do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions by the CDC or state/local public health authorities. See the EEOC’s webpage and the EEOC’s Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act below. https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/wysk_ada_rehabilitaion_act_coronavirus.cfm https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html

Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)

Employers need to be careful to ensure that they are complying with the FLSA when evaluating how to correctly pay their employees (exempt and nonexempt) given all the variables in play during this pandemic. Employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure they are complying with the FLSA. In addition, please see the guidance that the Department of Labor has provided: “COVID-19 or Other Public Health Emergencies and the Fair Labor Standards Act Questions and Answers.” https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/pandemic

Closing Your Business, Terminating Employees, and Unemployment Benefits

Evaluating whether a business should close down now and conserve resources with the hope of being able to reopen in the future is a complicated and difficult decision. The decisions regarding whether to terminate, layoff or furlough some or all employees is equally as difficult. Both issues are beyond the scope of this article. In the event that employers do terminate employees and/or significantly reduce their hours, generally the employees may apply for unemployment benefits with the Virginia Employment Commission. Note that beginning March 15, 2020, the one week waiting period and the requirement to conduct a weekly job search has been suspended by the Governor in response to the pandemic. See the Virginia Employment Commission website below. http://www.vec.virginia.gov/

Businesses should also be aware of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (“WARN Act”) which generally requires that employers with 100 or more employees provide certain notices of intention when closing a facility with 50 or more employees and/or laying off 50 or more employees. The Virginia VEC has established a rapid response team to help in this situation. See VEC website above.