RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: What to do if an employee tests postive for COVID-19 - 8/21/2020
We got lucky: an employee, who was asymptomatic at work but tripped one of the screening factors r...
Posted: Friday, August 21, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

We got lucky: an employee, who was asymptomatic at work but tripped one of the screening factors requiring him to stay home, was tested and found NEGATIVE for COVID-19.

Our employee is coming back to work, but I have been wondering...what if the test came back POSITIVE?  If we have to quarantine all our employees, we'd be shut down completely!

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

First: that is good news about your employee.

Second: a gold star to your library for having a screening system that works, and for following the requirement to restrict an employee who trips a screening factor from on-site work while waiting for test results.

Third: Let's talk about your alternate scenario (the one where you don't get such good news).

As of August 17, 2020, any library[1] that is up and running should have a Safety Plan as required by both the guidance for "Office-based Work", and "Retail Business Activities" (we'll call this the "Guidance").

The Guidance includes the requirement to fill out a New York Forward Business Affirmation Form, which attests to having a Safety Plan.  It also answers the member’s question about what to do if an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

Here is what the Guidance (as of 8/18/2020) requires:

An individual who screens positive for COVID-19 symptoms must not be allowed to enter the office and must be sent home with instructions to contact their healthcare provider for assessment and testing.

Responsible Parties should remotely provide such individuals with information on healthcare and testing resources.

Responsible Parties must immediately notify the state and local health department about the case if test results are positive for COVID-19.

Responsible Parties should refer to DOH’s “Interim Guidance for Public and Private Employees Returning to Work Following COVID-19 Infection or Exposure”[2] regarding protocols and policies for employees seeking to return to work after a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 or after the employee had close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19.

So, the answer to the member's question: "What if the test came back positive?" is: "[I]immediately notify the state and local health department."

After that, the direction from the local health department may vary, but the Guidance requires:

If an employee has had close or proximate contact[3] with a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time AND is experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, the employee may return to work upon completing at least 10 days of isolation from the onset of symptoms.

...[and]...

If an employee has had close or proximate contact with a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time AND is not experiencing COVID-19 related symptoms, the employee may return to work upon completing 14 days of self-quarantine.

And after that, things can really vary.  But in a scenario where every employee of the library came within six feet[4] of their (now confirmed as) infected co-worker, the library really could be looking at up to two weeks of employees in self-quarantine...along with any other response required by the local health department.

This is not a feel-good scenario.  But the good news is, the same Guidance that requires a library[5] to require employees to isolate also reduces the likelihood of such a remedy being needed.  This is because the Guidance also requires a host of preventative practices to limit exposure in the first place, including:

  • Staggering shifts to limit "close or proximate contact," between people;
  • Creating and posting clear signage;
  • Consistently enforcing masking, cleaning, and social distancing practices

If a library maps these things out for employees, and consistently enforces them, there will be less need for the "isolation/quarantine" sections.  While right now, there is no magic bullet, the simple elements of your library's Safety Plan can reduce the need for quarantine.

And that's it; thanks for a great question.  I hope this answer never has to come in handy for your library.  But just in case it does: here’s a quick checklist for the steps listed in this response [6]:

"CHECKLIST FOR RESPONDING TO NOTICE OF COVID-19 EXPOSURE AT THE LIBRARY; TO BE USED IN CONJUCTION WITH UPDATED SAFETY PLAN"

  • However the library was notified of the potential close/proximate contact, obtain a copy of the notice in writing (or send a confirmation e-mail to the source);
  • As required by the most recent New York Forward Guidance, notify the library's local public health Department (both in person and in writing), and factor in their response[7];
  • As required by the most recent New York Forward Guidance and the library's Safety Plan, determine who (if anyone) else must be restricted from the workplace, for how long; and if any further testing must be required;
  • Ensure the library is taking steps to protect the privacy of any employees disclosing screening factors (like a high temperature);
  • Ensure the library is taking steps to assess if any employee must be given paid time off or will need assistance to claim short-term disability or Paid Family Leave Act benefits;
  • Generate a short statement reviewing the above check listed factors, summarizing what your library has done for each step, and make sure you retain copies of all documentation showing you completed these steps;
  • Once these actions are taken and these determinations are made, notify your Board of Trustees of the critical aspects of the situation, but take care to respect the privacy of employees.


Here is a template notice to the board, designed to reflect taking the necessary steps, while also protecting employee privacy: 

On ____________, the library received notification of an [individual/employee] testing positive for COVID-19. As required by current guidance from the State, we notified the Health Department immediately.  At this time, the direction from the local health department is _____________________________________[this may be extensive]. 

We have determined that # employees must self-isolate until they DATE. 

We have determined that # employees must self-quarantine until DATE. 

We have confirmed with the health department that as a result of this notice and response, and consultation with the [Executive Committee of the board/full board/board officer/other] we will [close/reduce operations/operate under the status quo], unless the board determines otherwise. 

