Coronavirus Resources for Employers

Updated 12/28/21 at 9:00 a.m. Updates in bold

We appreciate the ongoing support of all of our members, including our Visionary Members: Bloomsburg University, First Columbia Bank & Trust, First Keystone Community Bank, Geisinger, Kawneer, PPL Electric Utilities, USG, & SEKISUI KYDEX
 

Business Operations

On Thursday, January 13th, by a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden’s administration’s rule requiring larger businesses (more than 100 employees) to ensure that workers receive the COVID vaccine or wear masks and get tested on a weekly basis. The ruling comes three days after OSHA began enforcing the new Emergency Temporary Standard.

The court issued a separate ruling upholding the vaccination requirement for healthcare workers at nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities receiving federal money.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a new emergency temporary standard (ETS) that requires private sector employers with 100 or more workers to ensure that employees are vaccinated against COVID-19. If employers do not want to dismiss employees who are not vaccinated, they have the option to allow those unvaccinated employees to submit a weekly negative COVID test and follow masking requirements when working indoors.

On Friday, December 17th, the U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit ruled that the ETS can be implemented. While the ruling is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, OSHA will not issue any citations for noncompliance before January 10. From OSHA’s website:

“To account for any uncertainty created by the stay, OSHA is exercising enforcement discretion with respect to the compliance dates of the ETS. To provide employers with sufficient time to come into compliance, OSHA will not issue citations for noncompliance with any requirements of the ETS before January 10 and will not issue citations for noncompliance with the standard’s testing requirements before February 9, so long as an employer is exercising reasonable, good faith efforts to come into compliance with the standard. OSHA will work closely with the regulated community to provide compliance assistance.”

The executive order for contractors and subcontractors of the federal government remains on hold from a separate federal court ruling.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has developed a fact sheet for employers impacted by the ETS.

Employers must provide to employees in a language (and to a literacy level) that they can understand: (1) information about the requirement of the ETS and workplace policies and procedures established to implement the ETS; (2) the CDC document “Key Things to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines”; (3) information about protections against retaliation and discrimination; and (4) information about laws that provide for criminal penalties for knowingly supplying false statements or documentation.

The full ETS is available from the Federal Register.

OSHA has posted a FAQ webpage.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides guidance regarding employees requesting an exception from vaccination requirements.

– The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shortened the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.

Additionally, CDC is updating the recommended quarantine period for those exposed to COVID-19. For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days. Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for SARS-CoV-2 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.

Isolation relates to behavior after a confirmed infection. Isolation for 5 days followed by wearing a well-fitting mask will minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others. Quarantine refers to the time following exposure to the virus or close contact with someone known to have COVID-19. Both updates come as the Omicron variant continues to spread throughout the U.S. and reflects the current science on when and for how long a person is maximally infectious.

Click here for additional guidance.


Vaccination and Testing

 

Vaccination

The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Geisinger in encouraging eligible individuals to get vaccinated. Click here for information. 

Click here to find vaccination sites statewide. 

Resources to help employers communicate with their employees about vaccination are available from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management, provides recommendations for developing a workplace vaccination strategy.

Testing

Geisinger offers both symptomatic testing and testing for travel.  Visit here for details.

If you are exhibiting flu-like symptoms, contact your physician for a referral to a testing site.


Financial Assistance

 
Federal programs

– The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced significant enhancements to the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program, a federal disaster relief loan designed to support small business communities dealing with the pandemic, especially hard-hit sectors such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels. The SBA is ready to receive new applications immediately from small businesses looking to take advantage of these new policy changes.

Key changes include:

  • Increasing the COVID EIDL Cap. The SBA has increased the COVID EIDL cap from $500,000 to $2 million. Loan funds can be used for any normal operating expenses and working capital, including payroll, purchasing equipment, and paying debt.
  • Implementation of a Deferred Payment Period. The SBA will ensure small business owners will not have to begin COVID EIDL repayment until two years after loan origination so that they can get through the pandemic.
  • Establishment of a 30-Day Exclusivity Window. To ensure Main Street businesses have additional time to access these funds, the SBA will implement a 30-day exclusivity window of approving and disbursing funds for loans of $500,000 or less. Approval and disbursement of loans over $500,000 will begin after the 30-day period.
  • Expansion of Eligible Use of Funds. COVID EIDL funds will now be eligible to prepay commercial debt and make payments on federal business debt.
  • Simplification of affiliation requirements. To ease the COVID EIDL application process for small businesses, the SBA has established more simplified affiliation requirements to model those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

Businesses can apply directly with the SBA for EIDL loans.

Businesses needing assistance in applying for an SBA loan can contact the Small Business Development Center network.

