Should Your Team Make Vaccinations Mandatory

Have you considered making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory? If so, you’re not alone. Government workers have navigated uncertainty and unprecedented challenges since March 2020, even as most other sectors of the economy shut down completely or moved to remote employment. Just a week ago, public-facing government and other public employees, non-profit workers, and essential public-facing business service workers were deemed eligible for the vaccine in New York. This includes public works employees, social service and child service caseworkers, government inspectors, sanitation workers, DMV workers, County Clerks, building service workers, and election workers. Yet as the COVID-19 vaccine does gradually become more widely available, the scientific community did not foresee the next hurdle being vaccine resistance, but it’s the reality that’s setting in across the country. Polling data continues to show that a significant percentage of Americans prefer not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine – in fact, research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 28% of U.S. workers are willing to lose their job rather than get vaccinated. The risk of unnecessary interruptions or delays in local municipality duties due to increased COVID-19 infection within offices is of great importance as it will directly impact communities. So, how do local governmental leaders navigate this latest bump on the road to economic recovery? Read on for the latest guidance.

Can an employer make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for workers?

ANSWER: In December, the federal agency focused on workplace discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said because the vaccination itself is not a medical examination, employers could make COVID-19 shots mandatory for their workers. Keep in mind that if employees have medical or religious reasons that prevent them from taking a coronavirus vaccine, employers could be legally required to give the workers some reasonable alternative to continue to work. Also, for employers with a unionized workforce, the employer must consider bargaining requirements before implementing a mandatory vaccine policy.

Can an employer ask an employee if he or she has already received the vaccine or require proof of vaccination?

ANSWER: Generally, yes. However, that inquiry can only be made, according to the EEOC, if the question is “job-related and consistent with business necessity” as provided under the ADA. To meet this job-relatedness standard, the employer will need to establish that the worker’s failure to be vaccinated would pose a “direct threat” to the well-being of that employee or others with whom the employee would have contact as part of his or her job duties.

Can an employer fire an employee who refuses to be vaccinated?

ANSWER: Possibly, in limited circumstances. The EEOC guidance reminds employers that it will need to make reasonable accommodations to employees seeking an exemption due to disability-related reasons or religious objections and will need to follow the established reasonable accommodation process under either the ADA or Title VII before taking any adverse employment actions. The EEOC cautions employers that if it can establish that an employee who is not vaccinated poses a direct threat (that cannot be accommodated without undue hardship), the employer can exclude the employee from the worksite, but the employer cannot terminate the employee without further consideration of the employee’s legal protections or other possible accommodation, including whether the employee can perform his or her job remotely.

President Biden recently moved up the timeline for vaccine allocation by ordering all states, tribes, and territories to make every U.S. adult eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines by May 1. According to New York State’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, 13% of the population is currently completely vaccinated.

It is important to remember that the EEOC guidance is only that—guidance—and not a law. Consequently, some employees may legally challenge mandatory vaccination programs and there is no guarantee that a court will react favorably to a particular legal challenge. There are also important legal limitations with a mandatory program even under the EEOC’s guidance. Therefore, employers mandating the vaccine should be prepared for some resistance from employees, and many may opt to strongly encourage vaccination without requiring it. A recent survey found that while most employers have no plan to create a mandatory vaccination process, many do plan to encourage employees to get the vaccine. Nearly 90% said they would provide information to employees (e.g., how to get vaccinated, the benefits of doing so) and nearly 40% said they would offer vaccine administration at their facility to increase convenience – even though this may be easier said than done. A third said they would offer paid time off for employees to receive the vaccine and/or recover from any side effects.

We hope this summary provides some helpful information for your team to consider as you navigate this complex issue. Pursuing a mandatory vaccination program ultimately requires management, together with legal and HR teams, to engage in significant planning and develop a program detailing how the process will work from beginning to end. If you would like to talk to our dedicated team, please contact us today. Additionally, if you have HR questions, please reach out to our wholly-owned subsidiary Visions HR, and connect with Janet Giannetta.

Sources: PBS, AARP, NY.Gov, SHRM

4 Cyber Security Safety Steps: Is Your Municipality at Risk?

4 Cyber Security Safety Steps: Is Your Municipality at Risk?

If you don’t have a cyber security plan in place, you can’t afford not to.

