Today’s News & Commentary—March 23, 2020
On Thursday, the President signed into law federal legislation that will, among other things, require employers with 50 to 499 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for employees self-quarantining and/or experiencing the symptoms of coronavirus, as well as employees who have children whose schools have closed or are caring for a family member who is self-quarantining. Employers will be eligible for tax credits to offset the costs of this mandate, NPR reports. According to one estimate, only 12% of workers in businesses that are expected to stay open will actually be able to take advantage of this sick leave, as the vast majority of employees in “essential” industries do not work for companies with between 50 and 499 employees. The new law will also provide $1 billion in aid to states to help cover unemployment insurance costs, as well as other unemployment benefits that a state has already exhausted.
As state and local governments advise residents to stay home and non-essential businesses increasingly shut down, warehouse workers and delivery drivers’ may be hit hard by the effects of coronavirus in the coming weeks. The increased demand in deliverables has led to a corresponding increase in the sectors’ workforce, with companies like Amazon announcing plans to hire 150,000 temporary workers in the US. This fact, combined with a routine work environment that sees many employees “jammed shoulder to shoulder,” pressures to work through illness, and lagging sanitary conditions, have caused anxiety among many in the industry regarding their risk of exposure. In New York, Amazon workers have even started a petition calling for CEO Jeff Bezos to provide better sick leave policies and better protective measures.
Nine state and local government associations, including the National League of Cities and the Council of State Governments, have urged Trump to halt the regulatory comment period for all active rulemaking and non-rulemaking notices. In their letter, they note that the “extreme impact on normal working and living conditions will impair the ability [of all interested parties] to provide thoughtful and meaningful participation” for the more than 700 comment periods set to close over the next 30 days, and more than 1000 over the next 90 days. As Bloomberg Law pointed out, the pending regulations include a rule that would allow government employees to drop union membership any time after their first year, as opposed to a specified period each year. The comment period on that rule is set to close on April 9.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recently announced that it is immediately suspending premium processing for employment-based visa petitions and green card applications. Using premium processing allows employers to pay a fee to have their petitions serviced within fifteen days. Without premium processing, employment-based visa petitions normally take, on average five months to process. USCIS did not state how long the suspension is expected to last.