Updates to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and federal benefits and services
- Philadelphia City Offices
- Public Benefits
- County Assistance Offices
- Child Tax Credit
- Emergency Medical Assistance
- Medical Assistance (MA) coverage of COVID-19
- Moratorium on Termination of Services
- SNAP & TANF
- Unemployment Compensation
- Returning to Work
- FHA Foreclosure and Eviction Moratorium
- American Rescue Plan
- Key provisions
- Economic Impact/Stimulus Payments
- Extended Unemployment Benefits
- Eviction and Mortgage Moratoriums
- Increased Food Aid
- Expanded Child Tax Credit
- Key provisions
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Exams
- Confidentiality of Medical Information
- Hiring and Onboarding
- Reasonable Accommodation
- Pandemic-Related Harassment Due to National Origin, Race, or Other Protected Characteristics
- Furloughs and Layoffs
- Return to Work
- Caregivers/Family Responsibilities
- Services Suspended
- Emergency Services
- Income Tax
- Social Security Benefits
- Offices closed to public
- Consultative Exams
- Emergency Broadband Benefit
Right to appear in person, via Zoom, or Telephonically
Parties scheduled to appear in Philadelphia Municipal Court, including landlord/tenant and small claims court, may appear via Zoom or by telephone. People appearing in person must wear a mask inside the courthouse.
To appear by Zoom or by telephone at a Philadelphia Municipal Court hearing, call the court at (215) 686-2910 no later than five days before hearing date. Court personnel will provide further instructions at that time. Any documents or photographs to introduce as evidence must be emailed to the court no later than five days before the hearing. The full court order is available here: Notice-of-Right-to-Appear-In-Person-Via-Zoom-or-Telephonically.pdf (phila.gov)
In-person jury trials resume
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas is planning for the resumption of in-person jury trials for arbitration appeal, major jury, mass tort, and commerce cases. Subject to public health guidance, the court plans to resume in-person trials as of January 21, 2021. The full order is available here.
Emergency Protection from Abuse
Petitioners can file for emergency Protection From Abuse orders at the Emergency Filing Site in room B-03 of the Stout Criminal Justice Center, 1301 Filbert Street, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
During normal business hours, the filing site can connect petitioners to Women Against Abuse legal advocates who can provide safety planning and options counseling by phone. The Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline remains fully operational and can be reached at (866) 723-3014 at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For information on Pennsylvania county-by-county court operations, click here.
Emergency Assistance for Renters
By order of Philadelphia Municipal Court, Landlords cannot lock out Philadelphia renters who applied for rental assistance and whose pending applications have been marked ‘complete’ by the City. This Order protects people whose applications are complete, although their landlords have not yet received rental assistance monies.
More than 37% of applicants have applications that are incomplete, according to the City. To check rental assistance application status, tenants can ask their housing counselor or sign into the Phase 4 portal here: https://rent-assist.phila.gov/#/sign-in
Once the landlord receives rental assistance monies, the tenant cannot be locked out until 90 days after the landlord received the last payment. The Order goes into effect August 14th and is available to view here:
Phase 4 of Philadelphia’s rent assistance launched April 5, 2021. Under Phase 4 applicants can receive up to $2,000 per month to assist with rent and other fees charged by the landlord. Applicants can receive assistance for up to 18 months total (including the possibility of assistance with forward rent for 3 months per application).
To be eligible Applicants must:
1. Have a household income at or below 80% of Area Median Income,
2. Qualify for Unemployment, or have experienced financial hardship because of COVID-19 (Applicants may self-certify their loss of income), and
3. Demonstrate a risk of housing instability or homelessness by having past-due rent or utilities, receiving an eviction notice or paying more than one third of their household income on rent.
The Program also offers Utility assistance of up to $2,000 for PGW (gas), $2,000 for Philadelphia Water Department, and $2,000 for PECO (electric).
Renters who applied before and received grants are eligible, as are those who were not found to be eligible in Phases 1-3.
For more information on Phase 4, visit https://phlrentassist.org/about-phase-4/
For more information on the Treasury Department’s guidelines for rental assistance, visit https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/ERA-Frequently-Asked-Questions_Pub-2-22-21.pdf
For information on rental assistance in other Pennsylvania counties, visit https://www.phfa.org/forms/pacares/rental/RRP-County-Contact-List.pdf”
On August 27, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) federal eviction moratorium. Landlords are still required to go through the legal process before a renter can be evicted. A legal eviction and a lock-out can only occur after a judge issues a court order.
Through October 31, 2021, eviction lawsuits for non-payment may not be filed in Philadelphia, unless the landlord has applied for rental assistance and participated in the mediation diversion program.
For more details, see the order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
This mediation diversion program requirement does not apply if landlords are filing for evictions for reasons other than non-payment.
Philadelphia City Council approves Emergency Housing Protections Act
Philadelphia renters who have suffered a financial loss or increase in expenses due to the Covid-19 pandemic are entitled to repayments plans and a waiver of late fees through September 2021. To claim the protections, tenants must fill out the Financial Certification form and submit to their landlord.
Fair Housing Complaints
The Philadelphia Fair Housing Commission is accepting complaints. The Fair Housing Commission (FHC) is not holding hearings at this time. However, tenants who are victims of unfair rental practices may file a complaint. Send completed intake questionnaires to the FHC at Fairhousingcomm@phila.gov or you can call the FHC main telephone line at (215) 686-4670.
Philadelphia Housing Authority
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ensure continued housing stability for its residents, the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) has implemented an eviction moratorium until March 15, 2021.
- The moratorium will apply only to matters involving the nonpayment of rent and related fees;
- It does not apply to eviction actions related to health and safety;
- The moratorium does not treat nonpayment of rent and fees during this period as forgiven;
- Individuals are still responsible for any rent or money owed under the terms of the lease agreement;
- Residents who can pay their rent are strongly encouraged to do so in accordance with the terms of the lease agreement;
- residents who are unable to pay or who face a financial hardship should immediately apply for a PHA Hardship Waiver or request to enter into a payment plan.
Hardship waivers available for Philadelphia Housing Authority residents struggling to pay rent.
PHA is encouraging its residents who have experienced a financial hardship, such as the loss of a job or decrease in hours or pay, to apply for a Hardship Waiver. For details in both English and Spanish, see http://www.pha.phila.gov/pha-news/pha-news/2020/hardship-waiver-forms.aspx.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Application EXTENDED TO DEC 31, 2020
The rebate program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded.
The maximum standard rebate is $650, but supplemental rebates for certain qualifying homeowners can boost rebates to $975. The Department of Revenue automatically calculates supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners
The deadline for older adults and Pennsylvania residents with disabilities to apply for rebates on rent and property taxes paid in 2019 has been extended from June 30 to Dec. 31, 2020.
