City Employment Issues During COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: April 2, 2021

The content and layout of FAQs on this web page were entirely revised on July 19, 2021.

(Updated Sept. 2, 2021)

Note: The League is using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to provide much of our guidance. We urge our member cities to keep checking the CDC and MDH websites for updates. Because this situation is constantly evolving, the League encourages cities to work with their city attorney in implementing the new law and adapting any policies.

For policy samples and other guidance relating to COVID-19 employment related issues, contact HRBenefits@lmc.org.

Get answers to these FAQs about city employment issues and COVID-19:

Q1. How will federal financial relief for COVID-19 be applied to unemployment accounts?

Q2. What is the HR policy to address an employee that may have been exposed to COVID-19?  (Updated Aug. 13, 2021)

Q3. Can we terminate an employee who is not able to come to work due to COVID-19?

Q4. Are workers who contract or are exposed to COVID-19 eligible for workers’ compensation?

Q5. How do OSHA regulations apply to remote workers? What about ergonomics?

Q6. If an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, when can they return to work? (Updated Aug. 14, 2021)

Q7. How do cities process I-9s for new hires during the COVID pandemic? (Updated Sept. 2, 2021)

Q8. How can I learn more about the optional federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) leaves under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021?

Q9. With the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, in addition to the optional FFCRA leave, what are other employment-focused aspects I should be aware of?

Q10. Can a city require an employee to be vaccinated for COVID-19?

Q1. How will federal financial relief for COVID-19 be applied to unemployment accounts?

A1. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) will analyze employer accounts to determine whether the employer qualifies for additional financial relief available under state law. If your city had a significant number of layoffs related to the pandemic, DEED may be able to remove additional benefit charges. The employer will receive a letter if additional adjustments are made to the account.

DEED will also continue to apply federal financial relief for completed calendar quarters in 2021. Under the recent American Rescue Plan legislation, federal financial relief is currently set to continue through early September 2021.

The state asks that employers wait until they apply all available financial relief before contacting them about the status of specific benefit charges. DEED will not send cities quarterly bills until their review is finalized

Learn more about state Unemployment Insurance & COVID

Unfortunately, since 2020 there have been cases of reported unemployment fraud. DEED has clarified there has been no DEED or UI data breach, and provides the following guidance for individuals who notice something improper:

  • File a police report — this is identity theft.
  • Check their credit report — again, this is identity theft and bad actors may have applied for many forms of credit and programs.
  • Notify the UI office — individuals can notify the UI office and they will follow up.

Access DEED’s new fraud reporting page

DEED officials note that they work in coordination with local law enforcement on fraud issues.

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Q2. What is the HR policy to address an employee that may have been exposed to COVID-19?

A2. Employers have an obligation (under OSHA regulations and OSHA guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19) to keep their workplaces safe, and the Department of Labor (FAQ #13) states an employer may encourage, or require, employees to telework as an infection-control or prevention strategy, provided the employer is not singling out employees on a basis prohibited by any of the Equal Opportunity Employment laws.

In the absence of an order by a health care provider to self-quarantine, and in the event the position simply is not one that can work remotely, employers should encourage employees who are ill with COVID-19 symptoms or are exposed to ill family members to stay home. See the MDH Quarantine Guidance and Close Contacts and Tracing for additional guidance.

Employers should also consider flexible leave policies for their employees in these circumstances and consider whether they will be offering the optional FFCRA leave as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 since an employee seeking or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test due an exposure if an employer has requested the COVID-19 test can be a qualifying event for the leave. Read more in these FAQs on the 2021 optional FFCRA leave.

A2, Part A: Employee exhibiting COVID-19 like symptoms

If a worker is exhibiting symptoms leading you to believe a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 is likely, you will want to:

  • Send the employee home promptly and also ask the employee to identify all individuals he or she was in close proximity to (within 6 feet) for 15 minutes or more through a 24-hour period. Read the MDH guidance on close contact and tracing for COVID-19.  To obtain the most up to date MDH guidance on COVID-19 protocols for Minnesota, call the Minnesota COVID-19 Hotline at (651) 201-3920.

While COVID-19 symptoms may appear 2-14 days after an exposure to the COVID-19 virus, the CDC notes that infected people can spread the virus 48 hours before the onset of symptoms. In the event a worker calls in to the city to notify the city he or she tested positive for COVID-19, a city will also want to work through the above analysis to determine whether the employee has been working in close proximity with other city workers recently. While the city will want to consult with their city attorney and call the Minnesota COVID-19 Hotline at (651) 201-3920 for the most current guidance, it is our understanding those close proximity workers will then be sent home by the city in an effort to stop the spread of infection in the workplace.

Cities will want to keep in mind, in accordance with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, the city cannot identify the infected worker’s name (unless the infected worker voluntarily agrees to sign a waiver for the city to share his or her diagnosis), and the city must safeguard any associated medical documentation the city possesses as part of this process to ensure others cannot access the protected information. In the EEOC’s Guidance on COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), question B.5 notes that using a generic descriptor, such as telling employees that “someone at this location” or “someone on the fourth floor” has COVID-19, provides notice and does not violate the ADA’s prohibition of disclosure of confidential medical information. The EEOC adds, for small employers, co-workers might be able to figure out who the employee is, but employers in that situation are still prohibited from confirming or revealing the employee’s identity.