Columbia & Luzerne County businesses – wilkes.edu/sbdc
Montour County businesses – bucknell.edu/sbdc

The Employee Retention Credit is extended through December 31, 2021. The new credit, beginning January 1, is 70% on $10,000 in wages per quarter (or a maximum $28,000 per employee through December 31, 2021).

The new law expands eligibility to include employers who experienced a decline of more than 20% in a qualifying quarter.

Employers can also apply to the PPP program and take advantage of the tax credit program, provided the same wages are not used.

The IRS has issued updated guidance on utilizing ERC.

Local programs

– The Chamber’s low-interest loan program is offering loans of up to $10,000 for members at 3% interest for 30 months, with interest only payments for the first 12 months. If you are interested in the Chamber’s loan program, contact Fred Gaffney at the Chamber of Commerce at 570-784-2522 as funds are limited.

– SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) has created a loan program with funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. For-profit businesses can apply for loans of at least $10,000 with an interest rate of 3.25%. Funds can be used for working capital and can be disbursed based on past working capital expenses. No payments are due in the first six months. 

There is a $500 underwriting fee and a $100 filing fee.

For more information, visit https://seda-cog.org/covid-19/ or contact SEDA-COG’s Business Finance Department at cwca@seda-cog.org.


Unemployment, Benefits & HR Issues

 

 

The PA Department of Labor and Industry provides UC guidance for employers with impacted employees.

The History of the Chamber’s Annual Awards

In February, The Chamber of Commerce will present its annual awards at the organization’s 81st Annual Meeting. This prestigious event has a tremendous history, honoring outstanding citizens and businesses throughout the area. This year’s meeting will be the second held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting provides an opportunity to recognize organizations and individuals for their extraordinary efforts in serving the community throughout the year. This look back is to again highlight those, past and present, that have worked to make Columbia and Montour counties a great area to work, live and do business.

The Outstanding Citizen Award began in 1970. The Chamber added three more awards in 2011: Small Business, Large Business, and the Community Progress Award, which consolidated what were formerly known as the Community Class Awards. Community Progress recognizes organizations that have made significiant physical investment and improvement in a property in the area.  In 2020, the Chamber added the Nonprofit of the Year award to spotlight the efforts of the many human service agencies in the area.

“The Chamber of Commerce was formed over 80 years ago by community and organizational leaders who realized that they could be more effective in strengthening the community by working together,” said Fred Gaffney, President of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce. “Today, the Chamber is well positioned to continue serving area employers and communities. The Annual Meeting is not only an opportunity for us to talk about our efforts, but celebrate some of our outstanding partner organizations and individuals.”

A history of previous award recipients is as follows:

SMALL BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

  • 2021: Bason Coffee & Roasting
  • 2020: Marr Development
  • 2019: For the Cause
  • 2018: Steph’s Subs
  • 2017: Freas Farm Winery
  • 2016: Key Partners Realty
  • 2015: Bloom Bounce
  • 2014: InnoTek Computer Consulting
  • 2013: Old Forge Brewing Co.
  • 2012: Walkers Jewlers
  • 2011: Fuel Fitness

LARGE BUSINESS OF THE YEAR

  • 2021: First Columbia Bank & Trust
  • 2020: Atlantic Broadband
  • 2019: Knoebels
  • 2018: SEKISUI
  • 2017: Central Columbia School District
  • 2016: Geisinger-Bloomsburg Hospital
  • 2015: Danville Child Development
  • 2014: PPL Electric Utilities
  • 2013: Berwick Offray
  • 2012: Walkers Jewelers
  • 2011: Columbia Montour Home Health/VNA

NONPROFIT OF THE YEAR

  • 2021: Community Giving Foundation
  • 2020: AGAPE

COMMUNITY PROGRESS AWARD

  • 2021: PB&J Bar
  • 2020: Frosty Valley Resort
  • 2019: Community Strategies Group
  • 2018: LCBC Church Columbia-Montour
  • 2017: Geisinger Woodbine
  • 2016: Pump House Wedding & B&B
  • 2015: Art of Floating
  • 2014: First Keystone Community Bank
  • 2013: Turkey Hill Brewing Co.
  • 2012: Service 1st Federal Credit Union
  • 2011: Town Camera

OUTSTANDING CITIZEN 

  • 2021: Area Frontline Healthcare Workers
  • 2020: Lisa Makara
  • 2019: Linda Brown
  • 2018: Denise Stone
  • 2017: Daniel Jankowski
  • 2016: Mary Clapp
  • 2015: Mike Monico & Travis Petty
  • 2014: Tim Wagner
  • 2013: Bette Grey
  • 2012: Eileen Chapman
  • 2011: Ramona Alley
  • 2007: Rod Keller
  • 2003: Bob McCoy & Paul Reichart
  • 2001: James Magee
  • 1997: Daniel J. Bowman
  • 1993: George H. Hemingway
  • 1986: Richard A. Benefield
  • 1985: Roy D. Snydeer
  • 1984: James G. Law
  • 1983: Paul R. Everly Jr.
  • 1981: Anna Mae Lehr
  • 1980: George A. Thompson
  • 1979: Boyd F. Buckingham
  • 1978: Dorothy Jean Kimmel
  • 1977: Lester Jones
  • 1976: Edward T. Kitchen
  • 1975: Clark B. Patterson
  • 1974: Norman Hoffman
  • 1973: Robert Nearing
  • 1972: Marco Mitrani
  • 1971: Edward F. Schuyler
  • 1970: Edwin Barton