To apply, click here.
Mortgage foreclosure and tax sales postponed
All mortgage foreclosure hearings, conferences, trials, and sales have been postponed. Tax sales have also been postponed. Please call the Save Your Home Philly Hotline at (215) 334-4663 or visit the Community Legal Services Homeownership page if you have questions.
The Renter’s Access Act — passed by Philadelphia City Council on June 24, 2021 creates new protections for tenants. The law requires landlords to provide a uniform written rental screening criteria and a written statement of reasons when denying a rental application, which must include any third-party info relied upon. The Renter’s Access Act prohibits blanket eviction and credit exclusions. Landlords are prohibited from denying a rental application based on failure to pay rent or utilities during the Covid-19 emergency period or certain kinds of eviction records. Instead, landlords are required to undertake a wholistic, individualized assessment based on uniform screening criteria. Applicants have the right to dispute inaccurate information or seek reconsideration in the case of mitigating circumstances.
The new law will go into effect on September 24, 2021. To read the full text of the new laws, click here: (see links below) If you have questions about your rights under the Renter’s Access Act, contact our intake line at (215) 587-9377.
PHILADELPHIA CITY OFFICES
City offices are temporarily closed to walk-in and counter services. To ask about in-person services by appointment, check with your department of interest.
Recipients of public benefits who receive mail about their benefits somewhere other than where they reside (such as PO boxes, a family member’s home) should update their contact information with the agencies, so that they do not miss important mail while stay-at-home order is in effect.
Did You Lose A Job or Reduce Your Hours Because of the Coronavirus?
You may be eligible for Food Stamps (SNAP), Medicaid (MA), Cash Assistance (TANF) or Heating Bill Assistance (LIHEAP).
If you need to apply for benefits, please apply online using Compass or call Benephilly: 844-848-4376.
If you already receive these benefits, but you’ve lost income, you may be eligible for an increase in SNAP or TANF. The County Assistance Offices are closed to the public. Don’t go to the County Assistance Office! You should submit information about a change in income in one of the following ways:
- Online through Compass (compass.state.pa.us)
- Through the free mobile app MyCompassPA
- By calling the Customer Service Center at 215-560-7226
If you don’t have paperwork from your job (such as pay stubs or a letter about your hours), you should explain your loss of income in your own words. You can do that in the comments section of Compass.
If you have questions about Medical Assistance or other health insurance, call the Pennsylvania Health Access Network hotline: 877-570-3642.
The $600 weekly Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) boost does not count as income for MA purposes. The PUC boost counts as income in the month received for SNAP purposes. The economic impact payments do not count as income for benefits calculations. However, Unemployment Compensation (UC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) do count as unearned income for all public benefits purposes.
County Assistance Offices
County Assistance Offices statewide are operating, but closed to the public.
Pennsylvanians are encouraged to use DHS’ online applications and resources to apply for benefits or submit paperwork as necessary.
Eligibility determinations, application processing, and benefit issuance continue for Pennsylvanians in all counties. Applications for benefits and renewals can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us. For Medicaid, contact the Pennsylvania Consumer Service Center at 1-866-550-4355 to apply over the phone.
Pennsylvanians can also complete semi-annual renewals and check their benefit status through the myCOMPASS PA mobile app. Those who prefer to submit paper documentation can mail documents to their local CAO. If applicants tell their CAO that they are having a health emergency (including suspected COVID 19) the CAO will prioritize that application and expedite approval.
Beneficiaries in Philadelphia with questions or information to report about their case should call the Philadelphia Customer Service Center at 215-560-7226. Clients in all other counties can call the Statewide Customer Service Center at 1-877-395-8930. Call volumes and wait times are likely to be high.
Medical Assistance (MA) coverage of COVID-19
Medical Assistance and COVID-19
Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance (MA) program will cover COVID-19 testing and related services. COVID-19 testing is free of charge when a doctor determines it is needed. There are no co-payments for COVID-19 related tests.
To apply for Medical Assistance:
- Visit the Compass website
- Call BenePhilly at 844-848-4376
If you need MA right away because you think you may have COVID-19, be sure to say so on the application.
Emergency Medical Assistance (EMA) coverage of COVID-19
Emergency Medical Assistance (EMA) is available for immigrants who need COVID-19 testing and treatment
No forms need to be filled out by medical providers and no medical records are needed. The applicant’s own statement that they need COVID-19 services is the only verification that will be required.
Non-COVID EMA cases still need medical documentation and approval by DHS’ medical team. Once approved, EMA must not be closed through the end of the COVID-19 crisis.
For more information, see DHS’s policy clarification here.
Moratorium on Termination of Services
No Closure of Medical Assistance, Long Term Care, and HOME and Community Based Services
Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, effective March 18, 2020, MA, HCBS and LTC cannot be terminated until the end of the emergency unless the individual moves away from Pennsylvania; requests that their benefits be closed; or passes away.
Note: Despite the moratorium on closures, we recommend that MA beneficiaries continue to comply with DHS’ recertification requirements.
SNAP and TANF
EBT payments are still scheduled to occur during the CAO closure, and activated EBT cards can still be used as usual at ATMs and in stores at point-of-sale machines. Balance and transaction inquiries, as well as EBT card replacement, can be requested from DHS’s EBT contractor at 888-328-7366. TANF has suspended sanctions for not meeting work-activity requirements.
Effective September 1, 2020, the phone interview requirement for SNAP applications and renewals has been reinstated. The semiannual reporting process has resumed, however benefits cannot be suspended for failure to return the form until September 2021.
For more information, see MEMO
Note: Make sure DHS has up to date contact information for recipients!
Pandemic SNAP Benefits
Since the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of March 2020, households receiving any amount of SNAP have received the maximum benefit amount for their household size.
On March 31, 2021, Community Legal Services announced the settlement of a lawsuit brought on behalf of 650,000 of the lowest-income Pennsylvania households who were already receiving the maximum benefits. These households were receiving no additional aid during the pandemic. The settlement will result in $712 million in additional SNAP benefits being distributed to PA households.
Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer
Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT), helps families cover the cost of breakfasts and lunches their children would have been eligible to receive for free or at reduced price through the National School Lunch Program.
If a child is currently receiving SNAP, the P-EBT will be loaded onto your regular Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card into your normal SNAP account.
If a child is not receiving SNAP, a new P-EBT card will be mailed in to the home address on record with the school district in the child’s name.
Click here for more information.
