July 31, 2022 Deadline To Update Form I-9 as COVID-19 Temporary Policy for Expired List B Identity Documents Ends

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provides requirements for Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification. This law prohibits employers from hiring and employing an individual for employment in the United States if the individual is not authorized with respect to such employment. Employers are required to verify both the individual’s identity and employment authorization on Form I-9.

Employees must provide physical documentation to their employers to show their identity and authorization to work, which employers must acknowledge on the I-9 form. Employees must provide either a list A document (identity and employment authorization)(1) OR a list B (identity only) + a list C document (employment authorization)(2).

Previously, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created a COVID-19 Temporary Policy regarding documents establishing identity found on List B. DHS allowed these documents, which were set to expire on or after March 1, 2020 (and not otherwise extended by the applicable issuing authority) to be treated the same as if the employee presented a valid receipt for an acceptable document for Form I-9 purposes. DHS adopted the temporary policy in response to the difficulties many individuals experienced with renewing documents during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as a driver’s license.

Because document-issuing authorities have reopened and/or provided alternatives to in-person renewals, DHS will end this flexibility and the COVID-19 Temporary Policy for List B Identity Documents. Since May 1, 2022, employers are no longer be able to accept expired List B documents, and must only accept unexpired List B documents.

If an employee presented an expired List B document between May 1, 2020, and April 30, 2022, employers are required to update their Forms I-9 by July 31, 2022.

See table below for update requirements.

[1] List A documents show both identity and employment authorization. 
Examples are U.S. Passport, Permanent Resident Card, or Employment Authorization Document

[1] List B documents establish identity – examples are driver’s license, voter registration card, U.S. military card   List C documents only establish employment authorization – examples are Social Security Card, original copy of a birth certificate

South Dakota’s Annual Minimum Wage Increase Has Been Announced

Just announced:  the new South Dakota Minimum Wage for 2022 is increasing by 50 cents per hour.  The new rate of $9.95 per hour is up from $9.45 in 2021. The new rate becomes effective on January 1, 2022, and applies to non-tipped employees in South Dakota.

South Dakota’s non-tipped minimum wage is adjusted on an annual basis, increasing at the same rate as the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index, published by the U.S. Department of Labor. The amount of the increase will be rounded up to the nearest five cents. The South Dakota state minimum wage cannot decrease.

The hourly minimum wage for tipped employees will be no less than $4.975 per hour, beginning on January 1, 2022.  Employers must ensure that it keeps and maintains records of all tips received by employees. 

Employers must be sure that hourly employees receive no less than the current minimum wage and that it maintain proper records of time worked and wages paid for hourly employees.  

There are also certain exemptions from the minimum wage that apply to:

  • seasonal amusement or recreations establishments, babysitters, or outside salespersons;
  • training wages;
  • apprentices and individuals with developmental disabilities.

There is no South Dakota state statute that requires a poster to be displayed regarding minimum wage.  However, South Dakota’s State Department of Labor and Regulation provides one as a courtesy to employers, and many employers do post this in their workplace at a location where employees can see it or where other postings are typically made (e.g., breakroom, bulletin board, company intranet, etc.).                        

See the link below:https://dlr.sd.gov/employment_laws/publications/min_wage_poster_2022.pdf

South Dakota Department of Labor to End Federal Pandemic Unemployment Benefits

As the economy struggles to recover in the wake of COVID-19, many businesses have pointed to a lack of workers to hire for available jobs.  Many lawmakers have blamed the federal unemployment aid that was provided to out-of-work individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for the stunted job growth.  Now a growing number of states, including South Dakota, have made the decision to end those federal pandemic unemployment benefits.  This strategy is hoped to increase the pool of people available for (and eager to) work.    

The Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation Secretary, Ms. Marcia Hultman, explains that businesses in South Dakota continue to claim that they would grow and expand if it wasn’t for the lack of workers. 

During COVID-19, South Dakota has participated in three unemployment-related programs in connection with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and the Continued Assistance to Unemployed Workers Act of 2020. 