Our Safety Plan has been followed and we have retained the documentation showing such compliance.

 



[1] Any library that does not consider itself "operated by a local government or political subdivision", that is, since the New York Forward guidance specifically states that the various Executive Orders' business restrictions do not apply to such libraries.

[3] According to the Guidance, "close contact" is "to be someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 10 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset until the time the person was isolated."

[4] This should NOT be happening!

[5] Remember, local governments and political subdivisions may decide not to follow these precise requirements.  That said, if it determines it is operated by a local government or political subdivision, a library must then follow the safety plan set by that local government or political subdivision.

[6] Some of this isn't required by applicable laws or Guidance, but is in there to position a library to easily show it followed applicable laws and Guidance.

[7] While keeping confidentiality at top of mind, libraries need to think carefully about a voluntary system allowing users to log visits for purposes of contact tracing.  A voluntary list of names, dates and times, maintained with all due care for privacy, can position a library to participate in a local health department's contact tracing initiative.  This can in turn help a community reduce its rate of transmission.

Tags: COVID-19, Emergency Response, Policy, Quarantine Leave, Safety, Public Health, Safety Plan

Topic: COVID-19 and part-time pay - 3/16/2020
Can libraries, using public money, pay part-time staff if they are either forced to close due to t...
Posted: Monday, March 16, 2020 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Can libraries, using public money, pay part-time staff if they are either forced to close due to the COVID-19 or if the employee is forced to self-quarantine?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

This is a very specific question, during a very specific, difficult time.  So before we delve into the answer, I want to be clear: every library dealing with the human resource considerations of a pandemic response should assemble the following, and be ready to draft a custom approach that takes into consideration:

  • Safety policies
  • Library bylaws
  • Emergency closure and compensation policies
  • Employee manual
  • Collection Bargaining Agreement(s) (if in place)
  • Insurance policy (the section to check specifically is the coverage for business interruption)
  • Up-to-the-minute declarations or advisories from relevant authorities and relationships (Center for Disease Control, congressional representatives, Governor, state representatives, County Health Department, Library System, local Civil Service contact, State Library Development rep, payroll service/entity handling payroll)
  • Employee Assistance Program (“EAP”) (if relevant)

After examining these resources, some libraries may find they already have “Emergency Closure,” “Quarantine Leave” and even “Pandemic Response” policies that address this question.  They might even find that their library’s EAP program will offer help to employees struggling to find childcare or eldercare.

Still other libraries may find that while they don’t have pandemic-specific policies, their policies for compensation during times of natural disasters or declared states of emergency will apply to this situation—including for part-timers.[1]

And finally, by examining the listed materials and working with the listed resources, a library can position itself to develop new, customized policies for safety (first!) and compensation continuity during a pandemic emergency.  Further, they will be able to coordinate their response with their system and emergency response efforts in their region.

So, with that said, below is the answer to the member’s question, which must be divided into two parts: compensation during emergency closure, and compensation during quarantine.

After that, I include commentary on the roots of the authority you’ll see in the answers.  And finally, I offer a sample policy and resolution for libraries that have no provisions for emergency closure pay and pandemic response, and want to proceed with maximum flexibility as they address this national crisis.

To the greatest extent possible, all of this should be done with the input of the library’s lawyer.

Compensation During Emergency Closure

NOTE:  Before taking any action, check to ensure your library’s collective bargaining agreement, if there is one, does not have a relevant provision regarding compensation during emergency closure.  This is critical.

A policy for compensation continuance during emergency closure is distinct from policies for paid leave (even though some libraries may already use their paid leave policies to address the ability to pay staff during an emergency).  Essentially, the library must identify if it 1) wishes to keep employees on call for their regular or reduced hours, even if the library is closed; and 2) what tasks those people can do, even if it is simply being “on call.

As the members question implies, a library’s provisions for this may vary based on the employment category of the employee (the variables might even go beyond the distinction of “part” and “full” time).

Here is a sample provision enabling this approach as part of an “Emergency Closure Policy” or “Pandemic Response Plan:”

Paid leave during emergency closure

When the library temporarily closes due to a declared state of emergency, and all or some employees are instructed not to come in to work, upon a vote of the board, compensation shall continue as follows:

[insert your library’s employee categories and method of compensation continuation; be careful to insert DURATION and any TIME/AMOUNT LIMIT of pay, and modes of calculation.  For example:

“Full-time staff shall be paid at their regular rate of pay.  Part-time staff shall be paid for their regularly scheduled shifts; for part-time staff with variable schedules, the weekly amount will be based on an average of the last three pay cycles, or as determined by the board.]

To be eligible for compensation during a time of emergency closure or reduced hours, employees must be ready, willing and able to work remotely on projects identified by library leadership during their regularly scheduled working hours, and must complete such duties as assigned.  When performing tasks remotely, employees should note the time worked through the usual process for logging hours.

