Hello! How are you? I hope you and everyone you know and love are healthy in body, mind, and spirit.
Earlier, I was cleaning up this site and saw an earlier post, which began, “It’s March, and I couldn’t be happier!” Clearly, I was a little premature with that celebration! (Ya think?)
I apologize for being absent last week. As some of you know, I’ve been sending a daily update email on everything COVID-19 to a few hundred people for weeks. So, by the time last Friday came around, I needed a break from thinking and writing. But, I’m back! (We’ll see if that’s good news or not.)
If you’ve had children home with you for a few weeks, I’m guessing you’ve heard, “that’s not fair!” a time or two. When our kids were young, and fairness challenged, I told them, “life is never fair, it’s just more obvious when you can’t have something you want.” (Right. I’ll bet that calms a screaming five-year-old instantly.) But, what is the appropriate response when adults feel shortchanged?
More than a few clients have called and emailed concerning CARES-envy. (I know you made that name up.) This soon-to-be wide-spread issue occurs when employees who are, and have been, working during the COVID-19 crisis learn that co-workers are being paid their full wages—or more—even though they’re not working. From my conversations, I’ve identified two forms of this malady:
- CARES-envy UI; and
- CARES-envy PPP.
CARES-envy UI (Are you serious? That sounds like a Law & Order knock-off.) This occurs when an employee, who has continued to work during the COVID-19 crisis, learns that their furloughed/laid-off co-workers are collecting weekly state unemployment insurance (“UI”) benefits, PLUS an additional $600/week federal emergency UI benefit authorized by the CARES Act. In NY, state weekly UI benefits range from $104 to $504. Under the CARES Act, workers will receive a $600 emergency UI benefit in any week they are eligible for $1 or more in underlying UI benefits. (Wait, $1 is a typo, right?) For example, a furloughed worker whose regular weekly wages were $620, will receive a weekly state UI benefit of approximately $310, PLUS $600, for a total weekly UI benefit of $910. That’s $290/week more than their wages would have been if they were working.
CARES-envy PPP occurs when an employee who has continued to work during the COVID-19 crisis learns that their employer is going to pay employees, who are not working, their regular weekly wage. This will happen because, an employer approved for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) must use at least 75 percent of the loan for payroll and related expenses, and maintain the number of workers employed before the COVID-19 crisis began. If the employer uses the money as required, the loan will be forgiven. For example, Barb’s Bears, a company that creates and produces Teddy bears and other plush toys, had 50 employees at the beginning of February. Because it is not an essential business, all the manufacturing employees, a total of 40, were furloughed on March 20. Eight of the remaining employees are able to work from home, and two maintenance professionals work separate shifts at the factory to ensure the building and equipment are safe and secure. Soon after being approved for a PPP loan, Barb, the owner, notified all the employees that the company received the loan and the furlough will end April 26. She explained that, although none of the furloughed employees will be able to return to work, the company is required to use the proceeds from the PPP loan to pay their wages for the next eight weeks. Shortly after the announcement, Barb received calls from three employees who have, and will continue to work from home. Each told Barb they were angry that they had to continue working while almost all the other employees will be paid to sit home and do nothing. “It’s not fair!”
Here’s the rub as I see it. In some ways, these employees are not wrong. I’m not saying they’re right, just not entirely wrong. (OK…wait, what?) What’s worse, as business owners, HR professionals, managers, and responsible adults, we don’t have a good answer to, “it’s not fair!” In part, because it isn’t fair. We can try to explain that, “these are unintended consequences of the federal government’s actions to financially protect the unemployed and small businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.” (Ummm, was it really unintended? There was that well-known senator from VT who threatened to block a vote on the bill if any changes were made to the $600/week UI benefit.) But, already upset, employees are going to hear, “blah, blah, blah— it’s not my fault—blah, blah, blah—blame the government—blah, blah, blah.” I strongly suggest you not get frustrated and say something like, “quit your bitching, you’re lucky to have a job!” At best, that will make the situation much worse. Or, you might hear, “Lucky? Screw you! Lucky is getting paid not to work, or making more on unemployment than you’re paying me to work during a F&%KING PANDEMIC! (Excuse me, language!)
Do you have any ideas? If so, I’d love to hear them! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Please feel free to contact Frank at email@example.com, or 585-380-1566 with questions or for more information.
Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only, does not constitute a legal opinion, and is not legal advice. The facts of each situation should be considered and analyzed individually. Therefore, you should always consult with competent employment counsel regarding any issues discussed here.
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