COVID-19 Resources

Frequently Asked Questions: Staff/ Teleworking/Personnel

What do conservation districts need to do, if anything, in response to the President’s memorandum on deferral of payroll tax obligations?

The Municipal Research Service Center (MRSC) has received numerous inquiries about President Trump’s August 8, 2020 memorandum. They published an article on September 1 breaking down the memorandum and the subsequent IRS guidance issued. Districts are encouraged to take a look at these documents if you have questions. Here are a couple of key points:

  1. The President’s memo allows employers to defer withholding and payment of the employee's portion of the Social Security tax if the employee's wages are below a certain amount.
  2. This is a tax deferral, not an elimination of the Social Security tax obligation.
  3. The subsequent IRS guidance does not require an employer to defer Social Security tax withholding.

In short, MRSC provides the following recommendation:  

"It would not be our recommendation that local government defer the collection and remittance of any portion of federal 941 taxes: federal withholding, Social Security, and Medicare (both employee and employer contributions). Employers currently have the option to defer their remittance, and we have continuously recommended against this practice when asked to advise on it."

What are the employer requirements for face coverings under the Safe Start Phased Reopening Plan?

Requirements around face coverings are changing as the COVID-19 situation evolves. Check state and local requirements regularly.

On June 24, the Secretary of Health issued Order 20-23 requiring all people in Washington State to wear a facial covering that covers their nose and mouth in indoor and outdoor settings. The order includes some provisions for situations where face coverings may be removed, exemptions for certain individuals, and details as to what qualifies as a face covering. This order was incorporated into Proclamation 20-25.6 and thus remains in effect until August 6. This included the requirement, among others, that “No business may operate, allow a customer to enter a business, or conduct business with a customer inside any building that is open to the public or outdoors in a public place unless the customer is wearing a face covering, as required by Order of the Secretary of Health 20-03.”

While in effect, Order 20-23 described above supersedes face covering requirements included in previous proclamations/plans, such as Governor Inslee’s proclamation for the Safe Start Phased Reopening Plan that took effect on June 1, replacing the previous Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. The Safe Start plan includes employer requirements that are in effect regardless of what phase a county may be in.  One requirement, among others, is employees must wear cloth face coverings while in the workplace (effective as of June 8).  There are exceptions to that requirement under certain circumstances. Employers are required to provide those cloth face coverings.  Specific language is as follows:

“Beginning June 8, all employees will be required to wear a cloth facial covering, with the following exceptions: when working alone in an office, vehicle, or at a job site; if the individual is deaf or hard of hearing, or is communicating with someone who relies on language cues such as facial markers and expression and mouth movements as a part of communication; if the individual has a medical condition or disability that makes wearing a facial covering inappropriate; or when the job has no in-person interaction. Employers must provide cloth facial coverings to employees, unless their exposure dictates a higher level of protection under the Department of Labor and Industries’ safety and health rules and guidance. Refer to Coronavirus Facial Covering and Mask Requirements for additional details. Employees may choose to wear their own facial coverings at work, provided it meets the minimum requirements.”

Furthermore the plan states that employers must:

“Provide (at no cost to employees) and require the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, goggles, face shields and face masks as appropriate or required for the work activity being performed. Cloth face coverings must be worn by every employee not working alone on the job site unless their exposure dictates a higher level of protection under L&I safety and health rules and guidance. Refer to Washington Coronavirus Hazard Considerations for Employers (except COVID-19 care in hospitals and clinics) Face Coverings, Masks, and Respirator Choices for additional details. Cloth face coverings are described in the Department of Health guidance.”

For more information on the Safe Start proclamation, specifics of the Safe Start Phased Opening Plan, information about face coverings, and resources for Phase 3 COVID-19 safety plans (required for businesses operating in Phase 3 under the Safe Start Plan) please view the links below:

Are there any resources available to supply CDs with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks?

There likely are other resources available, but one Washington-specific resource is the Washington Mask Challenge. Organizations may either request masks, or you may volunteer to make them.

If CD staff are unable to perform their job duties via telework or other allowable methods due to the coronavirus outbreak, can paid leave for those staff be billed to SCC grants?

SCC has determined a new method for reimbursement of district costs for paid leave benefit expenses under the Family First Coronavirus Recovery Act (FFCRA) as an allowable expense under our grants. Districts may utilize the ‘Other’ expense line on the voucher summary page form for FFCRA costs that have been paid by the district. Back-up documentation to support the cost will be required just like with all other costs included in a voucher. If you have questions about this please contact your Regional Manager.

District also may choose to allow staff to utilize accrued sick or vacation leave. Other options for CD employees can be found on the Employment Security Department web page of COVID-19 resources.

Does the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) apply to Districts? What does it mean for us and our employees?

The sweeping emergency response statute contains an expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But, unlike regular FMLA, the leave is paid. Districts are not exempt from this requirement. While private sector employers will be reimbursed through tax credits for the cost of providing this leave, local government employers, such as conservation districts, will not. There are two categories of paid leave with different rules and provisions. Here is a summary.

MRSC has this topic in their COVID-19 FAQs, which they’ve been updating frequently.

Here is additional detail regarding implementation of this new benefit: Department of Labor – Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Questions and Answers.

Can a district lay off staff rather than have them on paid FMLA under the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)?

A decision to lay off staff, place them on standby, furlough, or reduce hours should be discussed with Enduris prior to taking any action.

There could be significant liability associated with taking an employment action based on a person’s stated or perceived eligibility for FMLA or other benefits. That said, unemployment benefits have been enhanced due to the pandemic, and a job sharing provision has been added (for example, to use if you don’t have enough work for everyone, or if folks can’t work full time with kids at home). Here is the WA Employment Security Department’s COVID-19 Website. One or more of the benefits listed there might be a good match to your situation and could be less expensive than FFCRA leave. Definitely consult Enduris before you take action.

Is there anything I need to do to comply with the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) right now?

There’s a notification requirement. You are required to post this document in your workplace, or — the case that employees are working remotely — post on your website, send by mail, or email it to them. The requirement went into effect April 1, 2020.

What is a COVID-19 Protection Plan?

COVID-19 Protection Plans were referenced in recent memos from the Governor’s Office of Financial Management pertaining to the use of capital funds. No specific definitions or requirements for such a plan seem to be available to reference. In general, it’s a document that outlines the procedures, safeguards, and practices to be followed to mitigate the risk of spreading the coronavirus. If your district has determined that some operations are essential and will continue, it’s a good idea to document how your district will reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Important factors to consider for your own district plan:

There are other prudent practices for safety and health in workplaces outlined in this OSHA guidance.

4/29 Update: This FAQ is referencing putting together a COVID-19 Protection Plan for district activities and functions, rather than providing a plan for a contractor or landowner. Contractors should provide their own COVID-19 Protection Plan for their business activities and private landowners are not currently required to have their own plan.

Is there any guidance available for conservation districts on the Governor's Stay Home, Stay Safe proclamation and what constitutes essential activities/business services?

The Conservation Commission sought guidance from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General (AG) that you can read here. Ultimately, these decisions are up to individual districts. The SCC does not have the legal authority to designate organizations or staff within organizations as “essential.” However, the guidance from the AG’s office should help.

Contacts

  • Other questions about potential impacts to CD operations? Please contact your Regional Manager.
  • General questions about emergency preparedness and response? Please contact Bill Eller.
  • Have you found other resources that you think should be on this page? Please contact Laura Johnson.