COVID 19 & Labor Law

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COVID 19 & Labor Law: What Bookstore Owners Need to Know Right Now

With the realities of COVID-19, social distancing, and storefront closures, bookstore owners and managers have to be informed about what they legally can or cannot do regarding their employees. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Sick employees may qualify for paid sick time or disability leave, if they are infected and the illness lingers.
  • If the employee is “well” but just quarantined, they may not qualify for sick leave, but may work remotely.
  • Exempt employees must receive full guaranteed salary for any week in which they perform any work.

    • If no work is performed then the employee does not have to be paid for that week.
    • Employers can require employees to use PTO if they are absent for COVID-19 reasons.
    • Partial-day absences cannot be deducted from PTO once it is exhausted.
    • Full-day absences for personal reasons unrelated to COVID-19 may be deducted from pay.
    • Pay can be docked for missed full days due to illness but only if a fixed policy is already in place.
  • Non-exempt employees must be paid for the number of hours actually worked.

    • If working from home is an option and offered, employers must pay at least minimum wage and time-and-a-half of the regular rate for overtime work.
    • If working from home is not an option, employees may be kept on payroll but don’t need to be paid for time not worked.
  • Workers Compensation

    • COVID-19 may be compensable if employees come across it in the course and scope of their employment.
  • Furloughs (temporary layoffs):

    • Furloughed workers can claim unemployment benefits, which vary by state.
    • Furloughed employees should not perform any work. Legally, if they work, they must be paid. They cannot volunteer to do their jobs without pay.
    • Be sure to temporarily shut off access to any work-related accounts for furloughed employees.
    • Reassure workers that this is likely temporary and that they will be back at work when the situation financially allows for it.
  • Layoffs:

    • Generally, companies with 100 or more employees are required to give at least 60 days written notice of a plant closing or mass layoff except as a result of natural disasters or unforeseeable business circumstances. (WARN Act)
    • COVID-19 may fall under unforeseeable business circumstances but even so, employers still must give as much written advance notice as possible when conducting a mass layoff.
    • Some states have “mini-WARN” laws that have different requirements and may apply to businesses under 100 employees, so be sure to check your state legislation on what you, as an employer, can or cannot do.
  • As an alternative to furloughs and layoffs, certain states offer Work Sharing programs that reduce work hours of employees, thereby reducing the wages employers must pay.

    • Employees under these plans can claim a portion of their unemployment benefits to make up for some of the difference of the loss of wages. 
  • Returning to work:

    • Legally, employers can require employees away from work to provide a doctor’s note certifying fitness and can condition return on employees being COVID-19 free.
    • However, because of the scarcity of COVID-19 testing kits, it may not be practical to condition an employee’s return on a negative test result.


Non-exempt Employees: Entitled to overtime pay according to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employees must be paid at least minimum wage for every hour worked up to 40 hours in a regular work week. For every hour worked over the standard 40, employees must be paid at least a time and a half.

Exempt Employees: Exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employees may be classified as exempt if they are paid a salary instead of hourly, earn at least $684 per week or $35,568 annually, and are paid for every week that they work. Exemption status also depends on the type of work performed by the employee. These guidelines can vary depending on the state legislation.

Layoff: A layoff is a temporary separation from payroll. An employee is laid off because there is not enough work for him or her to perform. The employer, however, believes that this condition will change and intends to recall the person when work again becomes available.

Furlough: A furlough is considered an alternative to a layoff. In a furlough, employers require employees to work fewer hours or to take a certain amount of unpaid time off. Generally, the theory is to have the majority of employees share some hardship as opposed to a few employees losing their jobs completely.

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Independent bookstores act as community anchors; they serve a unique role in promoting the open exchange of ideas, enriching the cultural life of communities, and creating economically vibrant neighborhoods.




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