The Coronavirus and the country’s response to this public health emergency are rapidly changing the daily realities of fleet-based businesses nationwide. While some states are still implementing stay-at-home rules, transportation, field service, utility and energy workers and myriad other fleet-based businesses have been categorized as essential services and continue to operate, although in a radically changed landscape.
The transportation industry is enduring severe challenges. Supply chain disruptions and nationwide emergency delivery needs are causing fleet managers, dispatchers, and drivers to work longer hours, while hauling in other areas. Examples of this include restaurant supply and equipment for live events being discontinued. What’s more, drivers are struggling to protect their health while out on the road, according to an article published in Heavy Duty Trucking magazine.
For trucking companies to be successful, they should be aware of the rules, have a plan, and execute the plan. While we will provide you some guidance in this blog post, it is always best to consult an attorney about particular legal questions.
Protection for Employees in Response to COVID-19
President Donald Trump on March 18, 2020, signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA became effective April 1, 2020 and is slated to expire on
December 31, 2020. This act mandates employers provide leave under the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (E-FMLA), as well as the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (E-PSLA). The FFCRA applies to private-sector employees with fewer than 500 employees. However, the law permits the Secretary of Labor to exempt small businesses – those with fewer than 50 employees – if the mandatory leave would jeopardize the viability of their business.
If an employee is unable to work because of a quarantine order, or has been urged not to work by a doctor, or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, they are entitled to two weeks paid sick leave, under the FFCRA. This is based on the higher of the employee’s regular pay rate or the applicable state or federal minimum. If an employee is unable to work because they are caring for an individual who meets the aforementioned criteria, they are eligible to collect two-thirds of their weekly pay.
The FFCRA also provides that if an employee is unable to work because of a need to care for a child who is under 18 because the child’s school or childcare provider is closed due to COVID-19, the first two weeks can be unpaid. An employee can choose to substitute accumulated vacation, personal or sick leave during this period, however, an employer will likely not require an employee to do so. The employee is eligible for the remaining 10 weeks of paid sick leave and family leave at two-thirds pay for as much as $200 daily and $12,000 total. What is encouraging for employers is that they can claim a limited refundable employment tax credit matching payments made to employees for E-FMLA, subject to maximum limits.
Strict screening protocols consisting of temperature checks, questionnaires, and testing when possible, are highly recommended to allow for the safe and successful return to work. Additionally, having PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) available, and adhering to government recommendations, are also advised.
While the trucking industry is well known for being hard working, it is important that employees stay away from the workplace and get medical guidance if they experience COVID-19 symptoms, or if they came into contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19. It might also be prudent to close shared workspaces like breakrooms or stagger their use and clean or disinfect between users.
Landmark Ruling Announced by FMCSA
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on May 14, 2020, published a highly anticipated final rule updating hours-of-service (HOS) rules for commercial motor vehicle drivers that offer the industry more flexibility.
This new rule addresses long standing key concerns of the industry, including:
- The 30-minute break rule
- Sleeper-birth rules
- Changes to adverse driving conditions exceptions
- Changes to short-haul exception
As of April 9, 2020, the FMCSA extended through May 15, 2020 its Emergency Declaration providing HOS and other regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This declaration was expanded further to cover liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems.
While the FMCSA did extend the Emergency Declaration, our attorneys at Roberts Jones Law are raising the possibility that drivers are on the road fatigued. As such, it is vital that trucking companies encourage their drivers, no matter what they are hauling, to get the appropriate rest to remain alert and attentive at all times.
Taking simple, pro-active measures will help keep your employees and their loved ones safe, and your trucks on the road.
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This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain legal advice.