A2, Part B, These employees may not need to quarantine:

With the Delta variant currently circulating in the United States, MDH recommends all individuals who have close contact with someone with COVID-19 get tested 3-5 days after contact.

The MDH guidance on quarantine notes that the following people do not need to quarantine following a COVID-19 exposure:

  • Persons who have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, and if all of the following are true:
    • The person’s illness was confirmed with a positive lab test in the past 90 days.
    • The person has fully recovered.
    • The person does not currently have any symptoms of COVID-19.
  • If an individual has completed COVID-19 vaccination (two doses in a two-dose series or one dose in a one-dose series) and if all the following are true:
    • The COVID-19 exposure was at least 14 days after the person’s vaccination series was fully completed.
    • The person does not currently have any symptoms of COVID-19.

A2, Part C, OSHA Logging for COVID-19 in the workplace:

OSHA issued guidance regarding how to investigate and record COVID-19 cases among your workforce. Minnesota OSHA (MNOSHA) Compliance follows federal OSHA record-keeping guidance, which is used across the country and needs to be consistent for national data comparison, with the exception that in Minnesota, low-hazard industries are also required to record injuries and illnesses.

Read OSHA’s Revised Enforcement Guidance for Recording Cases of COVID-19.

MNOSHA Compliance will enforce the record-keeping requirements of 29 CFR Part 1904 for all employers with employee COVID-19 illnesses. Recording a COVID-19 illness does not, of itself, mean the employer has violated any OSHA standard. And, pursuant to existing regulations, employers with 10 or fewer employees have no recording obligations; they need only report work-related COVID-19 illnesses that result in a fatality and report any employee’s in-patient hospitalization.

OSHA record-keeping requirements now mandate that COVID-19 is a recordable illness, and employers should record cases in their OSHA 300 log if all of the following conditions are fulfilled:

  1. The case is a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 as defined by the CDC.
  2. The case is “work-related,” which in OSHA regulations means that an event or exposure in the work environment either caused or contributed to the resulting condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness.
  3. The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria specified by OSHA regulations, which are cases that involve one or more of the following: death, days away from work, restricted work, transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, loss of consciousness, or a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional.

For additional assistance regarding OSHA reporting, please contact your League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust loss control representative.

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Q3. Can we terminate an employee who is not able to come to work due to COVID-19?

A3. Cities are strongly cautioned against terminating employees due to their inability to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to all of the normal employment protections (e.g., civil rights laws, collective bargaining agreements, the Americans with Disabilities Act), there are additional employee protections such as Minnesota Statutes, section 144.4196. This law provides protections for employees quarantined for up to 21 days. Be sure to review the Employment Accommodations During COVID-19 webpage for additional guidance.

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Q4. Are workers who contract or are exposed to COVID-19 eligible for workers’ compensation?

A4. There is no coverage for exposure to a disease under Minnesota’s workers’ compensation law, but individuals may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if they contract COVID-19. There’s also a new state law for injuries occurring on or after April 8, 2020, that provides a presumption for COVID-19 workers’ compensation claims, which applies to employees and volunteers working in certain occupations. Please see Insurance Trust Coverage Response During COVID-19 Pandemic for more information.

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Q5. How do OSHA regulations apply to remote workers? What about ergonomics?

A5. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not have any regulations regarding telework in home offices. The agency issued a directive in February 2000 stating that the agency will not conduct inspections of employees’ home offices, will not hold employers liable for employees’ home offices, and does not expect employers to inspect the home offices of their employees. With respect to ergonomic issues, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust has field representatives you can consult. You can reach them at (651) 281-1200 or (800) 925-1122.

Read about simple ergonomics tips when working from home in the LMC Pipeline blog

Additionally, for employees working from home located outside of Minnesota, read more about the State Employment Law Considerations for Remote and Relocated Workers.

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Q6. If an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, when can they return to work?

A6. Generally speaking, a city will want to rely on a medical provider to classify whether an employee is on quarantine. Under state health law, if an employee has contracted or been exposed to COVID-19, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) can recommend the employee isolate themselves. Employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 should follow guidance from public health officials and their doctor before being released from isolation and thus returning to work.

MDH states if a person tests positive for COVID-19, they should stay home and away from others, even if they do not have symptoms. Symptoms may appear up to 14 days after a person has been exposed. A person can spread COVID-19 to others:

  • Several days before they have any symptoms.
  • Even if they never have any symptoms of COVID-19.

Even if a person is fully vaccinated and tests positive for COVID-19, that individual still needs to stay home and away from others.

MDH tells us the following:

If a person is having symptoms of COVID-19, they are to stay home until all three of these things are true:

  • The person feels better. Their cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms are better.

and

  • It has been 10 days since the person first felt sick.

and

  • The person has had no fever for at least 24 hours, without using medicine that lowers fevers.

If a person tests positive for COVID-19 but does not have symptoms, they must still stay home and away from others for 10 days.

If a lab test shows a person does not have COVID-19 but the person has symptoms, that individual will need to stay home until their symptoms are better and they do not have a fever. Symptoms of COVID-19 can be similar to other illnesses. MDH notes it is important to follow the individual’s health care provider’s advice before going back to work or other places.

View the Minnesota Department of Health guidance on when employees can return to work