Effective as of the week ending June 26, 2021, South Dakota will terminate its participation in the following three programs:

  1. The federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program, which had provided a total of 24 weeks of unemployment benefits to qualified individuals who had exhausted regular reemployment assistance benefits;
  2. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which had provided a supplemental $300 weekly payment to claimants who were receiving unemployment benefits, regardless of the program under which they were being paid;
  3. The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.  PUA currently provides benefits to independent contractors, the underemployed, the self-employed, and individuals who have been unable to work due to health or COVID-19-related reasons.

The agreement signed between the State of South Dakota and the United States Department of Labor initiating these programs allows either party to terminate the programs with 30 days’ notice to the other.   South Dakota will continue to pay regular State reemployment assistance claims.   

All claimants will be contacted by the SD Department of Labor, Reemployment Assistance Division, with further details after the U.S. DOL has provided further guidance.  In addition, the SD Department of Labor and Regulation announced its on-line database called SDWORKS, with an average of over 23,000 job openings daily.  Workers can visit www.sdjobs.org to search for job openings or receive virtual employment services, such as skills building or training.

It is anticipated that the strategy outlined above will give South Dakota the additional boost to its economy that will assist in making our state positioned for further growth and prosperity. 

Please contact attorney Jennifer S. Frank at (605) 791-6450 for further information or questions.

WORKPLACE MENTORING: Taking Advantage of the Hidden Business Benefits Every Employer Can Use

By Jennifer Suich Frank, Esq., Lynn, Jackson, Shultz & Lebrun, P.C.
and Karina B. Sterman, Esq., Greenberg Glusker

With January being National Mentoring Month, it is an opportune time for organizations of any size or industry to consider the benefits of workplace mentoring and whether to implement a mentoring program in 2021. As the past year has shown us, now more than ever, companies need to engage their employees and continue to build their businesses for the future.
One way to do that is to consider the (sometimes hidden) benefits of good mentoring – whether it is formal or informal – within the organization for continued overall success and long-term viability. Mentoring benefits the employee as well as the employer, and also benefits the mentor him or herself. The following are areas of benefits:

  1. Increased employee engagement
    With competition for top talent, an ever-present concern for most organizations, the key is how to retain those good employees once you have succeeded in hiring them. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged (or are actively disengaged) in their job. Employee engagement isn’t always about compensation or benefits; it can be about employees’ opportunities for advancement or wanting to make a difference in their organization, having their voices heard, being recognized, or otherwise participating in the success of their company. Professional and organizational mentorship arrangements can help the mentees with all these areas and have a positive impact on employee engagement overall.
  1. Increased success of the organization and profitability or goal achievement
    A significant long-term study conducted by James Heskett and John Kotter, resulting in their book Corporate Culture and Performance, found that companies which either had or encouraged leadership initiatives as part of a performance-enhancing culture grew by an average of 682% in revenue. Also, a case study performed at Sun Microsystems found that employees who participated in the company’s mentoring program were five times more likely to be promoted and advance in their pay grade, with mentors themselves realizing an even higher rate of advancement. A mentoring program, whether formal or informal, can become a part of an organization’s culture and commitment to leadership and development. This, in turn, can lead to higher profitability or other measures of organizational or employee success.
  1. Improved employer brand and reputation
    It is no coincidence that almost three-quarters (3/4) of Fortune 500 companies (those United States’ largest businesses ranked by total revenue) have a mentoring program, when one considers the benefits for the company, the mentees and the mentors. Establishing a successful mentoring program can become a valuable recruiting tool, making the company an employer-of-choice and increasing the employee value proposition or “EVP” (how employees perceive the value gained by working for the organization across several attributes, including the opportunity for growth and development). And as every business knows, an organization’s reputation is key to attracting and retaining customers, clients and employees – and is necessary for survival in a competitive market and for long-term growth. Mentoring programs increase a business’ reputation by demonstrating a commitment to its employees – and ultimately – to all of its stakeholders.
  1. Knowledge sharing and business continuity/succession planning
    It is often said that “knowledge is best shared.” In traditional organizations, knowledge is typically shared from the top down. Therefore, mentoring can help newer or younger employees tap into that pool of organizational knowledge, instrumental for business continuity and succession planning. In addition, employees, regardless of their time with the company, age or job status, have knowledge to share. Therefore,
    mentors and mentees alike can benefit from sharing information with each other, and this in turn creates mutual organizational learning. Everyone wins – including the organization.
  1. Creation of a “safe place” for idea-sharing, questions and employee development
    According to social psychologist Brem Brown, workplaces need to be a “safe container” in order for innovation, growth, leadership and the development of employees’ potential to take place. A mentor-mentee relationship is ideally built on trust, guidance, sharing and feedback and provides a type of “safe place” for real development of the mentee’s potential within the organization. The mentor can serve as a resource when an employee mentee does not know where else to turn, or when the employee mentee may not feel comfortable asking a particular question of his/her manager.
  2. Increased diversity and inclusion
    Many studies have found a positive correlation between successful diversity and inclusion efforts and the organization’s success. However, many workplace diversity programs don’t end up increasing diversity and being successful – and some never even get started, even if they were initially considered. On the other hand, mentoring programs have demonstrated a positive impact on making diversity and inclusion part of the organizational fabric. Mentorship can be a great tool to build diversity, equity and inclusion – and growth – for both mentees and mentors. A study performed by Cornell University’s School of Industrial Relations found that mentoring programs increased minority employees’ representations at the management level by 9% to 24%. In addition, the study found that for minorities and women, the mentoring programs significantly improved their promotion and retention rates (15% – 38% versus non-mentored employees). Thus, mentoring can be an important aspect of encouraging and ensuring the success of underrepresented or overlooked employee populations in the workplace.