Temporary Removal of SPBP Early Refill Limits Due to COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 situation, the Special Pharmaceutical Benefits Program (SPBP) early refill limit that requires at least 85% of the previous medication dispensed to be utilized prior to refilling the medication has been temporarily removed to allow clients to receive early refills if needed. This will only be a temporary measure until the SPBP determines at a later date to turn the restriction back on. The pharmacy will still receive a warning message that the refill is early, but the claim will be paid by SPBP. This will help to alleviate any early refill issues and requests during this time.
Currently, the SPBP allows up to 100 day supply for medications prescribed at 1 pill per day, up to 50 day supply for 2 pills per day, and up to a 34 day supply for 3 or more pills per day.
For drug claim issues, pharmacies should contact the SPBP provider line at 800-835-4080.
For all other questions or enrollment issues, contact the SPBP customer service line at 800-922-9384.
All Philadelphia WIC Offices are operating, but are closed to the public.
WIC benefits will continue to be issued to current and new participants. Our staff will begin calling participants that have appointments scheduled to perform intake procedures over the telephone. Once the necessary information is collected, new eWIC EBT cards will be mailed out to the participants with their WIC benefits loaded on the card.
WIC’s goal is to load three months of benefits onto participant’s cards when possible. WIC staff will be in their respective offices to answer any questions about this change.
Philadelphia WIC Offices will continue to operate on a reduced schedule, Monday –Thursday from 7:00am – 1:00pm and closed Fridays.
Lifeline Service Schedules
Lifeline service schedules, now in effect, focus on providing access for essential workers traveling to hospitals, grocery stores and other life-sustaining services. All other customers are urged to stay home unless traveling for urgent personal business such as medical appointments or food shopping
Wearing a Face Mask or Face Covering When Riding SEPTA
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advise wearing a simple cloth face covering, when out in public, to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Following this guidance, Septa requires all customers to wear a mask or other facial covering when traveling on SEPTA and at SEPTA stations.
For more information, see HTTP://SEPTA.ORG/COVID-19/
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
Pennsylvanians who usually fall outside of the UC system – gig workers, independent contractors, self-employed persons and workers with limited work history– will be eligible for benefits through a supplemental program, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) Program is a temporary federal program available for individuals whose regular unemployment benefits have expired or will expire soon. Claimants are automatically enrolled in the PEUC program after they have reached their maximum claim weeks for Unemployment Compensation.
PUA and PEUC benefits are extended.
On December 20, 2020, Congress passed a COVID relief bill which extends emergency unemployment benefits.
Applications for UC benefits can be filed at www.uc.pa.gov.
For Pennsylvania workers who have struggled to apply online, by phone, or who need language assistance, Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA) provides an Unemployment Compensation Application Service Hotline to help them their initial application for UC benefits. It can be reached Monday through Friday at (215) 999-6910.
Pennsylvanians eligible for benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will not be required to apply for UC first. They will be asked to provide documentation of their self-employment and their earnings. Benefits will mirror those paid in the UC program, with a minimum weekly benefit of $195, plus the $600 supplement. PUA applications can be filed at https://www.uc.pa.gov/unemployment-benefits/file/Pages/Filing-for-PUA.aspx
Pennsylvania has ended its blanket ban on utility shutoffs, meaning some utility customers will start getting shutoff notices.
Low-income PECO and PGW customers have until September 30, 2021 to get into a 5 year payment plan for past due utility bills. Under an order from the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, PECO and PGW are required to offer these extended plans to customers at or below 250% of the Federal Poverty Line. Check your income eligibility here: https://aspe.hhs.gov/topics/poverty-economic-mobility/poverty-guidelines. To apply, call PECO at 1-800-494-4000 and PGW at 215 235-1777.
More information on the extended PECO and PGW payment plans is available here: https://www.puc.pa.gov/press-release/2021/puc-creates-added-2021-safeguards-to-help-households-and-small-businesses-address-past-due-utility-bills
Electric and gas shutoffs can start again April 1. 2021. Water shutoffs in Philadelphia are held until April 2022. However, penalties for late water bills will begin on May 1 2021 for customers who are not enrolled in low-income programs. More information.
Minimize the risk of shut-off by following these steps.
- Apply for grant assistance:
LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program). Call the LIHEAP Office at (866) 857-7095 and tell them you are about to lose heat or have a past-due bill.(Pennsylvania residents)
UESF (Utility Emergency Services Fund). Call (215) 972-5170 (Philadelphia residents)
Philadelphia rental/utility assistance: Visit phlrentassist.org. (Philadelphia residents)
- Apply for a low-income assistance program:
PECO’s CAP: Call (800) 774-7040 or apply online at tinyurl.com/Apply-CAP-PECO.
PGW’s CRP: Call (215) 684-6100 or apply online at http://www2.pgworks.com/crp.
Outside of Philadelphia: Call your utility company and ask about customer assistance programs.
- Request a payment arrangement:
In Philadelphia, call PGW at (215) 235-1777 or PECO at (888) 480-1533 and request a payment agreement. Outside of Philadelphia, call your utility company and ask about a payment arrangement
- Request a medical certificate:
Call your utility company and give them your medical provider’s fax number. The utility company will fax a medical certificate to the medical provider.
On March 9, 2020, NJ Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 103, declaring a State of Emergency and a Public Health Emergency effective immediately. Governor Murphy has signed a new Executive Order every month that extends the State of Emergency. The most recent Executive Order extending the State of Emergency was signed on March 17, 2021. That order unless modified, in a subsequent order, will end April 17, 2021.
No evictions can occur until after 60 days after the end of the emergency order. Accordingly, evictions in NJ are currently on hold until June 17, 2021. Click here to view Executive Order 103.
COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program Phase II (CVERAP Phase II). is now open. Applications available online at: https://www.nj.gov/dca/cverap2.shtml#content on March 22, 2021. Camden County Cares rental assistance unit can be reached at 856 389-6704.
Utility shut-off moratorium in place until June 30, 2021. More information.
The Camden Coalition of Health Providers has created a list of community resources for COVID-19 including medical services, housing, behavioral health providers, food resources, and addiction support. We recommend checking their continually updated resource guide here.
FHA Extends Foreclosure and Eviction Moratorium for Homeowners Through Year End
Third extension will allow FHA-insured homeowners economically impacted by COVID-19 to focus on financial recovery
FHA-insured Single Family mortgages, excluding vacant or abandoned properties, are subject to an extension to the moratorium on foreclosure through December 31, 2020. The moratorium applies to the initiation of foreclosures and to foreclosures in process.
Separate from any eviction moratorium that was applicable to lessors under the CARES Act, evictions of persons from properties securing FHA-insured Single Family mortgages, excluding actions to evict occupants of legally vacant or abandoned properties, are also suspended through December 31, 2020.
