Employment Issues Surrounding COVID-19

Employment Issues Surrounding COVID-19

By: Kristy Peters, Shareholder, Littler Mendelson

Over the past year, employers have had to pivot frequently to comply with changing laws and guidance. This blog sets forth some key issues employers should consider with regard to employees in the COVID-19 environment.

Workplace Safety

Arizona employers are currently required to implement symptom screening for employees prior to the start of their shift to include wellness/symptom checks, including temperature checks, when possible, as employees arrive on premises or before opening. It is recommended that employees wear face masks in businesses where service cannot be provided without physical distancing. Note, different states and cities have different screening and mask requirements for on-site work so you will want to check the specific jurisdiction when developing policies. 

On January 29, 2021, the U.S. Department of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released guidance for employers that contains recommendations as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. The OSHA guidance encourages employers to implement COVID-19 prevention programs in the workplace to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at work. Four key elements that should be included in a COVID-19 prevention program include: 

  1. Identification of where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work by conducting a hazard assessment. 
  2. Identification of a combination of measures that will limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. 
  3. Instructing workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.  
  4. Implementing protections from retaliation and setting up an anonymous process for workers to voice concerns about COVID-19-related hazards. 

The guidance also discusses return-to-work criteria, social distancing measures, engineering controls, face coverings and personal protective equipment, and sanitization, cleaning, and disinfecting practices.

COVID-19 Testing

There are a number of legal considerations involved with the decision to implement COVID-19 testing for employees. When deciding which employees to test and how frequently to test them, employers must tailor their testing program to make sure it aligns with the objective of reducing the direct threat of COVID-19 infection in the workplace. 

First, employers must choose a test that provides accurate and reliable results. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) opined that antibody tests should not be used because they are not sufficiently accurate or reliable. 

Employers should also avoid using antigen tests. When selecting a virus test, employers need to confirm the test’s reliability before using it to test employees and make employment decisions. 

Second, employers should use a HIPAA-compliant authorization form from employees to provide to the testing laboratory when the testing laboratory is subject to HIPAA. If the laboratory is not HIPAA compliant, the authorization form does not need to be HIPAA compliant, but there are benefits in using a HIPAA-compliant laboratory. 

Third, once an employer receives COVID-19 test results, the employer should implement safeguards and procedures to maintain the confidentiality of the medical information.


Vaccination requirements implicate a number of federal civil rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and the religious protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). 

On December 16, 2020, the EEOC issued guidance to employers related to these federal obligations. While the EEOC guidance did not directly state that mandatory vaccination policies are lawful, the guidance focused on how an employer should respond to requests from employees who cannot or do not wish to obtain a vaccination, suggesting that requiring a vaccination as a condition of returning to the workplace is not per se unlawful provided that certain conditions are met. Specifically, employers that wish to adopt mandatory vaccination policies may be obligated to provide exemptions or accommodations to employees with religious objections, pregnant workers, and employees with disabilities that may prevent them from obtaining a vaccination. Additionally, employers should consider the availability of vaccinations to its workforce when developing vaccination policies. 

Some employers are considering providing awards to employees to incentivize vaccinations. If providing incentives, employers need to take into account various laws, including HIPAA, the ADA, Title VII, and wage and hour laws. Specifically, where the award is health-related or tied to the employer’s group health plan, a “wellness plan” may be established. 

There are many government regulations that govern wellness plans, with some key regulations within HIPAA and the ADA. Employers may need to have reasonable alternatives available to employees to receive the incentive, depending on the circumstances, so all employees have the opportunity to participate. 

With regard to wage and hour laws, employers need to determine whether the time spent receiving a vaccine is compensable time that must be paid. If employers choose to provide a bonus to employees who receive a vaccine, it is unlikely that the incentivizing bonus will be considered “discretionary” under the Fair Labor Standards Act, so it will likely need to be included in the regular rate of pay when calculating overtime for employees. 