    Convinced? We hope so. We also want to emphasize that workplace mentoring programs are available to every employer, regardless of size, industry or financial resources. The first step is to determine the purpose of the mentorship, and employers are not limited to just one. The following are the most common purposes and types of mentorship arrangements:
  1. Employee Integration
    a. This is the most common approach to mentorship and expands on the typically cursory orientation and onboarding process at the time of hire. Employees who have been with the company for at least a year and are trusted to have the company’s overall interest in mind are assigned a newly hired employee mentee to help further familiarize the new employee with the company’s systems, levels of formality or informality, personnel, and available resources.

    b. The mentor is usually someone within the same department and made available for routine questions and process clarification.

    c. This is usually a temporary assignment until the newly hired employee has successfully integrated and completed some type of introductory or probationary period.
  2. Employee Promotion
    a. This is mentoring for more tenured employees and typically appropriate when a junior employee seeks to be coached and supported in expanding her or his career within the company. For this type of mentorship, it is important to make sure the mentor is well-established, supportive, and not in competition with the mentee. This type of relationship also requires that the company allow the mentor adequate room for confidentiality and time for training. A mentee and mentor are matched, either through a program or on their own.

    b. Mentee-mentor partners participate in a mentoring relationship with structure and a timeframe of their making. This type of mentorship is finite and typically concludes when the mentee obtains the desired promotion or experience.
  1. Development Mentoring
    a. This is mentoring that is more comprehensive and not limited to workplace promotion readiness. The development mentorship is a carefully calibrated relationship in which a more seasoned and well-regarded member of the organization provides feedback and a safe environment in which employees can reflect on their employment and career path without judgment. The mentors listen, collaborate, challenge, and help the mentees find ways to make choices aligned with personal, professional and company values.

    b. Typically lasting a year or more, this type of relationship requires that the mentor establish trust and open communication with the mentee. Even when the formal mentorship program ends, the mentor remains available as a trusted confidante and career advisor to the mentee on an ongoing basis.

    c. Often, it is ideal to allow the mentee to identify who would be the pref erred mentor for this type of relationship.

    Employers also have options operationally when implementing any of the above mentorship programs.

    Mentorship can take place in a close one-to-one assignment or in a group setting with an assigned mentor to lead it. The mentorship program can be the product of brainstorming and design by a company committee or under the guidance and supervision of a formal paid mentorship coach. Of course, mentoring relationships can also develop naturally without any formal set-up or program. However, no matter what resources a company may have available, there is no better time to implement a mentorship program for employees than now.