Supreme Court Blocks Vaccine Mandate for Large Employers

The U.S. Supreme Court today blocked a nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large employers. It does, however, allow a vaccine mandate for more than 10 million health care workers to go into effect nationwide.

“Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly. Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls in the latter category,” the unsigned opinion says.

The rule would impact some 84 million individuals and require private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure they are fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work. There are exceptions for those with religious objections.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the private-employer rules in November. Several parts of the regulations, including a requirement for mask-wearing in the workplace by unvaccinated individuals, were set to take effect this week. However, the testing requirements weren’t scheduled to be enforced until next month.

The case will now go back into the Sixth Circuit for further consideration on the merits of the challenge consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision. Therefore, while blocked from going into effect, the ETS is not yet invalidated.

Candidates Nominated for 2022-23 Board

The Chamber’s Board of Directors is recommending a slate of candidates to serve on the Board beginning April, 2022. Members will vote on nominations during the annual meeting, sponsored by PPL Electric Utilities, on Wednesday, February 9th. Nominated to serve are:

Nominated to a 3-year term on the Board:

Jeff Cerminaro, Walker’s Jewelers

Holly Morrison, Community Giving Foundation

Chris Stamatedes, PPL Electric Utilities

Bob Stoudt, Montour Area Recreation Commission

Nominated to a 1-year term on the Board:

Megan Kiliti, Berwick Brewing

Denise Stone, eXp Realty

Karen Wood, Service 1st Federal Credit Union

Reommended to fill an unexpired, 3-year term on the Board:

Sharon Wilkin, Design Group

In accordance with the by-laws, any fifteen members may nominate an alternate ticket, or tickets, by posting the same, over their signatures, at The Chamber not later than five days prior to the annual meeting.

The officers will also be voted on by the Board at the annual meeting and the chair will appoint three additional members at that time. Nominated to serve as officers:

Chair – Chris Stamatedes, PPL Electric Utilities
Vice Chair – Bob Stoudt, Montour Area Recreation Commission
Treasurer – Denise Stone, eXP Realty
Immediate Past Chair – Dan Knorr, Bloomsburg University
President – Fred Gaffney

Reinforcing the Need for a Solid Benefit Program

Events over the past couple years has caused many employees to reconsider their priorities when it comes to choosing benefits.  Employers who have offered traditional benefit packages until recently are finding they may no longer be the employer of choice with an outdated benefit portfolio that doesn’t meet the evolving needs of their workers.  Losing key talent is a risk few businesses can endure.

A good, solid employer sponsored medical program is still a chief concern for employees.  At the same time, however, as a result of a heightened awareness of medical and financial needs due to pandemic-related factors, employees have sought to round out their coverage with benefits such as: 

  • Income protection (short- and long- term disability coverage)
  • Critical Illness programs
  • Hospital Indemnity programs
  • Mental Health benefits
  • Financial Wellness benefit programs

Adding these programs is neither expensive nor difficult.  And for employers concerned about the impact on their operating budget, an effective solution to accommodate this shift in benefit focus without incurring additional cost is through a voluntary benefits package. 

It’s no easy task to continually accommodate shifting employee benefit needs while staying within budgetary restraints, but the employer who does so will not only win the loyalty of their employees, but better position themselves as an employer of choice going forward.

The Columbia-Montour Chamber of Commerce offers its members access to My Benefit Advisor as a solution for employee benefits, including voluntary offerings. For more information about My Benefit Advisor, visit our website at cmcc.mybenefitadvisor.com or contact Glynis Roberts at (800) 377-3539.

Member News – January 12, 2022

Berwick Area YMCA to Hold Daddy Daughter Dance 

A tradition like none other, the Berwick Area YMCA will hold its annual Daddy Daughter Dance at the Berwick Golf Club on Sunday, February 27. The event will from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Young ladies can pick “a favorite male role model” to accompany her to this formal fun-filled night. This exciting night will include an energetic dj, dancing the entire time, great food, games, a photo station and a professional photographer. Lastly, there will also be balloon creations  by Lanny Lee. You can purchase your tickets at the Berwick Area YMCA, calling them at 570-752-5981, or by emailing aquatic@berwickymca.org.