Wage and hour obligations vary greatly by jurisdiction, so employers will need to evaluate these considerations in each jurisdiction.

Employee Leaves

On March 6, 2021, the U.S Senate passed its version of President Biden’s “American Rescue Plan.” Key provisions of this bill impacting small business are as follows:

  • FFCRA Leave: The bill continues to allow employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide leave for certain COVID-19-related reasons. The cost of this leave is fully set off by refundable federal tax credits through September 30, 2021. The bill also expands the leave for which reimbursed leave is permitted (such as obtaining a vaccination).
  • Paycheck Protection Program: The bill adds an additional $7.25 billion to last year’s Paycheck Protection Program, which provided for fully forgivable loans for certain employers, provided they maintained payroll and headcount.
  • Gig Company Reporting Requirements: The bill changes current reporting requirements for “third-party network” transactions. Under current law, companies are not required to report certain information about earners who use their platforms unless the amount exceeds $20,000 and is a result of 200 or more transactions. Under the new law, that threshold is reduced to a flat $600, irrespective of the number of transactions. 

Arizona employees are also entitled to earned paid sick time. For employers with 15 or more employees, employees are entitled to accrue a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours per year. For employers with less than 15 employees, employees are entitled to accrue a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 24 hours per year. 

Remote Work

Many employees are telecommuting which can raise different legal issues. Employers should keep the following issues in mind when employees are telecommuting – especially if they are relocating to a different jurisdiction:

  • Whether this affects state and local taxation obligations
  • Whether the employer is required to register to do business in the new jurisdiction
  • Whether there are new or additional paid sick leave obligations
  • Whether there are counting issues that create obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act or similar state laws
  • Whether there are different minimum wage or salary exemption laws
  • Whether there are different meal and rest break requirements
  • Whether there are required job posters, pay data reporting, or hiring notifications
  • Whether there are wage-theft notice requirements where none previously existed
  • Whether there are unemployment insurance payment obligations
  • Whether there is a change in workers’ compensation obligations

For example, if you have an Arizona employee who is working remotely from California, you may be subject to daily overtime obligations and meal and rest break requirements, which are significantly different than obligations under Arizona law.

These are complex issues and jurisdiction specific. Employers need to keep these considerations in mind as their employees work remotely from other locations.


Legal obligations for employers have changed at rapid speed over the past year. Littler Mendelson is a global employment law firm with over 1,600 employment attorneys. The firm has stayed on top of these ever-changing issues. Littler publishes articles on key employment related developments which anyone can subscribe. Littler also provides COVID-19 resources on its website: www.littler.com/covid-19. Please feel free to reach out to Kristy Peters, [email protected] or (602) 474-3639, for assistance with any employment law issues.

Phoenix’s largest entrepreneur event back for seventh year

Phoenix’s largest entrepreneur event back for seventh year

Weeklong event expanded full month with Flagstaff, Tucson, Local First Arizona and Arizona Commerce Authority joining.

PHOENIX, ARIZ – (March 16, 2021) – PHX Startup Week, a grassroots event that started in 2014, is expanding even further in 2021 as Arizona’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is uniting, growing and overcoming the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the month of April, key organizations across the state are teaming up to shine a spotlight on Arizona’s resilient small businesses and entrepreneurial community through the Startup Together AZ partnership. Throughout the month of April, attendees will join thousands of diverse entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors at virtual events to learn, connect, and be inspired by the innovation and creativity of Arizona.

“A vibrant entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem is a critical component in the overall success of Arizona’s economy,” said Sandra Watson, president & CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority. “We’re very proud to partner with organizations statewide to present Startup Together AZ as a part of our efforts to support startups and small businesses. This month-long series of events will help participants learn new skills, build valuable connections through networking, and showcase the important resources available in our state.”