Local municipalities are under a growing threat from cybercriminals. Now more than ever before, residents need reliable, real-time access to information from public officials. While there is never a convenient time for a cyber-attack to take place, imagine how damaging a data breach would be if it impacted the ongoing COVID-19 response or vaccine rollout? Since 2017, cyber-attacks on local government rose by almost 50%, according to the “State and Local Government Security Report” released by cybersecurity firm BlueVoyant in August 2020. Because of the large amount of highly sensitive personal information that can be accessed including date of birth, social security number, next of kin, and current and previous addresses, (all of which can be used to steal a person’s identity) local and state government data is a prime target for malicious cyber-criminals. If you fall into the pool of local municipalities that are unprepared for an attack since transitioning some (or all) of your employees to telework, read on to save your team and your community from a huge financial and emotional headache.

Following the simple steps below can help you avoid:

  • Financial losses from theft of banking information
  • Financial losses from disruption of governmental operation
  • High costs to rid your network of threats
  • Damage to your reputation after telling public their information was compromised

 

Start with the basics of data safety.

Keeping your community safe requires your own computer systems to be protected. It may feel overwhelming to revise an existing plan, but it is crucial to protect your municipality. For starters, make sure all computers are equipped with antivirus and antispyware software, consider whitelisting programs and automate software updates. Use firewalls and spam filters as an additional line of defense. Keep your Wi-Fi network secure and hidden and create a wireless network for guests. The most secure way to offer visitors Wi-Fi access without allowing access to your municipality’s entire network is to create a subnetwork. Anti-malware solutions that combine signature-based detection and cloud-assisted technologies can also defend your devices against new, sophisticated threats.

Hackers can’t steal what you don’t have.

The more data you collect and store, the higher your cybersecurity liability. Residents are already entrusting you with a lot of highly sensitive, personal information. Don’t collect additional information you don’t need and only store information for as long as you have a legitimate need. It’s a best practice to also store data backups offline, as malicious software like ransomware becomes increasingly problematic for governmental institutions. In many cases, the victim must pay the cybercriminal within a set amount of time or risk losing access forever. And since malware attacks are often deployed by cyber thieves, paying the ransom doesn’t ensure access will be restored. Even when municipalities don’t pay, the costs can be staggering. For instance, the 2019 ransomware attack on Baltimore cost the City more than $18 million in damages and remediation.

Require unique passwords.

You’d be surprised by how many people still use “password” as the one and only defense against hackers. Remember, hackers have access to software that guesses passwords with common dictionary words. Consider implementing two-factor authentication procedures to offer an extra level of protection from hackers who may try to guess passwords. From the top leadership to the newest employee, cybersecurity requires the vigilance of everyone to keep data, residents, and capital safe and secure. Your employees should also have their own individual account/passwords automatically reset every 30 or 60 days.

Frequently, cyber security breaches stem from human error.

These mistakes are easily preventable through training. Your municipality should have cybersecurity procedures in place that clearly outline employee responsibilities as well as reporting procedures for lost or stolen devices that contain sensitive data. The Federal Communications Commission offers a cyberplanner to help organizations create a plan to protect their information. (You can generate a customized plan at the bottom of the page after you create it.) Educate and re-educate employees on current best practices so they understand the implications of a data breach, as well as the magnitudes for violating your security protocols.

Ultimately, the way your municipality prepares for and responds to a potential data breach can make or break your reputation. Protect your reputation and your community’s valuable information by preparing for the worst-case scenario and recruiting teams of experts to assist you. From IT, to PR, to financial preparedness, make sure you have your bases covered, and your team is informed. To consult a trusted RBT advisor, don’t hesitate to contact us today.

The 411 on the 1099: What You Need to Know

The 411 on the 1099

Ready for a blast from the past?

OK, maybe that description is a bit ambitious, but we think it’s interesting that the government is now bringing back Form 1099-NEC, which was last used back in 1982, during the Reagan administration. For the last few decades, business owners and local government were responsible for using the Form 1099-MISC to report nonemployee compensation. But with the return of Form 1099-NEC, municipalities can say hello to a revamped form. We know it’s been a while since you dusted off your signature 80’s shoulder pads, leg warmers, and Walkman. So, we figured you’d want a refresher on this form as you head into the 2020 tax season. Here’s what you need to know:

You’re familiar with Form 1099-Misc – it’s like a W2 designed to report certain types of compensation to individuals and unincorporated entities based on what the business or municipality has paid them throughout the year. It’s not disappearing, but for the 2020 tax year, payors will no longer report nonemployee compensation, such as payments to independent contractors, on this form. Instead, that’s where Form 1099-NEC comes into play (download it here).