Deadlines for the first legal action and reasonable diligence timelines are extended by 90 days from the date of expiration of this moratorium for FHA- insured Single Family mortgages, except for FHA-insured mortgages secured by vacant or abandoned properties.
American Rescue Plan
The federal American Rescue Plan was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. It replaces the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) which provided emergency assistance and health care response for individuals, families and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the White House, the ARP is an “emergency legislative package to fund vaccinations, provide immediate direct relief to families bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, and support struggling communities.”
Key provisions are:
Economic Impact/Stimulus Payments
$1,400 per individual and dependent
Individuals earning up to $75,00 and married couples earning up to $150,000 are eligible for the full $1,400 each plus $1,400 for each dependent
Payments are based on either 2019 or 2020 income, depending on when a taxpayer files their 2020 tax return
Unlike previous stimulus payments, adult dependents may qualify for a $1,400 payment. This includes college students, disabled adults and elderly Americans
Payments to individuals with income over $75,000 will be reduced until they disappear entirely at $80,000 and $160,000 for couples
The IRS has sent three stimulus payments. If you haven’t received yours, you must file your taxes by May 17. This flyer has instructions on how to file your taxes this year and get all of money you and your family are owed.
Extended Unemployment Benefits
- Extends unemployment benefits of $300 per week through 9/6/2021
- The first $10,200 in 2020 unemployment benefits is tax free for families making $150,00 or less. People who had taxes withheld from unemployment benefits in 2020 will be able to recover them when they file their 2020 taxes or by filing an amended return if they have already filed their taxes
- The plan provides for a 100% subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums so unemployed workers can stay on employer healthcare plans through September 2021
Eviction and Mortgage Moratoriums
- The current moratoriums which end 3/31/2021 will likely not change under the Plan but additional funding will provide relief for those behind on mortgage, rent and utility bills
Increased Food Aid
- Extend through September the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit increase in December’s COVID relief package, which will help millions of families and children have enough to eat while injecting additional, high “bang-for-the-buck” stimulus into the economy;
Expanded Child Tax Credit
- Plan calls for payments of $3,000 a year for each child ages 6 to17, and $3,600 for each child under age 6
- Applies to couples who make $150,000 or less and single parents who make $112,500 or less
- Payments would be sent by direct deposit on a monthly basis
- A family with one child under 6 would receive $300 per month and $250 per month for children from 6 to 17. As written, the Plan provides for one year of credit payments
- Payments would start in July based on 2020 tax returns
For help with filing tax returns to receive Child Tax Credit go to https://cwfphilly.org/resources/child-tax-credit/
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Technical Assistance Questions and Answers – December 2020
- All EEOC materials related to COVID-19 are collected at www.eeoc.gov/coronavirus.
- The EEOC enforces workplace anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act (which include the requirement for reasonable accommodation and non-discrimination based on disability, and rules about employer medical examinations and inquiries), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex, including pregnancy), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (which prohibits discrimination based on age, 40 or older), and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Note: Other federal laws, as well as state or local laws, may provide employees with additional protections.
- Title I of the ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees. It also applies to state and local government employers, employment agencies, and labor unions. All nondiscrimination standards under Title I of the ADA also apply to federal agencies under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- The EEO laws, including the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, continue to apply during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they do not interfere with or prevent employers from following the guidelines and suggestions made by the CDC or state/local public health authorities about steps employers should take regarding COVID-19. Employers should remember that guidance from public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Therefore, employers should continue to follow the most current information on maintaining workplace safety.
- The EEOC has provided guidance (a publication entitled Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act [PDF version]), consistent with these workplace protections and rules, that can help employers implement strategies to navigate the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace. This pandemic publication, which was written during the prior H1N1 outbreak, is still relevant today and identifies established ADA and Rehabilitation Act principles to answer questions frequently asked about the workplace during a pandemic. It has been updated as of March 19, 2020 to address examples and information regarding COVID-19; the new 2020 information appears in bold and is marked with an asterisk.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared COVID-19 to be an international pandemic. The EEOC pandemic publication includes a separate section that answers common employer questions about what to do after a pandemic has been declared. Applying these principles to the COVID-19 pandemic, the following may be useful:
A. Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Exams
During a pandemic, ADA-covered employers may ask such employees if they are experiencing symptoms of the pandemic virus. For COVID-19, these include symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.
A.2. When screening employees entering the workplace during this time, may an employer only ask employees about the COVID-19 symptoms EEOC has identified as examples, or may it ask about any symptoms identified by public health authorities as associated with COVID-19? (4/9/20)
As public health authorities and doctors learn more about COVID-19, they may expand the list of associated symptoms. Employers should rely on the CDC, other public health authorities, and reputable medical sources for guidance on emerging symptoms associated with the disease. These sources may guide employers when choosing questions to ask employees to determine whether they would pose a direct threat to health in the workplace. For example, additional symptoms beyond fever or cough may include new loss of smell or taste as well as gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Generally, measuring an employee’s body temperature is a medical examination. Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19 and issued attendant precautions, employers may measure employees’ body temperature. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.
Yes. The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace. The ADA does not interfere with employers following this advice.
Yes. Such inquiries are permitted under the ADA either because they would not be disability-related or, if the pandemic were truly severe, they would be justified under the ADA standards for disability-related inquiries of employees. As a practical matter, however, doctors and other health care professionals may be too busy during and immediately after a pandemic outbreak to provide fitness-for-duty documentation. Therefore, new approaches may be necessary, such as reliance on local clinics to provide a form, a stamp, or an e-mail to certify that an individual does not have the pandemic virus.
A.6. May an employer administer a COVID-19 test (a test to detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus) before permitting employees to enter the workplace? (4/23/20)
The ADA requires that any mandatory medical test of employees be “job related and consistent with business necessity.” Applying this standard to the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may take steps to determine if employees entering the workplace have COVID-19 because an individual with the virus will pose a direct threat to the health of others. Therefore an employer may choose to administer COVID-19 testing to employees before they enter the workplace to determine if they have the virus.
Consistent with the ADA standard, employers should ensure that the tests are accurate and reliable. For example, employers may review guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about what may or may not be considered safe and accurate testing, as well as guidance from CDC or other public health authorities, and check for updates. Employers may wish to consider the incidence of false-positives or false-negatives associated with a particular test. Finally, note that accurate testing only reveals if the virus is currently present; a negative test does not mean the employee will not acquire the virus later.
Based on guidance from medical and public health authorities, employers should still require – to the greatest extent possible – that employees observe infection control practices (such as social distancing, regular handwashing, and other measures) in the workplace to prevent transmission of COVID-19.