    Has your company implemented a mentorship program? If not, which one will it try first? Do you have other suggestions? Please let us know your company’s mentorship experiences or plans here: [email protected]

    We encourage sharing and would love to publish a list of ideas on the Primerus website.

About the authors:

Jennifer Suich Frank is a seasoned employment attorney with over 20 years of experience advising clients on a variety of employment, labor and benefit issues. She routinely advises human resources professionals and company leaders on issues involving discrimination, harassment, disability, ADA, FM LA, wage and hour, compliance, handbooks and policies, privacy, non-competes, hiring, discipline and termination. Jennifer also responds to charges of discrimination, complaints with federal and state agencies, and handles employment -related litigation.
A creative and ardent advocate for her clients, Karina Sterman defends businesses in class action lawsuits as well as in discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and other employment disputes. While she regularly defends companies in administrative proceedings in front of the EEOC , Department of Labor, California Labor Commissioner, and other jurisdictions, she leverages her significant experience in “behind the scenes” counseling to avoid or resolve pending claims


Remote Work Arrangements: The Upsides, Downsides and Legal Sides

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation in early 2020, businesses had to swiftly shift business models and determine how work could be accomplished while keeping their employees safe, healthy, and socially distant.  One of the largest changes in the 2020 workforce was employers’ use of remote work arrangements – otherwise known as “teleworking.” 

While at first blush the use of remote working arrangements seems like a “no brainer,” with numerous advantages for both the employee and employer, there are downsides that must be considered.  In addition, there are hidden legal issues to be identified, explored in advance, and carefully analyzed, to avoid unwanted surprises down the road.

Let’s take a look at the vast amount of advantages offered by telework:

  • Increased employee productivity
  • Increased employee mental health/morale
  • Cut down on employee commuting (time and dollars)
  • Employers can save thousands of dollars per employee on office costs/expenses
  • Reduces carbon emissions (environmental)
  • Economy benefits as employees have more free time to spend and shop more
  • Flexible work arrangement seen as an employee benefit
  • Employee relations / engagement
  • Company leaders can still manage the business effectively      

On the other hand, there are a handful of downsides, which should be carefully weighed against the upsides:

  • Employees can feel isolated (no in-person contact with coworkers or customers)
  • Motivation may be lost, and performance may suffer 
  • Communication may not be as effective or clear – certain messages can be lost if not transmitted in person
  • Difficulty in managing a home environment when others around and distractions
  • Confidentiality and security concerns in an at-home work environment

Before a business determines whether it can or should offer employees a work-from-home alternative, it is best to understand the array of legal issues and determine if a teleworking arrangement is still a viable one. 

Time tracking

Many employees are considered non-exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and are entitled to be paid on an hourly basis for all hours “suffered or permitted to work.”  This means if they perform work – even when those hours are not assigned or authorized – they are entitled to be paid for it.  In addition, for employers subject to the FLSA, they must pay their non-exempt workers overtime on hours worked over 40 in a workweek.  The federal Department of Labor issued guidance on August 24, 2020, discussing employers’ duty to track compensable hours worked of remote workers.  Employers will need to consider whether they will monitor employees’ computer time or some other method to determine “hours worked” – such as requiring daily or weekly time sheets from those workers. 

Performance management

With employees no longer in the office or workplace with their manager, performance management can become trickier.  Businesses will need to consider how employees will demonstrate productivity and turn in their work product.  Managers are well advised to establish employee to-do lists, indicating the frequency of required reporting in, as well as having regular check-ins with employees and the team. Managers should also identify measurable productivity goals and establish priorities and deadlines. Finally, supervisors/managers should still conduct performance reviews on their employees, and organizations will need to determine how they will be conducted (Zoom? Phone? In-person?) and when they will be conducted. 

Home office space

Several issues need to be considered as employees carve out a space in their homes from which they will be working.  First, the employer needs to establish with the employee what space is considered the actual “office” so that workers’ compensation exposure can be limited in the case of an on-the-job accident or injury.  The whole house or apartment should not be considered the workspace!  