Because an emergency compensation continuance policy builds on employees’ ability to work remotely, a policy for remote work is a good companion piece to this type of policy.

Libraries should also bear in mind that injuries during remote work can be covered by Workers’ Compensation, and should ensure that any remote-work policy consider how the set up remote working as a safe experience.

Quarantine Leave

“Quarantine leave,” is paid time off during a time of quarantine (which can be imposed, or self-imposed), as a specific policy allows.

NOTE: “Quarantine leave,” is actually always available to state civil service employees.  In fact, at the onset of New York’s Covid-19 response, the Governor declared that all state civil service employees would be eligible for up to two weeks of quarantine leave,[2] regardless of classification, and as of this writing, nationwide coverage for certain private-sector employees is under development. CSEA, the union for public sector civil service workers (including library employees), is posting updates on this, as well, and libraries with CSEA bargaining units should stay attuned to that resource.[3]

How can publicly funded libraries implement Quarantine Leave?

NOTE:  Before taking any action, check to ensure your collective bargaining agreement, if you have one, does not have a relevant provision (chances are it will).

A good model for a “Quarantine Leave Policy” can be found in the state’s civil service law; below is a sample, with some additional language regarding part-time compensation:

If a full or part-time employee who is not personally ill is required to remain absent because of quarantine imposed by a governing authority, or if during a declared emergency an employee determines to self-quarantine and such employee presents a written statement of the attending physician or local health officer proving the necessity of such absence, such employee shall be granted leave with pay for the period of the required absence. Such pay shall cover the employee’s routine hours (part-time hours will be based on an average of the most recent three pay periods, or as set by the board).  Prior to return to duty, such employee may be required to submit a written statement, from the local health officer having jurisdiction, that return to duty will not jeopardize the health of other employees.

To be eligible for compensation during quarantine leave, employees must be ready, willing and able to work remotely on projects identified by library leadership during their regularly scheduled working hours, and must complete such duties as assigned.  When performing tasks remotely, employees should note the time worked through the usual process for logging hours.

Like with all employment policy, this is not something to adopt without a thorough scan of the above-listed documents, to ensure your library has no contradicting bylaws, contracts, policies, or hire letters.

We just want to pay people during a hard time, what could the concerns be?

There are three primary things that can get in the way of simply committing to pay people through a state of emergency: a union contract with set terms regarding emergency pay, concern over “unconstitutional use of public funds”, and budget concerns.

Concern #1: Union contracts

As you’ll note from my many caveats and uses of bold in the sections above, paying attention to a union contract (if your library is a party to one), and working with your local bargaining unit as you craft your pandemic response is a high priority at this time.  A good union will be looking out for their members’ health and well-being—but will also be looking out for failure of the employer to adhere to the current contract.

What happens if your union contract states that part-timers will not get emergency pay for emergency closure or quarantine?  Unless something is changed, in writing, and agreed to with the bargaining unit, OR your library has a “reserve clause” clearly allowing changes in a time of emergency (don’t assume you do unless it has been reviewed and ok’d by your lawyer), your part-timers will not be getting paid.

Contracts with civil service employers in New York can be looked up here: https://perb.ny.gov/nys-perb-collective-bargaining-agreements-a/.  You can see many libraries, large and small, are listed.

I took a quick look and of the libraries I checked, different libraries have different emergency closure pay provisions.  So, what happens at the library over in the next county--even if they are in your system--might not be what can happen at yours.  This is a very careful thing to pay attention to, as it may affect employee well-being and morale.

That said, if leave with pay is barred by a CBA[4], and your board wants to address the issue of quarantine leave and compensation continuity, now is the time to contact your library’s lawyer, and head to the table (or, more properly during this time of sensible social distancing, a teleconference) with the head of your bargaining unit.

I imagine the head of the union will make the time; after all, this is all-hands-on-deck.

If your library isn’t in a collective bargaining agreement, while you have a lot of pressures hitting the current situation, this issue isn’t one of them.

Concern #2: Allegation of improper use of public funds

Article 8, §1 of the New York State Constitution states: “no county, city, town, village or school district shall give or loan any money or property to or in aid of any individual.”  The reach of this clause includes public libraries.[5]

Concern about this clause can be seen in the member’s question; from a certain point of view, paying staff (full or part-time) when they aren’t at the library doing their routine tasks could seem like a “gift.”  After all, the employee is not at work, and they are getting money.  Sounds like they are getting something for nothing, right?

Wrong.  When implemented with careful attention to detail, such emergency response policies are part of a legal and sensible compensation structure that enables something for something.  What is that “something?”  A stable, reliable work force anchored by a stable, reliable income, ready, willing and able to work during a time of emergency (just when people need libraries most).