A.7. CDC said in its Interim Guidelines that antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace.” In light of this CDC guidance, under the ADA may an employer require antibody testing before permitting employees to re-enter the workplace? (6/17/20)
No. An antibody test constitutes a medical examination under the ADA. In light of CDC’s Interim Guidelinesthat antibody test results “should not be used to make decisions about returning persons to the workplace,” an antibody test at this time does not meet the ADA’s “job related and consistent with business necessity” standard for medical examinations or inquiries for current employees. Therefore, requiring antibody testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace is not allowed under the ADA. Please note that an antibody test is different from a test to determine if someone has an active case of COVID-19 (i.e., a viral test). The EEOC has already stated that COVID-19 viral tests are permissible under the ADA.
The EEOC will continue to closely monitor CDC’s recommendations, and could update this discussion in response to changes in CDC’s recommendations.
B. Confidentiality of Medical Information
B.1. May an employer store in existing medical files information it obtains related to COVID-19, including the results of taking an employee’s temperature or the employee’s self-identification as having this disease, or must the employer create a new medical file system solely for this information? (4/9/20)
The ADA requires that all medical information about a particular employee be stored separately from the employee’s personnel file, thus limiting access to this confidential information. An employer may store all medical information related to COVID-19 in existing medical files. This includes an employee’s statement that he has the disease or suspects he has the disease, or the employer’s notes or other documentation from questioning an employee about symptoms.
B.2. If an employer requires all employees to have a daily temperature check before entering the workplace, may the employer maintain a log of the results? (4/9/20)
Yes. The employer needs to maintain the confidentiality of this information.
B.3. May an employer disclose the name of an employee to a public health agency when it learns that the employee has COVID-19? (4/9/20)
B.4. May a temporary staffing agency or a contractor that places an employee in an employer’s workplace notify the employer if it learns the employee has COVID-19? (4/9/20)
Yes. The staffing agency or contractor may notify the employer and disclose the name of the employee, because the employer may need to determine if this employee had contact with anyone in the workplace.
C. Hiring and Onboarding
Yes. An employer may screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 after making a conditional job offer, as long as it does so for all entering employees in the same type of job. This ADA rule applies whether or not the applicant has a disability.
Yes. Any medical exams are permitted after an employer has made a conditional offer of employment. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever.
Yes. According to current CDC guidance, an individual who has COVID-19 or symptoms associated with it should not be in the workplace.
Based on current CDC guidance, this individual cannot safely enter the workplace, and therefore the employer may withdraw the job offer.
C.5. May an employer postpone the start date or withdraw a job offer because the individual is 65 years old or pregnant, both of which place them at higher risk from COVID-19? (4/9/20)
No. The fact that the CDC has identified those who are 65 or older, or pregnant women, as being at greater risk does not justify unilaterally postponing the start date or withdrawing a job offer. However, an employer may choose to allow telework or to discuss with these individuals if they would like to postpone the start date.
D. Reasonable Accommodation
In discussing accommodation requests, employers and employees may find it helpful to consult the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) website for types of accommodations, www.askjan.org. JAN’s materials specific to COVID-19 are at https://askjan.org/topics/COVID-19.cfm.
D.1. If a job may only be performed at the workplace, are there reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, absent undue hardship, that could offer protection to an employee who, due to a preexisting disability, is at higher risk from COVID-19? (4/9/20)
There may be reasonable accommodations that could offer protection to an individual whose disability puts him at greater risk from COVID-19 and who therefore requests such actions to eliminate possible exposure. Even with the constraints imposed by a pandemic, some accommodations may meet an employee’s needs on a temporary basis without causing undue hardship on the employer.
Low-cost solutions achieved with materials already on hand or easily obtained may be effective. If not already implemented for all employees, accommodations for those who request reduced contact with others due to a disability may include changes to the work environment such as designating one-way aisles; using plexiglass, tables, or other barriers to ensure minimum distances between customers and coworkers whenever feasible per CDC guidance or other accommodations that reduce chances of exposure.
Flexibility by employers and employees is important in determining if some accommodation is possible in the circumstances. Temporary job restructuring of marginal job duties, temporary transfers to a different position, or modifying a work schedule or shift assignment may also permit an individual with a disability to perform safely the essential functions of the job while reducing exposure to others in the workplace or while commuting.
D.2. If an employee has a preexisting mental illness or disorder that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, may he now be entitled to a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship)? (4/9/20)
Although many people feel significant stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees with certain preexisting mental health conditions, for example, anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, may have more difficulty handling the disruption to daily life that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic.
As with any accommodation request, employers may: ask questions to determine whether the condition is a disability; discuss with the employee how the requested accommodation would assist him and enable him to keep working; explore alternative accommodations that may effectively meet his needs; and request medical documentation if needed.
D.3. In a workplace where all employees are required to telework during this time, should an employer postpone discussing a request from an employee with a disability for an accommodation that will not be needed until he returns to the workplace when mandatory telework ends? (4/9/20)
Not necessarily. An employer may give higher priority to discussing requests for reasonable accommodations that are needed while teleworking, but the employer may begin discussing this request now. The employer may be able to acquire all the information it needs to make a decision. If a reasonable accommodation is granted, the employer also may be able to make some arrangements for the accommodation in advance.
D.4. What if an employee was already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and now requests an additional or altered accommodation? (4/9/20)
An employee who was already receiving a reasonable accommodation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic may be entitled to an additional or altered accommodation, absent undue hardship. For example, an employee who is teleworking because of the pandemic may need a different type of accommodation than what he uses in the workplace. The employer may discuss with the employee whether the same or a different disability is the basis for this new request and why an additional or altered accommodation is needed.
D.5. During the pandemic, if an employee requests an accommodation for a medical condition either at home or in the workplace, may an employer still request information to determine if the condition is a disability? (4/17/20)
Yes, if it is not obvious or already known, an employer may ask questions or request medical documentation to determine whether the employee has a “disability” as defined by the ADA (a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, or a history of a substantially limiting impairment).
D.6. During the pandemic, may an employer still engage in the interactive process and request information from an employee about why an accommodation is needed? (4/17/20)
Yes, if it is not obvious or already known, an employer may ask questions or request medical documentationto determine whether the employee’s disability necessitates an accommodation, either the one he requested or any other. Possible questions for the employee may include: (1) how the disability creates a limitation, (2) how the requested accommodation will effectively address the limitation, (3) whether another form of accommodation could effectively address the issue, and (4) how a proposed accommodation will enable the employee to continue performing the “essential functions” of his position (that is, the fundamental job duties).