Next, the employer needs to identify what business-related expenses are being incurred by the employee.  South Dakota law (SDCL § 60-2-1) requires employers to indemnify employees for what they “expend or lose in direct consequence of the discharge of duties.”  Consider items such as computer, internet connection, printer, paper, office supplies, electricity, hardware/software, desk/chair/stand-up desk, and cellphone.  If the employer is providing items to the employee, it should take an inventory of those items.  Employers also need to consider IT and technology support, who will manage it, and what the procedures will be to ensure smooth operational flow.  

Communication

Managers need to be clear and up-front with employees about the manner and method of expected communication (e.g., email, Zoom call or phone call?) and what is the expected frequency.  Also, managers should let employees know if they will be required to come into the office or workplace and when.

Remote work agreement/policy

Employers should consider using a formal remote work agreement, which the employer and employee will both sign and date.  The advantage of this approach is that it will memorialize the understanding of the parties, details can be provided, and expectations established.  Employers should be careful not to promise an indefinite at-home work arrangement, but instead put a time limit on it (which can be extended, if needed).  Finally, employers should implement a telecommuting policy and procedure so that guidelines and rules are clearly established and communicated. 

Many recent research studies have concluded that remote working is here to stay for the long-term, and many employees desire to continue working remotely, at least part of the time.  Each business will need to evaluate the pros and cons of going remote (or continuing remote work arrangements) and whether it makes business sense to allow employees the opportunity and flexibility of working from home.  Employers will need to evaluate the job role being considered and the reasonable expectations for the job.  In sum, employers will need to balance flexibility and the potential upsides with needed employee productivity and performance, as well as costs and legal compliance considerations.  To be sure, remote working arrangements can continue to be a strategic advantage for certain businesses as the pandemic continues on into 2021, and beyond.       

EEOC States Employers May Require Workers to Obtain COVID-19 Vaccine

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into 2021, businesses are still concerned about the best available lawful methods they can utilize to protect the health and safety of their workers and customers/clients.   By now, employers in South Dakota are aware that the COVID-19 vaccine is becoming available to individuals throughout the United States and the world.  A frequent question among employers is whether they can lawfully require their employees to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.  Another related question is whether they can lawfully recommend, but not mandate, that their employees obtain the COVID-19 vaccine.   

Last year, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) explained in its guidance that employers were permitted to both screen their employees (such as taking the temperature of an individual) and test their employees for COVID-19 before they entered the workplace, to determine whether they have the COVID-19 virus.    

The EEOC made it clear that it may exclude those individuals from the workplace who either have COVID-19, or have symptoms associated with the virus, because their presence would present a direct threat to the health or safety of others.   The Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) identified a list of COVID-19 symptoms, including fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, and sore throat. 

The most recent guidance from the EEOC came in December 2020, and makes it clear that employers are permitted to require employees to be vaccinated before returning to the workplace.  However, although the EEOC has condoned employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccines, it may be a best practice for employers to simply encourage their employees to obtain the vaccine, rather than requiring them to get it.  This is because a mandatory scheme implicates potential Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) issues that need to be considered before making a program of vaccinations mandatory.

The first issue to consider for a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine program is whether a vaccine constitutes a “medical exam” for purposes of the ADA.  The EEOC answered this question in its Technical Assistance Questions and Answers by stating “no – the vaccination itself is not a medical examination.”  The EEOC went on to state “if a vaccine is administered to an employee by an employer for protection against contracting COVID-19, the employer is not seeking information about an individual’s impairments or current health status, and therefore, it is not a medical examination.” 

The second issue to consider is whether any further questioning of employees related to the COVID-19 vaccine could implicate the ADA’s standards for disability-related inquiries.  As the CDC indicated, health care providers should ask certain questions of an individual before administering a vaccine to ensure that there is no medical reason that would prevent the person from receiving the vaccination.  The EEOC stated that these types of pre-screening questions do invoke the ADA and its standards because they are likely to elicit information about a person’s disability, and are therefore “disability-related.” 

According to the ADA standard, the employer must then show that these disability-related screening inquiries are “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”  In order to meet this standard, the EEOC states that “an employer would need to have a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee who does not answer the questions, and therefore does not receive a vaccination, will pose a direct threat to the health or safety of her or himself or others.”  The EEOC instructs employers to conduct an individualized assessment concerning a direct threat, such as (1) the duration of the risk; (2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; (3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and (4) the imminence of the potential harm.  

