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Employers are in uncharted territory with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created complicated employment issues that continue to evolve by the hour. Join Kelley Drye’s Labor and Employment co-chairs Barbara Hoey and Mark Konkel and senior associate Diana Hamar as they share practical advice for

As federal, state and local governments continue to develop their responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, employers may find themselves in uncharted territory as to how to deal with emerging employee issues.

There are three overriding rules that all employers should remember:

  1. Think safety first. Keeping those employees who are infected or at risk of infection at home to ensure that the rest of the workforce is safe should be the number one priority.
  2. Think about how you can keep your business going.  Make sure your work-from-home policies and technology are up to date, and remind employees how to use them.
  3. Avoid stereotypes. Do not allow employees to assume that people of certain ethnicities are at a higher risk than others. If you become aware of any discrimination or harassment—stop it immediately.

Below are some general answers to questions our clients have been asking.  However, please be aware that this is a very fact-specific and complex topic; COVID-19 related employment issues are evolving by the hour. Employers are cautioned to stay abreast of federal, state, and local government advisories, and to consult legal counsel before making employment decisions or changing policy.


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With the arrival of 2019 novel coronavirus (“COVID-19”) to the United States, employers should begin thinking about strategies to mitigate business interruptions, ensure employee safety, and avoid unnecessary litigation.

Know Your Resources

Employers should continue to monitor reliable guidance provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and local public health agencies. Understanding how COVID-19 is transmitted and what steps can be taken to protect diagnosed or exposed employees is essential to dispelling employee fears. Employers can educate employees on prevention and symptoms and should be prepared to answer employee concerns regarding workplace safety. The following are guides which may be helpful to employers:


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As we close the books on 2019, and enter the new decade, New York employers should keep a list of all new legislation handy. Below is our brief summary of legislation effective 2020.

New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL)

In August 2019, Governor Cuomo signed groundbreaking legislation amending the NYSHRL, which we covered.  Several pieces of the law will become effective in the upcoming months, including the following:

  • January 1, 2020: Settlement agreements cannot bar individuals from speaking to an attorney, the New York State Division of Human Rights, the EEOC, local human rights commissions, or any other form of law enforcement.
  • February 8, 2020: NYSHRL will be applicable to employers of all sizes who do business in the state.
  • August 12, 2020: Statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment claims with the State Division of Human rights will be expanded from one to three years.


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Date: Tuesday, October 8, 2019
Time: 12:30 pm ET | 11:30 am CT

Managing employee requests related to disabilities (actual, perceived or alleged) remains a trap for the unwary Human Resources department. Requests may involve leave for extended or unlimited periods of time, workplace changes and more. Employers must consider numerous laws, including the Family

So imagine that your biggest pothead friend from college has opened up a cannabis dispensary that sells weed for recreational use. Your old pal would be selling something that remains utterly unlawful under federal law, the recent and sweeping changes to state law notwithstanding. But two wrongs don’t make a right, according to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals:  if you’re going to sell something that federal law treats just like heroin, you’d at least better comply with federal wage and hour laws. Yes, cannabis sellers: thou shalt not rip off your employees for wages, even when they’re doing something illegal under federal law.

In its recent decision in Robert Kenney v. Helix TCS, Inc. (September 20, 2019), the Tenth Circuit affirmed the notion that an employer does not escape its responsibilities under federal law by virtue of its violations of other federal laws. Ergo:  a cannabis company cannot deem its employees exempt from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) solely on the basis that their job functions violate the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”).


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On Monday May 6, 2019, a Florida federal judge denied a strip club’s bid for sanctions against an exotic dancer and her lawyer who filed a so-called “cookie-cutter” Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit, depriving the strip club of the chance to recoup.

The next day, on Tuesday, May 7, 2019, a Texas state jury awarded a plaintiff $80 million – of which $75,000,000 was in punitive damages – to a truck driver who fell asleep and crashed behind the wheel, when his supervisors forced him to alter his log book and drive without the required amount of rest.

What could these two cases possibly have in common? Both impart the same basic lesson: adherence to good record-keeping practices can save employers money.


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