D.7. If there is some urgency to providing an accommodation, or the employer has limited time available to discuss the request during the pandemic, may an employer provide a temporary accommodation? (4/17/20)
Yes. Given the pandemic, some employers may choose to forgo or shorten the exchange of information between an employer and employee known as the “interactive process” (discussed in D.5 and D.6., above) and grant the request. In addition, when government restrictions change, or are partially or fully lifted, the need for accommodations may also change. This may result in more requests for short-term accommodations. Employers may wish to adapt the interactive process – and devise end dates for the accommodation – to suit changing circumstances based on public health directives.
Whatever the reason for shortening or adapting the interactive process, an employer may also choose to place an end date on the accommodation (for example, either a specific date such as May 30, or when the employee returns to the workplace part- or full-time due to changes in government restrictions limiting the number of people who may congregate). Employers may also opt to provide a requested accommodation on an interim or trial basis, with an end date, while awaiting receipt of medical documentation. Choosing one of these alternatives may be particularly helpful where the requested accommodation would provide protection that an employee may need because of a pre-existing disability that puts her at greater risk during this pandemic. This could also apply to employees who have disabilities exacerbated by the pandemic.
Employees may request an extension that an employer must consider, particularly if current government restrictions are extended or new ones adopted.
D.8. May an employer ask employees now if they will need reasonable accommodations in the future when they are permitted to return to the workplace? (4/17/20)
Yes. Employers may ask employees with disabilities to request accommodations that they believe they may need when the workplace re-opens. Employers may begin the “interactive process” – the discussion between the employer and employee focused on whether the impairment is a disability and the reasons that an accommodation is needed.
D.9. Are the circumstances of the pandemic relevant to whether a requested accommodation can be denied because it poses an undue hardship? (4/17/20)
Yes. An employer does not have to provide a particular reasonable accommodation if it poses an “undue hardship,” which means “significant difficulty or expense.” As described in the two questions that follow, in some instances, an accommodation that would not have posed an undue hardship prior to the pandemic may pose one now.
D.10. What types of undue hardship considerations may be relevant to determine if a requested accommodation poses “significant difficulty” during the COVID-19 pandemic? (4/17/20)
An employer may consider whether current circumstances create “significant difficulty” in acquiring or providing certain accommodations, considering the facts of the particular job and workplace. For example, it may be significantly more difficult in this pandemic to conduct a needs assessment or to acquire certain items, and delivery may be impacted, particularly for employees who may be teleworking. Or, it may be significantly more difficult to provide employees with temporary assignments, to remove marginal functions, or to readily hire temporary workers for specialized positions. If a particular accommodation poses an undue hardship, employers and employees should work together to determine if there may be an alternative that could be provided that does not pose such problems.
D.11. What types of undue hardship considerations may be relevant to determine if a requested accommodation poses “significant expense” during the COVID-19 pandemic? (4/17/20)
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most accommodations did not pose a significant expense when considered against an employer’s overall budget and resources (always considering the budget/resources of the entire entity and not just its components). But, the sudden loss of some or all of an employer’s income stream because of this pandemic is a relevant consideration. Also relevant is the amount of discretionary funds available at this time – when considering other expenses – and whether there is an expected date that current restrictions on an employer’s operations will be lifted (or new restrictions will be added or substituted). These considerations do not mean that an employer can reject any accommodation that costs money; an employer must weigh the cost of an accommodation against its current budget while taking into account constraints created by this pandemic. For example, even under current circumstances, there may be many no-cost or very low-cost accommodations.
Yes. These CDC designations, or any other designations of certain employees, do not eliminate coverage under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act, or any other equal employment opportunity law. Therefore, employers receiving requests for reasonable accommodation under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act from employees falling in these categories of jobs must accept and process the requests as they would for any other employee. Whether the request is granted will depend on whether the worker is an individual with a disability, and whether there is a reasonable accommodation that can be provided absent undue hardship.
D.13. Is an employee entitled to an accommodation under the ADA in order to avoid exposing a family member who is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition?(6/11/20)
No. Although the ADA prohibits discrimination based on association with an individual with a disability, that protection is limited to disparate treatment or harassment. The ADA does not require that an employer accommodate an employee without a disability based on the disability-related needs of a family member or other person with whom she is associated.
For example, an employee without a disability is not entitled under the ADA to telework as an accommodation in order to protect a family member with a disability from potential COVID-19 exposure.
Of course, an employer is free to provide such flexibilities if it chooses to do so. An employer choosing to offer additional flexibilities beyond what the law requires should be careful not to engage in disparate treatment on a protected EEO basis.
E. Pandemic-Related Harassment Due to National Origin, Race, or Other Protected Characteristics
E.1. What practical tools are available to employers to reduce and address workplace harassment that may arise as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? (4/9/20)
Employers can help reduce the chance of harassment by explicitly communicating to the workforce that fear of the COVID-19 pandemic should not be misdirected against individuals because of a protected characteristic, including their national origin, race, or other prohibited bases.
Practical anti-harassment tools provided by the EEOC for small businesses can be found here:
- Anti-harassment policy tips for small businesses
- Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace (includes detailed recommendations and tools to aid in designing effective anti-harassment policies; developing training curricula; implementing complaint, reporting, and investigation procedures; creating an organizational culture in which harassment is not tolerated):
E.2. Are there steps an employer should take to address possible harassment and discrimination against coworkers when it re-opens the workplace? (4/17/20)
Yes. An employer may remind all employees that it is against the federal EEO laws to harass or otherwise discriminate against coworkers based on race, national origin, color, sex, religion, age (40 or over), disability, or genetic information. It may be particularly helpful for employers to advise supervisors and managers of their roles in watching for, stopping, and reporting any harassment or other discrimination. An employer may also make clear that it will immediately review any allegations of harassment or discrimination and take appropriate action.
E.3. How may employers respond to pandemic-related harassment, in particular against employees who are or are perceived to be Asian? (6/11/20)
Managers should be alert to demeaning, derogatory, or hostile remarks directed to employees who are or are perceived to be of Chinese or other Asian national origin, including about the coronavirus or its origins.
All employers covered by Title VII should ensure that management understands in advance how to recognize such harassment. Harassment may occur using electronic communication tools – regardless of whether employees are in the workplace, teleworking, or on leave – and also in person between employees at the worksite. Harassment of employees at the worksite may also originate with contractors, customers or clients, or, for example, with patients or their family members at health care facilities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes. Managers should know their legal obligations and be instructed to quickly identify and resolve potential problems, before they rise to the level of unlawful discrimination.
Employers may choose to send a reminder to the entire workforce noting Title VII’s prohibitions on harassment, reminding employees that harassment will not be tolerated, and inviting anyone who experiences or witnesses workplace harassment to report it to management. Employers may remind employees that harassment can result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.