One more item about mandatory vaccine programs: employers will also need to consider potential employee requests for accommodations, such as on account of a disability or sincerely held religious practice or belief.  If an employee states that he or she cannot get vaccinated because of a disability or sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, the employer will need to explore through the reasonable accommodation process whether there is a possible accommodation that will not cause the organization an undue hardship (e.g., a remote work arrangement). 

If there is no reasonable accommodation possible, the employer may lawfully exclude the worker from the workplace.  However, the employer should not automatically terminate the worker, as it would need to determine if any other rights apply under other Equal Employment Opportunity laws or other federal, state and local rules or regulations.    

To avoid the above potential application of the ADA, an employer can simply choose to not make its vaccine program mandatory, and instead, offer a vaccination to its employees on a voluntary basis (meaning the employees choose whether to receive the vaccine).  In this case, the ADA requires that the employee’s decision to answer pre-screening, disability-related questions also must be voluntary.  If an employee chooses not to answer these questions, then the employer may decline to administer the vaccine, but may not retaliate against or threaten the employee for refusing to answer any questions. 

In addition, if an employee receives the vaccination from a third-party (e.g., a pharmacy), the ADA’s “job-related and consistent with business necessity” standard on disability-related inquiries will not apply.  Also, an employer simply asking an employee to show proof of receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine is not a disability-related inquiry because merely requesting such proof is not likely to elicit information about someone’s disability.  Employers do need to be careful not to ask any follow-up questions of the employee, such as why they did not receive the vaccine, as it may elicit information about a person’s disability and, therefore, be subject to the ADA standard of “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”     

One final point about vaccines and any potential employee medical information obtained in the course of the vaccine program:  employers are required to keep such information confidential and separate from the employee’s regular personnel file, in accordance with the ADA.

In summary, each employer will have to think about the costs and benefits of potentially implementing a mandatory vaccine program, considering the nature of its business and products or services it provides (for example, health care entities are one type of unique and specialized business that may want to make the vaccine mandatory due to concerns about health care workers’ and patients’ health and safety). 

And while the EEOC has put its stamp of approval on employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccines, it may be a best practice for employers to simply encourage their employees to obtain the vaccine, rather than requiring them to get it.  In that way, the employer will have employees’ “buy-in” which will increase employee engagement due to their voluntary choice (rather than feeling forced to get the vaccine) and avoid some of the more burdensome ADA requirements.

For more information on COVID-19 and the ADA, visit:

https://www.eeoc.gov/wysk/what-you-should-know-about-covid-19-and-ada-rehabilitation-act-and-other-eeo-laws

Please contact attorney Jennifer S. Frank at (605) 791-6450 for further information or questions.

South Dakota Businesses and Cities Take Steps in Response to Increase in COVID-19 Cases

As COVID-19 cases surge in South Dakota lately, businesses and cities are responding to help slow the spread of the virus and mitigate the pandemic.

As many businesses had already begun to reopen or had remained open in some capacity during the past months, following the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines was considered important and recommended.

The CDC suggested key employer activities focus on:

  • preventing and reducing transmission among employees by actively encouraging employees to stay home, conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks, identifying how workers may be exposed to COVID-19 at work, keeping sick employees separated from healthy employees, requiring sick employees to go home, and educating employees about important preventative and protective steps;
  • maintaining healthy business operations by implementing flexible sick leave and policies and practices that support employees, frequent and clear communication of policies and procedures to employees, anticipating absences and determining operations if absenteeism increases, and establishing policies and practices for social distancing; and
  • maintaining a healthy work environment by increasing workplace ventilation systems, providing handwashing stations, hand sanitizer, face coverings, and tissues, encouraging hand hygiene and avoidance of touching one’s face, performing routine cleaning, encouraging phone calls and videoconferencing (instead of in-person meetings), social distancing of at least 6 feet apart, and limiting travel.

Up to this point, the State of South Dakota has never mandated any COVID-19 precautions (such as wearing masks), but does recommend social distancing, limiting people in retail places, and wearing masks for customers and employees.

