Your Employer Just Received a PPP Loan -- Here's What That Means for You
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You've probably read a lot about the government programs designed to help businesses stay afloat in an economy devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
If your employer has received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, that's good news. But you probably still have many questions: Will you be going back to work, when, and for how long?
While it's not possible to provide one-size-fits-all answers to these questions, here's some guidance that may help.
How the loan works
Getting approved for a loan is just the first step — that loan has to be funded before your employer can make any moves.
That process shouldn't take too long, however, as SBA regulations state that PPP loans must be funded within 10 days. From the date of origination of the loan, your employer has eight weeks to spend the funds if they want the loan to be forgiven by the federal government, and 75% of the loan amount must be spent on payroll — a.k.a., paying you, the employee.
You don't have to return to the office to receive your paycheck — but refusing to do so comes with its own risks
Your employer doesn't actually have to bring you physically back to work in order to give you a paycheck — that's up to them to decide, Johnny Wang, a St. Louis-based partner at law firm Stinson LLP, told Business Insider. So, if you're in a state where your job is still restricted, your employer may still elect to pay you, even if you're staying at home.
"A lot of employees will be scared about their safety in coming back and whether they'll be able to say no if they're asked to come back and they're not comfortable," Wang said.
If you're concerned about your safety in returning to the job, you should know that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has released guidance for employers to help prepare them for staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and you should expect a clean workplace in which you're protected, just as you would at any other time. No employer can mitigate every possible exposure, however, and if you still don't feel comfortable, you can in fact refuse the offer to return to work.
Keep in mind that if you make that decision, though, you are risking your employment and jeopardizing any unemployment benefits you may be receiving.
"The tricky thing about unemployment under the CARES Act is that it's driven by each state's requirements," Wang said. "In many states, if there are hours to be worked, you're required to work them. If you don't work them, generally, you're not eligible to collect unemployment."
Wang said that a refusal to return once your place of work reopens may also result in termination.
"Generally, if there are no protected classes at issue, such as medical, safety, or FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act) concerns, an employer is permitted to separate an employee for refusing to return to work upon reopening," he told Business Insider. "In many states, this separation would also result in an employee being denied further unemployment benefits, as there are hours available to be worked, and the employee is refusing to work them."
Your pay rate can increase or decrease slightly depending on your business' priorities
Assuming you're ready to proceed, you may be wondering about your rate of pay. Your employer may be struggling as businesses slowly get back on their feet, but the terms of the PPP state that employees' compensation may not be reduced by more than 25% and also qualify for forgiveness, Robbin Caruso, a partner in the tax controversy practice at top-50 US accounting firm Prager Metis, told Business Insider.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, many businesses issued hourly workers "hazard pay" raises in the early days of the crisis, and Wang said many are considering returning to similar compensation increases to entice more employees to return to the workplace this month to offset safety concerns. Additionally, your normal cost of living or other yearly increases may be forthcoming, Caruso said.
"It appears likely that employees may receive raises that are in keeping with their typical annual (or prior year) cost raises," Caruso said. "Businesses are generally trying to proceed with how they would typically conduct themselves during this period."
Furloughs and layoffs are unlikely if your employer received PPP money
Is it possible that you'd get furloughed or even fired once your employer opens back up?
The potential is there, but the probability isn't great, Caruso said. Your employer has to account for all the monies spent in the eight-week period beginning from the date of the origination of their PPP loan and will be responsible for paying back any funds not spent on payroll or other very limited categories. Failing to disburse funds as allocated will mean they forgo loan forgiveness.
"Moves like this will impact the forgiveness given during the eight-week covered period," Caruso explained. "Pending further guidance, there may be other issues. We'll only know how all of this nets out on June 30, which will make employers less likely to act during this period."
What to do if your children are still at home
Perhaps you have been called back to work and you're also ready and willing to go, but there's one more factor: Your children are at home because schools in your area are closed, and you can't find childcare. You may be eligible for paid leave that will enable you to recoup some income while you care for your child and also protect you from losing your job, Wang said.
"If the company has under 500 employees, they would be covered by the FFCRA, and current employees would be able to receive paid leave benefits if they are unable to work because their kids' school is closed," he said. "It is unclear what happens in the summertime when school is out, but most likely if summer care providers are also closed, then the benefits would still be available."
Wang said that employers may try to draw distinctions as to whether older school-age children really require parental supervision, but in most cases, it favors them to allow you to remain at home.
"A 14-year-old at home probably can take care of themselves, but because of the tax credit that is available for this, we recommend granting the leave in lieu of being stingy, to reduce risk," he said.
If it's your time to return to the workplace, keep in mind that above all else, it's not going to be the same workplace you left several months ago, both functionally and from a mindset standpoint. Knowing the facts going in — not only about how to keep yourself safe from COVID-19, but also about how to protect your job itself — is the best way to get used to the new normal at work.