Examples of programming offerings include: 

  • Arizona Commerce Authority hosting a Mentor Mania and Small Business Boot Camp
  • Startup Tucson hosting IdeaFunding
  • Southern Arizona’s largest pitch competition
  • Moonshot at NACET in Flagstaff doing a Business of Bio Boot Camp, a biotech and life sciences boot camp for emerging and established entrepreneurs
  • Local First Arizona hosting a Good Business Summit to focus on small business perseverance, social justice and environmental action. 

Attendees can visit www.startuptogetheraz.com to view the full calendar of events. 

“We are excited to be teaming up with premiere entrepreneurial organizations across the state to focus on entrepreneurship and supporting small businesses for the full month of April,” said Dre Voelkel, executive vice president, Startup Tucson. “We have coordinated our events to be inclusive of both Main Street businesses and high-growth startups. Startup Tucson is excited for working with state partners to address the pressing concerns of our community in a timely way.”  

The month will end with PHX Startup Week, five days of keynote speakers, workshops and tactical learning sessions. The week will culminate with partnership panels and Q&A’s hosted by Golden Seeds, an international women-led investment group, as well as Invest Southwest’s Venture Madness team who will lead a discussion of best practices on how to take advantage of the live-pitch competition planned for October.

“As one of the largest angel investor networks in the United States, Golden Seeds has nearly 300 members whose skills, networks and mentorships offer a unique opportunity to support early-stage entrepreneurs,” said Annie Brooks, managing director, Arizona chapter of Golden Seeds. “Our determination ensures women-led, gender-diverse companies receive the funding they need and have an opportunity to succeed. We invite you to our virtual fireside chat, ‘If you could ask an investor one question,’ an event programmed at PHX Startup Week on April 30, 2021. We are excited to hear from innovative businesses, and continue to support our Arizona entrepreneurs.” 

Kate Rogers Sieker, a veteran to PHX Startup Week, is spearheading the volunteer-led event for the third year. To participate in PHX Startup Week, visit www.PHXStartupWeek.com.

In a move to help unify and amplify the community, Sieker is also taking over as lead for #yesphx (www.yesphx.com), a hashtag that has served as a collaborative social media presence to connect the Phoenix entrepreneurial ecosystem for over seven years. This organic community effort is what eventually led to PHX Startup Week, instigated by community leaders such as Jonathan Cottrell, Matt Simpson, Vincent Orleck, and many others. The #yesphx digital connection platform will continue to align, amplify, and connect the entrepreneur community of Greater Phoenix. 

Sieker is also leading ThrivePHX (www.ThrivePhx.co), an initiative dedicated to preserving, supporting and growing diversity and inclusion in the state through connection, continuity and community communication. 

“Creating unification and support with all these community programs is a natural next step for the momentum our community has generated,” Sieker said. “I am so excited to see what the future holds for our ecosystem.”

PHX Startup Week press contact:
Hayley Ringle
602-499-0352 – cell 
[email protected]

Why Your Next Hire Should Be a Veteran

Why Your Next Hire Should Be a Veteran

By: Erica Scott, Founder, Civilian Connections

Did you know that there is a readily available pool of loyal, dedicated, and technically advanced job candidates?

Did you know that there are tax credits available for hiring them?

Yes, it’s true, and if you’re not employing veterans, you’re missing out on these benefits and more.

You hire. You fire. Rinse and repeat. The ebbs and flows of running a business can make your head spin. Worrying about having the right people, in the right seats, at the right time used to keep me up at night. After all, employees are a company’s most significant assets, and a bad hire can cause major damage.

When I began hiring veterans, those worries evaporated. Military experience had given these veterans gifts that translated into significant advantages in the civilian business world. Here are just a few reasons why it’s in your best interest to hire veterans.

OG techies. Sure, civilians get excited about new technology, but when I show my veteran friends the latest advance, they’ve already seen it or something very similar to it. I attended a panel of IT experts recently, and one of the panelists explained that technology is released in the following order: nation-states, military, general population. Veterans have no fear or hesitancy with new technology because their training has instilled the desire to learn and master anything new or up and coming. They’ve been there and done that.

