Last Added: EEOC Guidance on COVID Vaccinations, Vaccinations Versus Title VII and the ADA, ADA Verification of Physical or Mental Impairment Form, Information on the HR 133 Consolidated Appropriates Act 2021 (see Human Resource Material section below), CDC Recommendations for Covid Positive Protocol at Work
PECAA is closely monitoring updates and recommendations from public health agencies regarding the global outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), specifically as it relates to the optometric industry, and we are actively working to keep our members informed on steps they can be taking to keep their businesses operating as smoothly as possible.
This webpage will continually be updated with new resources and business-related articles as they become available. Feel free to consume the information at your convenience.
*The information provided to you via this webpage should not be taken as medical or legal advice. Please consult the CDC, your local COVID-19 response teams, and human resources professionals as needed.
You may also have your team participate in education and training offered through our PECAA Vendor Partners as you look for ways to keep staff busy over the coming weeks while fulfilling PPP requirements.
Human Resource Materials
Congress Passes COVID Related Relief in HR 133 Consolidated Appropriates Act 2021
H.R. 133 provides a second round of direct economic relief payments, expanded unemployment insurance, $325 billion in small business assistance, $25 billion in rental assistance, a federal eviction moratorium, $13 billion in nutrition assistance, as well as paid sick leave for workers infected with coronavirus or impacted by school closures due to coronavirus.
FFCRA Leave Voluntarily Extended Until March 31, 2021
HR 133 amended the tax credit portion of the FFCRA and in those provisions voluntarily extended the use of FFCRA through March 31, 2021. However, the bill did not actually extend the portions of the FFCRA that provided the leave and as a result those provision still end on 12/31/2020 as written in the original law.
What does this mean for you as an employer? It means that if you voluntarily provide the leave, as allowed under the tax credit part of the law, that you can still take those FFCRA leave wages you voluntarily provide to employees as a tax credit. Within the tax credit portion that was amended it provides an extension to FFCRA leave through March 31, 2021 if an employer voluntarily pays an employee for leave “as through the pay was required under the law” and then states that if that happens the end date of the FFCRA leave law is extended from 12/31/2020 to 3/31/2021.
The major items that have been addressed in HR 133 that impact employers directly are the following:
- The Emergency Paid Sick Leave under FFCRA now ends on March 31, 2021. This not a renewed amount of leave but merely the original 80 hours if an employee has not already exhausted all of the leave. All other provisions stay the same.
- The Family Medical Leave Expansion Act is also extended to March 31, 2021. Again, this is not a renewed amount of leave but the original 12 weeks of leave (2 unpaid and 10 at 2/3 pay) if the employee has not already exhausted all of the leave. All other provisions stay the same.
- Tax credits for both have been extended through March 31, 2021.
- Unemployment insurance is extended for COVID related reason through March 14, 2021. Benefits are extended from 39 total weeks to 50 weeks. This will be beneficial for employees who are affected by COVID after the first of the year and need to stay home ill or to care for others who are ill. Also those employees who are high risk and can’t work will receive the additional relief through that date.
- The Paycheck Protection Program has a significant amount of legislation regarding extensions and additional funds available. You should contact your business, financial, or tax professional for more information on what has changed and what funding is possible.
Unemployment Insurance is Extended for COVID Related Reason Through March 14, 2021.
Benefits are extended from 39 total weeks to 50 weeks. This will be beneficial for employees who are affected by COVID after the first of the year and need to stay home ill or to care for others who are ill. Also those employees who are high risk and can’t work will receive the additional relief through that date. If you choose not to provide voluntary FFCRA leave, employees may be able to qualify for Pandemic UI for COVID related reasons at least through 3/14/2021.
*Seek legal council prior to using this templated waiver. We suggest you speak to your insurance provider for business insurance needs.
Health & Safety Procedures
Preparing For Your Financial Future
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
New information was released on the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
We encourage you to contact your local bank for details. In the meantime, please view the resources below:
Preparing For Your Financial Future
Merchant Processing During COVID-19
Information on the Stimulus Bill
Here is a summary of what we know about the package…
Here is the latest guidance that has been sent to the banks from the SBA.
Banking and Financing
Practices should be reaching out to their financial institutions for potential loan and lease relief programs. We are seeing commercial banks already put in place programs to help practices. PECAA partner Columbia Bank has instituted a 90 day payment deferral plan. Please contact your local lender for further details. There may be opportunities with credit cards and personal loans as well, depending on the institution.
The SBA (US Small Business Administration) has disaster loans available to businesses of all size. Standards have been relaxed this week to help businesses affected by COVID-19. These loans, which can be up to $2 million, are low interest (3.75%) and can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other debts that can’t be paid due to the COVID-19 impact. Further information can be found at www.SBA.gov/disaster. While currently only a handful of states qualify, expectations are that this list will grow quickly.