Just last week, on November 17th, the City of Sioux Falls passed an ordinance mandating masks to be worn by people inside retail businesses and city-owned facilities where proper social distancing of 6 feet cannot be achieved. The mandate took effect on November 21, 2020. While the downside is that there is no penalty (such as a fine) for a violation, the upside is that it supports businesses who choose to enforce a mask policy. Masks have been identified by the CDC and other health experts as one of the best ways to slow or stop transmission of COVID-19.

Another effort recently made in Sioux Falls is the launching of a campaign called the “Safer Sioux Falls Pledge Program.” This campaign publishes a list of those local businesses who sign a voluntarily pledge to practice COVID-19 mitigation efforts in their workplaces – in an effort to keep workplaces safe and open for business. This public commitment from businesses states that they will help slow the spread of the virus by practicing COVID-19 mitigation efforts, including, but not limited to following CDC precautions (such as wearing face masks).

Any business that signs the pledge will be able to identify its business as having taken the Safer Sioux Falls Pledge, and will be listed in an online directory. Business can sign the Safer Sioux Falls pledge and consumers can see a list of those who have pledged at siouxfalls.org/pledge.

The Safer Sioux Falls Pledge includes some measures such as requiring face coverings, having hand sanitizer available for customers, practicing social distancing of 6 feet apart or more when possible, encouraging frequent employee hand washing, requiring employees to stay home when sick, and training employees on COVID-19 safety protocol.

Other cities, such as Huron, have approved resolutions that require masks within city limits. The City of Huron has also offered detailed guidelines for businesses on how to safely conduct themselves, with information on social distancing, conducting daily temperature checks, encouraging employees to stay home when sick, cleaning and disinfecting, and plexiglass dividers where customers and employees interact.

The City of Rapid City announced at the end of October a requirement for City staff who provide face-to-face services to customers, as well as members of the public entering city buildings, to wear a facial covering. Masks will be provided if necessary, and any person who refuses to wear a mask will be refused services. In addition, customers are being encouraged to utilize different options to reduce visits to city buildings, such as the use of online payments, calling, or email communications.

Governor Noem has repeatedly expressed a high value on individual choice as well as individual responsibility. She recently reiterated one of the best things people can do to stop the spread of the virus is wash their hands. It is not likely that a state-wide mask mandate will be issued by the Governor’s office any time soon, even with the increase in COVID-19 cases across the state.

Ultimately, in South Dakota it is up to each individual business to determine how they want to operate and if they want to require masks and other safety measures. For businesses that want to stay open and want to ensure healthy customers and healthy employees, they will have to find the best way to implement guidelines and actions to meet those goals. Then, it is also up to the customer, client or consumer to determine whether they want to support certain businesses. In the end, it is a business strategy in appealing to the customer (and their health/safety concerns) and ensuring the company or organization is the type of place customers will want to frequent.

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South Dakota’s Annual Increase Of Minimum Wage Has Been Announced

Just announced: the new South Dakota Minimum Wage for 2021 is increasing by 15 cents per hour. The new rate of $9.45 per hour is up from $9.30 in 2020. The new rate becomes effective on January 1, 2021, and applies to non-tipped employees in South Dakota.

South Dakota’s non-tipped minimum wage is adjusted on an annual basis, increasing at the same rate as the cost of living as measured in the Consumer Price Index published by the U.S. Department of Labor. The amount of the increase will be rounded up to the nearest five cents. The South Dakota state minimum wage cannot decrease.

The hourly minimum wage for tipped employees will be no less than $4.725 per hour, beginning on January 1, 2021. Employers must ensure that it keeps and maintains records of all tips received by employees.

Employers must be sure that hourly employees receive no less than the current minimum wage and that it maintains proper records of time worked and wages paid for hourly employees.

There are also certain exemptions from the minimum wage that apply to:

  • seasonal amusement or recreations establishments, babysitters, or outside salespersons;
  • training wages;
  • apprentices and individuals with developmental disabilities.