Drama-free. Hiring veterans made my life much easier and less stressful. You won’t have to worry about day-to-day operational decisions that take you away from growing the business. Any obstacles or team building necessary to complete the mission is already a part of their strategic planning. Nothing is going to stop them from completing a project successfully.

Trusted advisors. Hire people who are smarter than you. This is a game-changer. Many of the veterans in my circle are smarter than I am—and I think I’m pretty darn smart. Hiring veterans means you’ll have employees who are your advisors, who help you see and think differently. No business owner or visionary disrupts the status quo alone. Being able to consult with veterans and ask them “What do you think?” is the best feeling in the world. Veterans have a brother- and sisterhood among them that very few civilians will ever understand. If you allow them to do their thing, they will have your back.

Faster, better, cheaper. The veterans I hired completed tasks at a record pace with flawless execution. This drive comes from a deep understanding of the goal, stakeholders, and how to get there while minimizing risk. Veterans have been trained to be fiscally responsible, so any opportunities for saving money or increasing the return on investment is in their DNA. Veterans just get it done.

If you’re looking to employ the best and the brightest for your company, hire veterans. Veterans will not only make your company more efficient and productive, but they will also change your culture. Under the influence of veterans’ poise, leadership, and commitment, the people in your company will evolve to excellence.

Erica Scott is the founder and geek at Civilian Connections. She finds the right talent and puts them in the right seats, driving business growth. Erica focuses on translating the skills of our military veterans for the right employer. Matching veterans in their new profession is an achievement like no other as veterans have the opportunity to continue to serve with purpose in their role as a civilian. This is a gift and companies get the benefit of employing talented and loyal employees. Erica believes a key component to innovation in the United States resides in our military population. Veterans change the lives of everyone they encounter because they place service to others above their self-interests. Erica knows this firsthand and has been fortunate to not only work with veterans but is proud to know them because they are people of character. People enjoy working with Erica because she has a knack for uncovering what makes people tick, finding just the right words to express what is in their hearts. Discovering the right words uncovers the potential that helps veterans see their best selves.

When Erica is not working to support veterans, you can find her having fun at Comic-Con festivals, visiting local restaurants to satisfy some foodie interests, and speaking Russian.

UNMET Coming to Arizona as Venture Attraction Continues to Sizzle

UNMET Coming to Arizona as Venture Attraction Continues to Sizzle

The Arizona Commerce Authority is proud to once again sponsor PHX Startup Week, and we can say with confidence that this event is an exciting kickstart to the suite of signature innovation-focused events scheduled for 2020.

So, there is no better place than this to announce some exciting venture attraction opportunities coming to Arizona.

This spring, the ACA, in partnership with Stout Street Capital, will host the largest venture capital conference in state history. UNMET Arizona 2020 will feature 100 fast-growing tech companies that will have access to more than 120 institutional investors from across the country.

The UNMET Conference will serve another tool helping to facilitate increased deal flow, furthering Arizona’s reputation as the best place to test, launch and scale new ideas and new technologies.

This reputation of Arizona’s vibrant innovation ecosystem has been cemented under the leadership of Governor Ducey, who has consistently advanced policies that embrace emerging technologies and serve as a draw for new venture capital making its way to Arizona.

Our state posted a record-breaking year in 2019, with more than $1.1 billion invested by venture capital firms in Arizona-based companies. The investment represents 206 deals. Clearly, Arizona’s innovation ecosystem is humming with big ideas and bold entrepreneurs. And our growing venture attraction portfolio is helping those ideas commercialize.

UNMET Arizona 2020 will be held May 12-14 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. As part of the event, we will be celebrating the graduates of the ACA’s Venture Ready Accelerator business mentorship program, which will feature a graduation showcase, reception and kickoff gala.