We are hearing that some landlords are willing to provide assistance during the time, particularly if your business has closed. Note that this is not widespread at this time, but worth the question for those who have had to close down. Most landlords are going to want to fully understand how the practice’s business has been affected before reducing rent. Common requests would be for the following information:
- Last two years tax returns
- Bank Statements
- 2019 P&L
- 2020 YTD P&L
Having this information ready to send may help expedite the process and increase the likelihood of a reduction. If your practice is within a one year window of lease renewal, now will be a good time to begin negotiations as they will want to maintain good tenants. Should you have any questions regarding your lease, please contact PECAA partner CARR Healthcare Realty. CARR Healthcare Realty provides a full suite of real estate services exclusively to healthcare providers and at no charge to PECAA members.
Where Does Telemedicine Fit In?
A Message From Teri Thurston, PECAA’s Billing & Coding Advisor
Telemedicine gained tremendous traction during the recent practice shutdowns, in which only emergency eyecare was permitted to be provided in-person. Now, many patients, who had never experienced this new way of visiting the doctor, may be open to continuing to do so. Some may even expect the continuation of remote access to their eye doctor.
The most common misconception about telemedicine is that it doesn’t have a lasting place in the OD practice, and is not profitable enough to implement. Through the current health crisis, we’ve seen physicians and patients find benefit in accessing care through telemedicine services. Long-term, telemedicine has the potential in optometry to offer an additional revenue stream by expanding options for care delivery.
*Telehealth Billing Codes for Eyecare provided by PECAA’s newest Vendor Partner, EyecareLive!
Create a list of people (employees and/or customers) who the person may have been in close contact with, close contact is defined by the CDC as less than 6 feet physical distance and the main transmission form is through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. CDC provided factors to consider when defining close contact include proximity, the duration of exposure (e.g., longer exposure time likely increases exposure risk), whether the individual has symptoms (e.g., coughing likely increases exposure risk) and whether the individual was wearing a facemask (which can efficiently block respiratory secretions from contaminating others and the environment). CDC states that data is insufficient to precisely define the duration of time that constitutes a prolonged exposure. Recommendations vary on the length of time of exposure from 10 minutes or more to 30 minutes or more. Brief interactions are less likely to result in transmission; however, symptoms and the type of interaction (e.g., did the person cough directly into the face of the individual) remain important.
Notify other employees who have been in close contact with the person with the positive COVID-19 result that it is possible that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. You may also wish to give them the CDC handout above.
The CDC has stated that if the sick person has been in your facility in the last 7 days, you should follow this Deep Cleaning Protocol.
Exercising Compassion Through Leaves of Absence.
If the pregnant individual is not an employee but an immediate family member or residing in the employee’s house, the employee would only be able to take leave under EPSLA reason #4 if the employee is needed to actually care for the pregnant individual because she can’t care for herself. It is not enough for the employee to merely be concerned about bringing COVID-19 home to the pregnant individual. Department of Labor is clear that the pregnant individual must be unable to care for themselves. Reason #4 is the (A) Employee is unable to perform work for his or her Employer; AND (B) The individual depends on the Employee to care for her; AND (C) The individual has been advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider because of a belief that the individual is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
Once EPSLA is exhausted, you have a number of choices regarding extending leave if the employee is the pregnant individual:
- Determine if regular FMLA for a serious health condition applies if the health care provider will fill out the health care certification.
- Determine if there is a discretionary unpaid leave of absence under your policies that applies.
- If employee has a short-term disability policy, encourage the employee to apply to see if the situation qualifies for coverage.
- If the pregnant employee is not necessary to carry on your essential business operations (meaning you have enough other staff to cover and won’t need to fill her position) furlough the employee and she can apply for unemployment benefits to see if she qualifies.
- If the pregnant employee is an essential employee and you will have to fill her position if she refuses to work, terminate her employment and the employee can apply for unemployment benefits to see if she qualifies.
Here are some precautions and best practices to begin implementing in your office:
Communicating With Staff
This is a time where over-communication isn’t a concern.
Use these 6 posters provided by the Centers for Disease Control to educate employees and patients on COVID-19.
Why not post them in your breakroom, waiting room and restrooms?
Communicating With Patients
Craft a statement to your patients and post it in your office, on your website, and on your social media pages. If you have the ability to send it as an e-blast or text it, do that too.
Create patient communication scripts for your staff to use. This will help to support staff when confirming appointments and greeting patients. Draft statements such as, “If you feel you have been exposed, or if you are feeling ill in any way, please reschedule your appointment.” Or “If you have a cough, fever, or experiencing breathing problems, we will reschedule your appointment.”
Emphasize Good Hygiene
- Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms/break rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- Encourage employees to visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
Actively Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure that your Paid Time Off policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
- Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
- Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.