E.4. An employer learns that an employee who is teleworking due to the pandemic is sending harassing emails to another worker. What actions should the employer take? (6/11/20)
The employer should take the same actions it would take if the employee was in the workplace. Employees may not harass other employees through, for example, emails, calls, or platforms for video or chat communication and collaboration.
F. Furloughs and Layoffs
F.1. Under the EEOC’s laws, what waiver responsibilities apply when an employer is conducting layoffs?(4/9/20)
Special rules apply when an employer is offering employees severance packages in exchange for a general release of all discrimination claims against the employer. More information is available in EEOC’s technical assistance document on severance agreements.
G. Return to Work
G.1. As government stay-at-home orders and other restrictions are modified or lifted in your area, how will employers know what steps they can take consistent with the ADA to screen employees for COVID-19 when entering the workplace? (4/17/20)
The ADA permits employers to make disability-related inquiries and conduct medical exams if job-related and consistent with business necessity. Inquiries and reliable medical exams meet this standard if it is necessary to exclude employees with a medical condition that would pose a direct threat to health or safety.
Direct threat is to be determined based on the best available objective medical evidence. The guidance from CDC or other public health authorities is such evidence. Therefore, employers will be acting consistent with the ADA as long as any screening implemented is consistent with advice from the CDC and public health authorities for that type of workplace at that time.
For example, this may include continuing to take temperatures and asking questions about symptoms (or require self-reporting) of all those entering the workplace. Similarly, the CDC recently posted information on return by certain types of critical workers.
Employers should make sure not to engage in unlawful disparate treatment based on protected characteristics in decisions related to screening and exclusion.
G.2. An employer requires returning workers to wear personal protective gear and engage in infection control practices. Some employees ask for accommodations due to a need for modified protective gear. Must an employer grant these requests? (4/17/20)
However, where an employee with a disability needs a related reasonable accommodation under the ADA (e.g., non-latex gloves, modified face masks for interpreters or others who communicate with an employee who uses lip reading, or gowns designed for individuals who use wheelchairs), or a religious accommodation under Title VII (such as modified equipment due to religious garb), the employer should discuss the request and provide the modification or an alternative if feasible and not an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business under the ADA or Title VII.
G.3. What does an employee need to do in order to request reasonable accommodation from her employer because she has one of the medical conditions that CDC says may put her at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19? (5/5/20)
An employee – or a third party, such as an employee’s doctor – must let the employer know that she needs a change for a reason related to a medical condition (here, the underlying condition). Individuals may request accommodation in conversation or in writing. While the employee (or third party) does not need to use the term “reasonable accommodation” or reference the ADA, she may do so.
The employee or her representative should communicate that she has a medical condition that necessitates a change to meet a medical need. After receiving a request, the employer may ask questions or seek medical documentation to help decide if the individual has a disability and if there is a reasonable accommodation, barring undue hardship, that can be provided.
G.4. The CDC identifies a number of medical conditions that might place individuals at “higher risk for severe illness” if they get COVID-19. An employer knows that an employee has one of these conditions and is concerned that his health will be jeopardized upon returning to the workplace, but the employee has not requested accommodation. How does the ADA apply to this situation? (5/7/20)
First, if the employee does not request a reasonable accommodation, the ADA does not mandate that the employer take action.
If the employer is concerned about the employee’s health being jeopardized upon returning to the workplace, the ADA does not allow the employer to exclude the employee – or take any other adverse action – solelybecause the employee has a disability that the CDC identifies as potentially placing him at “higher risk for severe illness” if he gets COVID-19. Under the ADA, such action is not allowed unless the employee’s disability poses a “direct threat” to his health that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.
The ADA direct threat requirement is a high standard. As an affirmative defense, direct threat requires an employer to show that the individual has a disability that poses a “significant risk of substantial harm” to his own health under 29 C.F.R. section 1630.2(r) (regulation addressing direct threat to health or safety of self or others). A direct threat assessment cannot be based solely on the condition being on the CDC’s list; the determination must be an individualized assessment based on a reasonable medical judgment about this employee’s disability – not the disability in general – using the most current medical knowledge and/or on the best available objective evidence. The ADA regulation requires an employer to consider the duration of the risk, the nature and severity of the potential harm, the likelihood that the potential harm will occur, and the imminence of the potential harm. Analysis of these factors will likely include considerations based on the severity of the pandemic in a particular area and the employee’s own health (for example, is the employee’s disability well-controlled), and his particular job duties. A determination of direct threat also would include the likelihood that an individual will be exposed to the virus at the worksite. Measures that an employer may be taking in general to protect all workers, such as mandatory social distancing, also would be relevant.
Even if an employer determines that an employee’s disability poses a direct threat to his own health, the employer still cannot exclude the employee from the workplace – or take any other adverse action – unless there is no way to provide a reasonable accommodation (absent undue hardship). The ADA regulations require an employer to consider whether there are reasonable accommodations that would eliminate or reduce the risk so that it would be safe for the employee to return to the workplace while still permitting performance of essential functions. This can involve an interactive process with the employee. If there are not accommodations that permit this, then an employer must consider accommodations such as telework, leave, or reassignment (perhaps to a different job in a place where it may be safer for the employee to work or that permits telework). An employer may only bar an employee from the workplace if, after going through all these steps, the facts support the conclusion that the employee poses a significant risk of substantial harm to himself that cannot be reduced or eliminated by reasonable accommodation.
G.5. What are examples of accommodation that, absent undue hardship, may eliminate (or reduce to an acceptable level) a direct threat to self? (5/5/20)
Accommodations may include additional or enhanced protective gowns, masks, gloves, or other gear beyond what the employer may generally provide to employees returning to its workplace. Accommodations also may include additional or enhanced protective measures, for example, erecting a barrier that provides separation between an employee with a disability and coworkers/the public or increasing the space between an employee with a disability and others. Another possible reasonable accommodation may be elimination or substitution of particular “marginal” functions (less critical or incidental job duties as distinguished from the “essential” functions of a particular position). In addition, accommodations may include temporary modification of work schedules (if that decreases contact with coworkers and/or the public when on duty or commuting) or moving the location of where one performs work (for example, moving a person to the end of a production line rather than in the middle of it if that provides more social distancing).
These are only a few ideas. Identifying an effective accommodation depends, among other things, on an employee’s job duties and the design of the workspace. An employer and employee should discuss possible ideas; the Job Accommodation Network (www.askjan.org) also may be able to assist in helping identify possible accommodations. As with all discussions of reasonable accommodation during this pandemic, employers and employees are encouraged to be creative and flexible.