Generally, you’re required to file a Form 1099-NEC if you meet the following conditions:

  • You paid someone who’s not your employee
  • You paid for services during your trade or business
  • You paid an individual, partnership, estate, or corporation (in some cases)
  • You paid at least $600 to the payee during the year

Miscellaneous service payments other than nonemployee compensation should still be reported on Form 1099-MISC. This includes payments of at least $10 in royalties or broker payments in lieu of dividends or tax-exempt interest, and payments of at least $600 in:

  • Rents
  • Payments to an attorney (other than fees for services)
  • Section 409A deferrals
  • Nonqualified deferred compensation

There are other categories that are less likely to be applicable to local municipalities, for further clarification, please reference this IRS link.

For 2020, the IRS requires you to furnish the statements to recipients and file Form 1099-NEC on or before January 31, 2021. This differs from the Form 1099-MISC IRS filing deadlines: if you file on paper, you must file Form 1099-MISC by March 1, 2021; if you file electronically, you must file Form 1099-MISC by March 31, 2021. The deadline for furnishing the 1099-MISC to the recipient is the same, January 31, 2021. Determining which form you will need to file depends largely on the agreement or relationship your municipality has with a given recipient. As a best practice, we suggest that municipalities carefully review the IRS requirements for independent contractor status and always get W-9 forms completed before making any payment to a new vendor or independent contractor. This will save tremendous time at year-end and reduce your chances of getting slammed with IRS penalties. As always, if you run into confusion navigating this change, please contact our dedicated team at RBT.

 

Municipalities Can Build Financial Resilience in the COVID-19 Era and Beyond

Municiplaities Resilience Covid-19

The COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying shutdown have brought financial challenges to municipal governments throughout New York State.

Sales tax revenues declined steeply across the state in April and May compared to 2019, and state aid will be cut or delayed. Unemployment rates may affect residents’ ability to pay property taxes, creating further worries about revenue as we head toward the fall budget season.

There are strategies that county, city, town and village governments can undertake to mitigate the effects of the crisis: finding alternate ways to generate revenue and to cut costs to address short-term needs in the next 12 to 18 months; and making the budgeting process and financial practices more resilient to address long-term goals for the next three to five years.

The starting point can be a two-part analysis: First, a short-term analysis of cash flow to ensure the municipality can keep running in the next few months. Then a long-term forecast can determine if an economic upturn will resolve issues, or if there are deeper problems that need repair.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immediate fiscal pain around the state.

A survey by the Association of Towns of the State of New York (AOT) found that in the month of March, towns in New York lost roughly $215 million in revenue between drops in sales tax, mortgage recording taxes, license and permit fees and justice court fines. AOT noted in its survey findings that businesses in the state were operating as normal for the first half of March. Sales tax made up the largest portion of the loss, according AOT.

The New York State Comptroller’s Office has reported that April sales tax revenues in New York’s counties and cities dropped by 24.4 percent compared to April 2019. May’s sales tax collections fell 32.2 percent compared to May 2019.

State tax receipts for May fell by 19.7 percent compared to May 2019, a drop of $766.9 million, the Comptroller reported. Personal income tax withholding revenues dropped 9 percent in May compared to May 2019.

In bad times, the Government Finance Officers Association recommends taking a financial diagnostic review of operations and the budgeting process to provide officials of a financially distressed municipality with an in-depth look at their budgeting and fiscal practices. This helps to assess financial health and to identify areas for strategic cost savings and alternative sources of revenues.

In such a climate, it is crucial that local governments find a way to create what the GFOA calls “culture of frugality,” and find responsible, cost-effective solutions

Short-term measures, meant to affect 12 to 18 months out, are cost-cutting and alternate-revenue strategies, such as dipping into reserves to bridge a budget gap. With each measure, a government must consider whether the move will be a sound long-term strategy, or if a cut today could lead to increased costs down the line.

A number of school districts in the Mid-Hudson region used a variety of these tactics to get through the 2020-2021 school budget season, avoiding deeper cuts to teaching staff or academic programs by leaving jobs unfilled after employee retirements, and using fund balance to offset tax levy increases to spare taxpayers and keep the budget under the statutory tax cap.

Longer-term planning for recovery after crisis requires a data-based approach that addresses root causes of financial stress. This means requires studying the economic and social environment of a municipality, analyzing budgeting processes and reforms, and creating an operational plan.

Now is the time for government leaders to look for ways to mitigate the crisis, to build resilience through 2020 and beyond.

Over the next several articles, we will discuss these approaches in more depth, with recommendations for concrete steps that local governments can take.