But such policies cannot be improvised, half-baked, or under-documented.

Armed with the information that properly effected and documented compensation during emergency closure or quarantine is not a violation of state law, if a public library doesn’t have an emergency closure policy or quarantine policy, and they want implement them now, a good approach is to gather the resources listed at the top of this answer, assess any pre-standing obligations your library has, and then adopt or refine some policies.

Here is a sample board resolution for a library that confirms it has no agreements or policies to the contrary and desires to set up maximum flexibility during this state of emergency:

WHEREAS on March 7, 2020, the Governor of the State of New York issues Executive Order 202 declaring a state disaster emergency; and

WHEREAS, as a result of the world-wide pandemic underlying the state disaster emergency, the library may need to close, reduce hours, or reduce staff reporting for duty; and

WHEREAS, the board has duly reviewed the public safety and budget considerations of reducing operations and continuing regular pay during the state of emergency; and

WHEREAS, the board recognizes that to best serve its area of service and protect the health of the community and its employees, employees may need to be directed to report to work at the library, to work remotely, or to be on-call but not report to work during routine hours; and

WHEREAS, the library is a community resource for critical information at this time, and must remain ready to respond to community needs as is within its capacity and budget;

BE IT RESOLVED that the board adopts the attached policies on “Quarantine Leave” and “Paid Leave During Emergency Closure;” and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the board shall continue to compensate full and part-time staff as allowed by law and provided by the policy for Quarantine Leave and Paid Leave During Emergency Closure between [DATE] and [DATE]; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the library director and the [Executive Committee] of the board shall maintain ongoing communication and monitor the best approach to address safety and operational concerns, and shall inform the full board of same; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the board shall reconvene on [DATE] to reconsider the continuation of compensation in light of what may be needed for the community and the library to recover from the state of emergency and return to normal operations.

 

CODA: A Note on Authority

What laws create a public library board’s authority to craft emergency response policies?

This starts with the basics. Education Law §259 required all moneys received "from taxes and other public sources" in the name of a library to be kept in a separate fund.[6]  And regardless of who is “holding the money,”  “the ultimate control of the use, disposition and expenditure of the library fund moneys is vested in the library board….” (1991 Opns St Comp No. 91-57, p 158) [emphasis added].

As the New York State Comptroller has stated repeatedly: public libraries are, for most purposes, fiscally autonomous from the sponsoring municipality (see Opn No. 91-57, supra; 1983 Opns St Comp No. 83-32, p 37; Buffalo Library v Erie County, 171 AD2d 369, 577 NYS2d 993 affd 80 NY2d 938, 591 NYS2d 131).

So even if a library’s sponsoring village, town, or city has a defined emergency closure policy that precludes paid time off for part-timers, the library can decide to adopt their own (that said, if the municipal policy is a good one, the library can choose to “borrow” it and go along for the ride…but should still specifically adopt the policy as its own).  As the Comptroller put it in opinion 1981 N.Y. 1981 N.Y. St. Comp. 485: “…it is the library board which determines the vacation and sick leave benefits for library employees. It is our opinion that a library board of trustees has implied authority to provide for sick leaves and vacations for library employees.”[7]

What reigns this in?  Compensation paid as part of any emergency closure or leave policy must be established, tracked, paid, and accounted for in a way that survives the scrutiny of an audit.  The terms must harmonize with the obligations of any relevant collective bargaining agreement.  And ideally, such an approach should bake in conditions to help the taxpayers see that compensated time out is in the best interests of the public.  That is not an easy array of requirements to meet.

But done right,[8] can emergency closure pay, or quarantine pay, for part-timers be “legal?”

Yes.

Author bio:  Stephanie Adams provides the “Ask the Lawyer” service to the library councils of New York.  For over 10 years she was in-house counsel for Niagara University, where she was (among other things) a member of the University’s pandemic response team.

 



[1] One elegant policy I found was simply “If the Library closes because of extreme weather conditions or emergency conditions, employees scheduled to work will be credited with time as if worked. Previous time off requests supercede any credited time.”  Go Geneva Public Library!

[4] “Collective Bargaining Agreement”

[5] It is the section that, along with many other things, bars libraries throwing extravagant parties for library volunteers.

[6] (1986 Opns St Comp No. 86-54, p 86),

[7] The Comptroller cited some more authority there: “see Opn No. 80-199, supra; 1961 Atty Gen [Inf Opns] 105; Education Law, §§ 226(7)260).”

[8] “Done right” means: consistent with your library’s bylaws, collective bargaining agreement, and employee manual, with particular attention to consistent and compliant use of the full-time and part-time categories, and FLSA status.

Tags: Labor, Emergency Response, Employee Rights, Quarantine Leave, COVID-19

The WNYLRC's "Ask the Lawyer" service is available to members of the Western New York Library Resources Council. It is not legal representation of individual members.