Arizona is home to visionary entrepreneurs and industry-leading companies at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies. We’re confident the momentum will continue, and together, we’ll continue to make Arizona a national model of startup success.

This blog post was written and submitted by Arizona Commerce Authority. Thank you to the ACA for their generous support of PHX Startup Week 2020.

What is your business’ Unique Selling Proposition?

What is your business’ Unique Selling Proposition?

You may have heard that question at some point when you were building your business or starting up. USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition. 

In very simple terms, why should I buy from you versus anyone else?  What makes you different? Unique?

After presenting the “ ABC’s of Starting a Business workshop” for years, presented by SCORE Greater Phoenix, it is evident how many people do not have a clear focus on what their business is and who problems they solve and to whom are they solving those problems for. We hear extra filler junk, such as. “I am like the UBER of XXX.” So, what I heard is that you have a billion-dollar valuation, are in the debt over a billion dollars and have not been profitable and probably will never be profitable. Not good.

So how can you create your own very compelling USP?

Simple. Follow this simple formula and create your own USP. Think of it as your elevator pitch.

First, write down your target marketing Now you may have more than one, but not more than three. Why? Because if your message is trying to be everything to everyone, no one cares, and no one wants to hear it. They want someone to solve their problems-not the world’s. Be specific on who your market is. If it’s dentists, then what kind of dentist? Orthodontist? Periodontist? General? Oral? Etc. 

Be specific. “My company works with orthodontists.”

Next, write down at least 25 problems your target customer has, then write down 10 more. This will really help in your business down the road. Identify the top 3 problems your target market has based on your list. How do you know what the top 3 problems are? Hopefully, you know why your customers are doing business with you. If not, ask them what problems/challenges your product/service solves for them.  If you don’t have customers yet, then meet with a mentor to have them help you find those top 3 challenges. You also may know what 3 challenges you want to solve for your customers-but it must be in alignment with THEIR needs.  I.E. Orthodontists problems are; patients not showing up for appointments, potential clients not having insurance to get braces (cost) and finding good staff. 

Now write down at least one solution to each one of the problems you outlined in the last step. Be specific. Using our dentist as an example; send out email, text and voice mail reminders for the appointment, providing another insurance solution if they don’t have insurance, use a systematic process to hire great staff.

Let’s put your USP all together. 

“My company works with elite orthodontists who have challenges obtaining new patients and attracting high level staff. We help them develop acquisition and retention strategies to build their practice and their team.”

You may be thinking, how did I get that USP from the exercise. It’s simple. THEIR problem is getting new patients in because they don’t have insurance, keeping patients and getting new staff. The USP says that in a language that is speaking to the orthodontist-not to anyone else. Now, if another type of dentist heard this, would they want to know more from you? Absolutely. You can alter your USP to your market. 

I.E. “My company works with elite dentists who have challenges obtaining new patients and attracting high level staff. We help them develop acquisition and retention strategies to build their practice and their team.”

See how that works. You must speak to your audience. It’s NOT about you. It’s about who you serve, what are their problems and how are you solving them. 

Stop being the Uber, Apple, Tesla, Google, or whatever other company you want to compare yourself to. They have their USP. Here are a few.

  • Uber: Ride when you want, where you want
  • Apple:  We provide a lifestyle with our products
  • FedEx: When your package absolutely, positively has to get there overnight
  • Coke: The real thing
  • Google: Access the world from your fingertips

You are NOT them. They have established themselves in the market, you are working on establishing yourself.

Speak to your audience, be unique, be you. They do not have to define their market; it has already been defined.

Create your USP today.  Be clear.

This Blog is provided by SCORE  Greater Phoenix, Steve Feld a SCORE Certified Mentor.  

 SCORE provides free one-on-one mentoring for entrepreneurs and small businesses, as well as free or low-cost workshops for small businesses in the Phoenix area throughout the year.  Visit GreaterPhoenix.Score.org for information or contact Joyce Keane, Chapter Vice-Chair at [email protected].