There is no South Dakota state statute that requires a poster to be displayed regarding minimum wage. However, South Dakota’s State Department of Labor and Regulation provides one as a courtesy to employers, and many employers do post this in their workplace at a location where employees can see it or where other postings are typically made (e.g., breakroom, bulletin board, company intranet, etc.).

See the link below:
https://dlr.sd.gov/employment_laws/publications/min_wage_poster_2021.pdf

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U.S. SUPREME COURT RULES EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION PROHIBITED AGAINST LGBT EMPLOYEES

On Monday, June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that the federal law barring discrimination in the workplace now protects gay and transgender workers.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, as well as on the basis of sex. In this week’s ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Title VII precludes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender identity.

The legal debate giving rise to the case focused on the definition of “sex” in Title VII and whether it could be viewed that discriminating against gay and transgender workers was inherently on the basis of their sex and, therefore, against the law.

The opinion of the Court was authored by conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch who expressed that what mattered was the text of the law – i.e., not only what does “sex” mean, but also what does Title VII say about it.

The Court stated, “It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.” It went on to say that this is because “[a]n employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or action it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision.”

While South Dakota law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status, Title VII now will prohibit such discrimination, and is applicable to employers with 15 or more employees.

Employers are well advised to review their policies and employee handbooks to include appropriate language to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, transgender status, or gender identity. In addition, employers should provide education and training to supervisors and managers in keeping with the new updates on prohibited discriminatory employment actions.

Please contact attorney Jennifer S. Frank at (605) 791-6450 for further information or questions.

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COVID-19: GUIDANCE FOR SOUTH DAKOTA EMPLOYERS AS BUSINESSES REOPEN

With South Dakota COVID-19 cases still on the rise, employers and businesses around the state are making plans to get back to work or to determine what the new work environment will be and what it will look like. South Dakota businesses were never mandatorily forced to shut down, although many did and are now planning on reopening.

Governor Kristi Noem has unveiled South Dakota’s “Back to Normal Plan” which covers guidance for individuals, employers, enclosed retail businesses that promote public gatherings, schools, health care providers and local governments. See: https://covid.sd.gov/docs/COVID_SDPlan_BackToNormal.pdf

As to employers and the physical workspace, it is essential that good hygiene and sanitation practices are continued to be followed, especially in high traffic areas.

The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has tips on cleaning and disinfecting facilities, as well as guidance for individual employees, including the following:

  • maintaining social distance of 6 feet between coworkers;
  • washing hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds;
  • avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth;
  • cleaning shared surfaces often; and
  • staying home when sick.

Employers can develop policies surrounding its rules for employees, such as requiring them to stay home when they are sick, prohibiting employees from coming to work if they have symptoms of COVID-19, and sending employees home if they are sick. As mentioned in my previous article, employers can screen employees and can even test them for COVID-19 if it makes sense for that business and the screens and tests are conducted in a fair and reliable manner. While the South Dakota government has never prohibited travel to or from other states, or within the state, employers can consider what travel restrictions it wishes to impose on employees, so long as it does so in a reasonable and equitable manner.

If employees were operating via telework or remote arrangement, employers can consider continuing the telework setup, or can require employees to return to the workplace.

While fear of COVID-19 is not covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employers may want to reassure employees by articulating the reasonable steps the employer takes to protect the safety of employees returning to and working in the workplace.

Other ideas that employers can implement are:

  • educating employees on the proper hygiene protocols, and consider posting guidance around the workplace on stopping the spread of germs at work;
  • limiting non-essential business operations to the extent possible;
  • limiting areas where employees typically gather, such as the coffee or break room;
  • ensuring handwashing and disinfecting stations are available and the supplies are maintained;
  • consider supplying masks to employees, depending on the nature of the business;
  • continuing remote meetings, such as ZOOM or teleconference;
  • minimizing non-essential business travel as necessary;
  • adhering to state and federal/CDC guidelines.

Employers are well-advised to balance both the health and safety of its employees with the business and economic needs of the organization. While the pandemic has certainly presented challenges for employers and employees alike, a well-thought out plan is essential in this stage of America’s reopening.

Please contact attorney Jennifer S. Frank at (605) 791-6450 for further information or questions.

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