Exploring Employment Law in the Age of COVID-19 (Pt. 1)
July 19, 2021
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers have had to contend with a host of new labor issues.
For McGuireWoods lawyers Carolyn Trenda and Dawn Cutlan Stetter, who focus on employee benefits topics and general labor law respectively, the pandemic has changed the kinds of questions their clients are asking.
“COVID-19 came on like a tidal wave for employers. It challenged employers both large and small in almost every conceivable way,” Dawn says on this episode of Deal Us In, which is part one of a two-part interview with Carolyn and Dawn.
Beyond dealing with transitioning to a virtual workplace, employers had to look at how to handle giving employees time off for COVID-19-related reasons, and rethink employee benefits generally. These issues may continue even as employees start returning to in-person work.
“On the benefits side, the immediate issues were what to do with layoffs and furloughs. You had lots of employers trying to furlough employees and maintain access to benefits,” Carolyn says. “There were immediate COVID effects and challenges, but now we’re dealing with more of the issues surrounding returning to work.”
Despite the challenges, employers can navigate this new world with the help of advisors like Carolyn and Dawn, especially if they keep their employees’ needs in mind, and do the work to help them.
“As long as employers are acting in good faith and doing their best to comply with the changing regulations and statutes, there’s a sense that some of this is going to pass,” Carolyn says.
💡 Featured Guests💡
Name: Carolyn Trenda
Title: Partner at McGuireWoods
Specialty: Carolyn focuses her practice on advising public, private, and non-profit employers on a range of employee benefit topics.
Where to find her: LinkedIn
Name: Dawn Cutlan Stetter
Title: Counsel at McGuireWoods
Specialty: Dawn is an attorney at McGuireWoods who represents and advises management in all aspects of labor and employment law.
Where to find her: LinkedIn
🗝️ Key Points 🗝️
Top takeaways from this episode
● COVID-19 really changed employment — For obvious and less-obvious reasons, all aspects of employment were thrown for a loop when the pandemic hit. This created an entirely new world for labor and employee benefits lawyers to navigate.
● The pandemic’s effects on employment were not created equal — While most professions had new challenges to deal with as a result of the pandemic, some industries had a tougher time than others. Handling the concerns of employees who were required to show up in-person was one of the most urgent legal issues facing employers.
● We might never get “back to normal” — For better or worse, COVID has changed certain aspects of employment forever. As we move back into a world where it’s safe to work in person, we might carry some things with us — like incorporating telehealth into employee health plans.
⚡ Episode Highlights ⚡
[3:55] The pandemic’s impact on employment: Dawn says that the COVID-19 pandemic forced employers to rethink almost everything about how they worked with their employees.
[9:00] The caregiving challenge: Dawn and Carolyn both discuss the challenge of dealing with employees who suddenly had to change their approach to childcare when schools went online. Before the pandemic, there were few states that allowed people to take time off for caregiving, but over the past year and a half, governments and employers have made strides to accommodate this situation.
[17:25] Unequal impacts: Dawn points out that essential businesses have had to contend with even more employer issues during the pandemic. While white-collar employees were generally able to transition to virtual work fairly easily, people who needed to work in person had a whole other set of rules to figure out.
[21:05] Telehealth rising: Carolyn says that the expansion of telehealth over the past year and a half has challenged some employer healthcare programs that didn’t previously account for virtual medical appointments — and she thinks this might be a lasting change.
[27:45] The ins and outs of COVID legislation: Carolyn talks about how legislation like the COBRA subsidy — which gave employers funds to maintain health benefits for employees who were involuntarily terminated or had their hours reduced — created a world of unknowns for employers.
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