Coronavirus Resources for Employers

Updated 11/24/21 at 3:30 p.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 Friday, November 5, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published in the Federal Register its emergency temporary standard (ETS) that will require 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 beginning January 5, 2022. Impacted employers will also have to require unvaccinated employees to wear masks as of December 5, 2021.

While this ETS is currently being challenged in federal court, employers are still encouraged to be prepared to meet the December 5 and January 5 timelines.

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

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.

– While Pennsylvania’s face covering order has been lifted, the PA Department of Health continues to urge individuals to follow CDC guidance for wearing a mask where required by law, rule, and regulations, including healthcare, local business, and workplace guidance. For the protection of themselves and others, individuals who have not yet been vaccinated or are partially vaccinated are still encouraged to wear a mask when in public. The CDC requires individuals to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs, such as airports and stations. Masks are also recommended, regardless of vaccination status, while indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission. As of August 30th, Columbia and Montour counties are at a high transmission rate.

The latest CDC guidance regarding masking indoors is not an OSHA regulation. However, an employer could be cited for creating an unsafe working condition if a claim is filed, according to OSHA’s Wilkes Barre office.


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.

Bills Would Prohibit Employer Vaccine, Health and Safety Policies

From the PA Chamber of Business and Industry

Over the past couple of weeks, the PA Chamber of Business and Industry has voiced opposition to bills that would prohibit employers from enforcing health and safety policies, including vaccine requirements.

In mid-November, the House Health Committee considered H.B. 2013, a proposed Constitutional amendment that would have the effect of prohibiting employers from enforcing standard and critically important workplace health and safety policies. The bill would permit an individual to refuse any medical procedure, treatment, injection, vaccine or prophylactic and may not be questioned or interfered with in any manner.

While discussion among Committee members focused on vaccine mandates, the impact of this proposed Constitutional amendment goes much further and could compromise workplace health and safety measures.

On Nov. 8, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee considered S.B. 471, to prohibit mandatory vaccination of Pennsylvania residents by the Commonwealth, political subdivisions or as a condition of employment. The bill was amended in committee to focus exclusively on the COVID-19 vaccination.

The PA Chamber opposes the measure because employers could be forced to scrap policies aimed at protecting employees and customers and could find themselves caught between conflicting state and federal laws. Click here to read the PA Chamber’s memo of opposition to S.B. 471 that was sent to the Senate Health and Human Service Committee.  

Virtual Workshop on Navigating Difficult Dialogues

This virtual workshop will help individuals understand the importance of identity differences and conflict management in communication. The free program is part of the ongoing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for the community through the United Way of Columbia and Montour Counties. It was originally scheduled for Oct. 28th and was rescheduled to Dec. 2nd at 7:00 p.m.

Conversations among people who share different personal identifications and ideologies can be a challenging enterprise. This presentation will explore some of the reasons for those challenges and will focus on communicative approaches, particularly conflict management strategies, for navigating difficult dialogues in our personal relationships.

Click here to register.

PennDot Hosting Public Meeting for I-80 Bridge Tolling Plan

A project to replace and widen the Interstate 80 Nescopeck Creek Bridges in lower Luzerne County is proposed to begin in 2023. To help pay for this work, PennDOT is planning to  implement a toll on the West bound lanes of the bridge. An in-person public meeting to discuss the project is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 7 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Nescopeck Social Hall, 510 Zenith Rd., Nescopeck.

An on-demand virtual public meeting for the project is also available through Dec. 15, clicking the virtual public meeting link.

This bridge replacement project is one of nine along Interstate 80 where PennDOT plans to implement tolling. The Public Private Partnership (P3) law adopted in 2012 authorized the establishment of such partnerships to assist in funding road and bridge repairs across the Commonwealth. Senate Bill 382 would void these current plans and prescribe a more open and transparent process for P3 projects. Specifically, a detailed analysis would have to be developed prior to any consideration by the P3 board, and a 30-day public comment period would be held following publication of the project in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Additionally, any P3 project that includes a user fee would require legislative approval. The House passed the bill in November, and it is awaiting further consideration in the Senate.

T-Mobile Joins The Chamber With More Locations

The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce welcomes its newest member, T-Mobile. The company operates the second-largest wireless network in the U.S. market with over 95 million customers.

When it comes to T-Mobile, customers come first. The company offers plans for mobile devices including trade-ins, upgrades, and money for switching plans. The company operates a nationwide Wi-Fi Internet access network under the T-Mobile HotSpots brand. The T-Mobile HotSpots network consists of thousands of Wi-Fi access points installed in businesses, hotels, and airports throughout the U.S.

The Chamber will help to celebrate T-Mobile’s newest location in our area at Giant Plaza in Briar Creek on December 17th  at 12:00 p.m.

T-Mobile joins 417 members of The Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce to receive benefits and support the Chamber’s efforts to enhance the region.

Wolf Administration Proposes Changes to Tipped Worker Regulation

On Friday, November 19, Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Secretary Jennifer Berrier announced proposed regulations to update rules about how employers pay tipped workers.

The department’s proposed regulation covers five primary areas for tipped workers, including:

  • An update to the definition of “tipped employee,” adjusted for inflation since 1977, that increases the amount in tips an employee must receive monthly from $30 to $135 before an employer can reduce an employee’s hourly pay from $7.25 per hour to as low as $2.83 per hour.
  • Codification of a recent federal regulatory update governing employer tip credits to allow employers to take a tip credit under certain conditions, including that the employee spends at least 80 percent of their time on duties that directly generate tips, commonly known as the 80/20 rule.
  • An update to allow for tip pooling among tipped employees under certain circumstances.
  • A prohibition on employers deducting credit card transaction charges from an employee’s tip left on a credit card.
  • A requirement for employers to educate patrons on the employer’s use of service charges, clarifying that service charges are not gratuities for tipped employees.

This proposed regulation also updates the definition of “regular rate” for salaried employees whose overtime pay is determined by the fluctuating workweek method, clarifying that for the purpose of calculating overtime the regular rate is based on a 40-hour work week. 

The proposed regulation was published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, Nov. 20, which starts a  30-day public comment period. Comments can be emailed to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission at irrc@irrc.state.pa.us.  Reference Department of Labor and Industry, Regulation #12-114: Minimum Wage, IRRC Number 3322. L&I will review any comments submitted by the public, the General Assembly and the IRRC before submitting a final form regulation. A public hearing and review by legislative committees will precede a final decision by the IRRC. This process will take several months.