By Courtney Fairchild on March 27, 2020
The U.S. saw our first confirmed case of the Coronavirus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19) on January 20, 2020. Since then, news of COVID-19’s spread has monopolized the news, panicked communities, and caused sharp economic decline. As a small business owner, I’ve seen firsthand how anxiety surrounding COVID-19 has impacted our community. Just last week I joined a webinar with my WIPP teammates, and the concerns expressed from industry showed the heartbreaking reality of COVID-19 for many businesses: How will I pay my employees? How will I stay in business? How will I make ends meet?
What Is the Current Policy?
During these times, we look to our government for relief. So, how is congress working to assist businesses, large and small, during these trying times? My WIPP colleagues and dear friends, Ann Sullivan and Elizabeth Sullivan of Madison Services, assured me that Congress is hard-at-work establishing safety nets for American businesses.
Earlier this month, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act required emergency sick leave and expanded Family Medical Leave (FMLA) for employers. Although this is an important measure to protect Americans’ livelihoods, it creates a dilemma for many employers, especially small businesses—how to pay for emergency leave at a time when many businesses are facing sharply decreased revenues? Ann Sullivan, President & CEO of Madison Services, explains that employers offering this emergency sick leave and family leave due to COVID-19 will be able to get 100% payroll tax credit for these additional costs on a quarterly basis.
Elizabeth Sullivan, VP of Madison Services, informed me that Senate party leaders reached an agreement on the third relief package, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) on March 25, 2020 at 1:30 am. This bill, if approve by all channels, establishes $2 Trillion in new funding to address the needs of the American people amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This bill would send $1,200 checks to many Americans, establish a $367 Billion program for small businesses, and create an overarching lending fund for industries, cities, and states.
Ann said this relief bill, expected to be signed into law soon, is not business-as-usual for the American government: even two weeks ago, it would’ve been hard to imagine that the federal government would inject $2 Trillion into the US economy. Now, the government plans to issue loans that would defer small business payments for a year and provide up to 8 weeks of cash flow assistance, as well as injury disaster grants, which offer up to $10,000 for each business to pay their bills immediately. COVID-19 presents serious consequences for American businesses and our government is acknowledging it.
How Will the COVID-19 Relief Package Impact Federal Contractors?
One important provision of the bill Madison Services championed was an effort to combat a March 20 memo to the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) which stated, “If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.” This memo forced contractors to send their employees to work – sick or not. The new provision requires agencies to pay their contractors who cannot come to work until this pandemic is over. This provides an immediate solution to worried contractors, as the bill will encourage safe business practices for contractors and the larger population at risk, Ann said.
How Are Agencies Responding?
While the legislative branch of government is working on laws that will provide relief, federal agencies are hard-at-work combatting the virus– from researching treatment of COVID-19 to providing monetary loans to American small businesses. Agencies themselves are implementing safe working practices, such as telework to allow for social distancing—a key step in “flattening the curve” of COVID-19’s spread.
What Does the Law Say about Federal Contractors Affected by COVID-19?
It’s no surprise that, as the threat of COVID-19 grows and more agencies are shifting to telework, it has led to federal building closures, quarantines, and implementation of social distancing rules. What does this mean for my clients, the federal contractors, who are often contractually obligated to work onsite at government facilities? The White House recently released COVID-19 Guidance to all federal agencies, encouraging all agencies to offer contract flexibility and work with contractors to maximize telework opportunities whenever possible.
Our partners and contract law authorities at PilieroMazza noted that, while it is essential for Congress to intervene to “save the day,” contractors must be proactive in this as well. Jon Williams, Partner at PilieroMazza, advised all federal contractors to take time to fully understand their rights and obligations under their contracts, communicate with their agency customers, and document all of the impacts that they are facing as a result of COVID-19. Contractors may be entitled to equitable adjustment and claims based on delays and increased costs of performance, but to consult an advisor before making a move, as every contractor’s situation is different, he said.
To address the mounting concerns in the contracting community, PilieroMazza has even created a COVID-19 Client Resource Center, including a Response Team, tasked with providing practical guidance for government contractors and commercial businesses deal with the impact of COVID-19. And like our friends at Madison Services, the PilieroMazza team is engaging with contacts on the Hill, trying to get real solutions to help contractors, particularly small businesses, stay afloat.
What’s Happening at Global Services?
As a small business owner, my primary concern is the well-being of my team and our clients. Since COVID-19 has progressed, we have ceased all in-person meetings, and our team has fully transitioned to telework in order to adhere to social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines. Thanks to our VOIP phone system, clients can continue to reach us using the same phone number they always have. And with established, secure IT systems, each team member can serve our clients’ needs from the safety of their home offices, just as well as they could in our physical office in Navy Yard. Luckily, we established these teleworking options roughly a year ago. We also heavily tested them in early winter of 2019, doing preemptive troubleshooting in anticipation of snow days that never came! As a result, we’ve been able to make the transition to fully remote work with zero disruption to our clients.
Now that we are all scattered across the DMV area, we have put systems in place to stay connected. Each morning, we have a standing video conference where each team member discusses projects they are working on, their goals for the week, and measures they are taking to stay healthy and happy. We are encouraging one another to practice self-care and stay entertained, sharing everything from tips for relaxation to Netflix recommendations.
Since we’ve switched to teleworking, our number of “office pets” has increased! Moira the dog is now joined by two more dogs – Hera and Ollie — and three cats – Zoe, Annie, and Luke. Throughout the workday, our group chat is filled with snapshots of furry colleagues snoozing on beds, throwing toys at us, and walking across keyboards.
We’re in this Together!
In these times of uncertainty, it’s important to remember we’re all in this together. Each of us can play a part in keeping families, communities, and businesses as safe as possible. My team at Global Services is committed to our network and we will offer support and share valuable resources to help our community as we navigate this pandemic.
To my friends, clients, and partners: make sure you and your team practice social distancing, isolate in the event of an illness, and keep up-to-date on CDC guidelines. And remember to keep your head up! We will get through this together.
Please stay safe!