G.6. As a best practice, and in advance of having some or all employees return to the workplace, are there ways for an employer to invite employees to request flexibility in work arrangements? (6/11/20)
Yes. The ADA and the Rehabilitation Act permit employers to make information available in advance to allemployees about who to contact – if they wish – to request accommodation for a disability that they may need upon return to the workplace, even if no date has been announced for their return. If requests are received in advance, the employer may begin the interactive process. An employer may choose to include in such a notice all the CDC-listed medical conditions that may place people at higher risk of serious illness if they contract COVID-19, provide instructions about who to contact, and explain that the employer is willing to consider on a case-by-case basis any requests from employees who have these or other medical conditions.
An employer also may send a general notice to all employees who are designated for returning to the workplace, noting that the employer is willing to consider requests for accommodation or flexibilities on an individualized basis. The employer should specify if the contacts differ depending on the reason for the request – for example, if the office or person to contact is different for employees with disabilities or pregnant workers than for employees whose request is based on age or child-care responsibilities.
Either approach is consistent with the ADEA, the ADA, and the May 29, 2020 CDC guidance that emphasizes the importance of employers providing accommodations or flexibilities to employees who, due to age or certain medical conditions, are at higher risk for severe illness.
Regardless of the approach, however, employers should ensure that whoever receives inquiries knows how to handle them consistent with the different federal employment nondiscrimination laws that may apply, for instance, with respect to accommodations due to a medical condition, a religious belief, or pregnancy.
G.7. What should an employer do if an employee entering the worksite requests an alternative method of screening due to a medical condition? (6/11/20)
This is a request for reasonable accommodation, and an employer should proceed as it would for any other request for accommodation under the ADA or the Rehabilitation Act. If the requested change is easy to provide and inexpensive, the employer might voluntarily choose to make it available to anyone who asks, without going through an interactive process. Alternatively, if the disability is not obvious or already known, an employer may ask the employee for information to establish that the condition is a disability and what specific limitations require an accommodation. If necessary, an employer also may request medical documentation to support the employee’s request, and then determine if that accommodation or an alternative effective accommodation can be provided, absent undue hardship.
Similarly, if an employee requested an alternative method of screening as a religious accommodation, the employer should determine if accommodation is available under Title VII.
H.1. The CDC has explained that individuals age 65 and over are at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19 if they contract the virus and therefore has encouraged employers to offer maximum flexibilities to this group. Do employees age 65 and over have protections under the federal employment discrimination laws? (6/11/20)
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits employment discrimination against individuals age 40 and older. The ADEA would prohibit a covered employer from involuntarily excluding an individual from the workplace based on his or her being 65 or older, even if the employer acted for benevolent reasons such as protecting the employee due to higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Unlike the ADA, the ADEA does not include a right to reasonable accommodation for older workers due to age. However, employers are free to provide flexibility to workers age 65 and older; the ADEA does not prohibit this, even if it results in younger workers ages 40-64 being treated less favorably based on age in comparison.
Workers age 65 and older also may have medical conditions that bring them under the protection of the ADA as individuals with disabilities. As such, they may request reasonable accommodation for their disability as opposed to their age.
I. Caregivers/Family Responsibilities
I.1. If an employer provides telework, modified schedules, or other benefits to employees with school-age children due to school closures or distance learning during the pandemic, are there sex discrimination considerations? (6/11/20)
Employers may provide any flexibilities as long as they are not treating employees differently based on sex or other EEO-protected characteristics. For example, under Title VII, female employees cannot be given more favorable treatment than male employees because of a gender-based assumption about who may have caretaking responsibilities for children.
J.1. Due to the pandemic, may an employer exclude an employee from the workplace involuntarily due to pregnancy? (6/11/20)
No. Sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes discrimination based on pregnancy. Even if motivated by benevolent concern, an employer is not permitted to single out workers on the basis of pregnancy for adverse employment actions, including involuntary leave, layoff, or furlough.
J.2. Is there a right to accommodation based on pregnancy during the pandemic? (6/11/20)
There are two federal employment discrimination laws that may trigger accommodation for employees based on pregnancy.
First, pregnancy-related medical conditions may themselves be disabilities under the ADA, even though pregnancy itself is not an ADA disability. If an employee makes a request for reasonable accommodation due to a pregnancy-related medical condition, the employer must consider it under the usual ADA rules.
Second, Title VII as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act specifically requires that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions be treated the same as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work. This means that a pregnant employee may be entitled to job modifications, including telework, changes to work schedules or assignments, and leave to the extent provided for other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. Employers should ensure that supervisors, managers, and human resources personnel know how to handle such requests to avoid disparate treatment in violation of Title VII.
All non-detained immigration hearings scheduled through May 1, 2020 have been postponed. The immigration courts in Philadelphia and York are open for detained hearings only. See here for operational status updates.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Temporarily Closing Offices To The Public
Certain USCIS field ffices and asylum offices have resumed non-emergency face-to-face services to the public on June 4, 2020. The offices have enacted precautions to prevent the spread of COVID19 in their facilities.
To see if the office location you are going to is closed, check the USCIS Office closings webpage on the day of your appointment.
To schedule an emergency appointment, contact the USCIS Contact Center.
During this time, individuals may still submit applications and petitions to USCIS. Online filing remains the most convenient and interactive way to submit forms, check the status of your case, and receive notices.
USCIS will provide further updates as the situation develops and will continue to follow CDC guidance. Please visit the USCIS Response to COVID-19 webpage for more information. For more, go to https://www.uscis.gov
Individuals owed money from the IRS for missing stimulus payments, can claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2020 tax return. This is important for non-filers, who neither filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019, nor used the IRS Non-Filers Tool to claim their stimulus payments. (2/8/21)
Free income tax preparation is available at Campaign for Working Families www.cwfphilly.org.
SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
Social Security Offices are closed to the public
All local Social Security offices will be closed to the public for in-person service. Hearings at the Office of Hearing Operations are also suspended. Secure and convenient online services remain available. Local offices will continue to provide critical services over the phone. Learn more here.
Social Security Consultative Exams During COVID-19
In Pennsylvania, the Bureau of Disability Determination (BDD) is the state agency that assists the Social Security Administration in determining whether an applicant is disabled under the Social Security law. The BBD may ask applicants to undergo a medical examination called a consultative exam. Consultative exams in Pennsylvania are conducted by the IMA Group and are being scheduled during the COVID-19 pandemic. If an applicant receives a scheduling letter from the IMA Group, but is concerned about COVID-19 exposure, they may contact the BDD to postpone the examination. The toll free number for the BDD is (800) 932-0701.
EMERGENCY BROADBAND BENEFIT
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program to help households struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. EBB was authorized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) February 26, 2021. EBB will provide a discount of up to $50 per month towards broadband service for eligible households, and up to $75 per month for households on Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet.
EBB’s start date and application process has not yet been established. Updates can be found here.