Dinsmore Tampa Partner Lisa Hodgdon Discusses Effect of COVID-19 on Employment Law
Lisa Hodgdon joined Dinsmore's Tampa office as a partner of counsel in the firm's Labor & Employment department in September. Last week, she spoke with the Tampa Bay Business Journal about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment law.
"Covid-19 has been a perfect storm for litigation," said Lisa Hodgdon, who recently joined Dinsmore's Tampa office, in part to handle the rise in pandemic-related litigation. "You've got a large number of employees who are financially impacted and new laws on the books with evolving guidance. ... We have a hurricane plan in Florida but we didn't have a pandemic plan, and we were putting that plan together for employers at the same time as it was going on."
For Hodgdon, who joined Dinsmore from Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, it has been a very busy year. It started in mid-March with the passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which marked the first time the federal government had a paid leave law on the books.
"That law, in the beginning, had a lot of uncertainty — guidance was issued regularly and being updated continually, which presented another challenge for employers," Hodgdon said.
More than six months after Covid-19 ground everything to a halt, most businesses have employees back in the office or are at least planning to do so. Hodgdon has several recommendations for employers who want to be proactive about reopening without running into legal issues.
Her first recommendation is for every employer to have an employee handbook, and make sure that accommodation policies, teleworking policies and security policies are all up-to-date with the latest guidance from such governing bodies as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She said employers should do everything they can to stay in touch with their employees and let them know what the employer is doing to keep them safe and what resources are available for employees.
"Employers must stay in touch with employees," she said. "It can greatly decrease tensions."
Most importantly, companies should have a thorough plan in place for returning their employees to the office.
While this pandemic will eventually end, some of the changes it has wrought may last for some time, and the field of employment law is no exception. Hodgdon said employers are now revising employment agreements to include clauses that address pandemics in the same way such agreements would address other natural disasters.
"In general, we wrote it so that an individual's pay or number of hours could be revised if a pandemic arose to allow employers flexibility," she said. She added that such provisions would also address local and state ordinances that shut down businesses and prevent employees from working.
At the federal level, the paid leave requirements passed in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act are set to expire at the end of the year, but neither Hodgdon nor Hays said they would be shocked if the requirement was extended, depending on the results of the election or whether there is a Covid-19 vaccine.
To read the full article, click here.