The Power of .com in Securing Federal Trademark Rights

On June 30, 2020, the United States Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg in “United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V.,” decided that “Booking.com” was a name that was eligible for federal trademark registration. In doing so, the Court rejected the United States Patented Trademark Office’s (USPTO) “nearly per se rule” and instead held that the proper standard of whether a term is “generic,” depends on “whether consumers in fact perceive that term as the name of a class or, instead, as a term capable of distinguishing among members of the class.”

To be eligible for trademark registration under the Lanham Act, a mark must be sufficiently “distinctive” meaning that “the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others.” “Distinctiveness,” should be viewed on a spectrum. On one end are the most distinctive marks, “arbitrary” (‘Camel cigarettes’), ‘fanciful’ (‘Kodak’ film), or ‘suggestive’ (Tide laundry detergent).” [1]. On a lower part of the spectrum are “descriptive” marks, which by themselves are not eligible for trademark registration. Instead, the mark must have acquired distinctiveness, meaning that “in the minds of the public,” the mark is significant. Finally, the lowest portion of the “distinctive” spectrum is “generic.” This refers to marks such as the name of the good itself (e.g. “wine”).

Though the word “booking” on its own would likely fall into the generic portion of the distinctiveness spectrum, adding “.com” pushes the mark to “descriptive.” As the Court explained, “whether ‘Booking.com’ is generic turns on whether that term, taken as a whole, signifies to consumers the class of online hotel-reservation services.” Thus, the Court would need to make a finding that consumers construe “booking.com” to represent not one hotel reservation service, but instead the class of hotel reservation services. The Supreme Court stated simply that they accepted the lower court’s findings that consumers do not perceive “Booking.com” in this manner, and as such, “Booking.com” is not generic. On this finding alone, the Court found this case could be resolved.

The PTO disagreed, and attempted to argue for the following rule,

“when a generic term is combined with a generic top-level domain like “.com,” the resulting combination is generic. In other words, every “generic.com” term is generic according to the PTO, absent exceptional circumstances.”

The PTO advocated for this rule relying on the same line of logic of the matter of, “Goodyear’s India Rubber Glove Mfg. Co. v. Goodyear Rubber Co.” In the PTO’s argument, that case stands for the proposition that adding the word “company” to a generic word does not confer trademark eligibility. The PTO argued that the word “company” and “.com” should be treated exactly the same.

The Court soundly rejected this argument, pointing out that only one entity may occupy a particular domain name, unlike adding the word “company” or “incorporated”. Thus, adding “.com” infers to consumers that this is a “specific entity.” Additionally, the Court found that the rule from the Goodyear’s case (referenced above) as articulated by the PTO was mistaken. The Court explained, “Instead, Goodyear reflects a more modest principle, harmonious with Congress’ subsequent enactment: A compound of generic elements is generic if the combination yields no additional meaning to consumers capable of distinguishing the goods or services.”

What is crucial to note, is that the Court did not instead adopt another “per se” rule, that adding “.com” to the end of a generic word will always guarantee trademark registration eligibility for the mark. Instead, the Court would require parties to show evidence that the public would in fact see that mark as “distinguishing.” To make this determination, the Court stated that the type of evidence to be considered should be “consumer surveys, . . . dictionaries, usage by consumers and competitors, and any other source of evidence bearing on how consumers perceive a term’s meaning.”

[1] Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Samara Brothers, Inc., 529 U.S. 205, 210–211, 120 S.Ct. 1339, 146 L.Ed.2d 182 (2000).

For any questions about the case or how to handle your trademark strategy, please contact our office below.

This article was written by Emilio E. Rodriguez, Legal Intern for Assouline & Berlowe PA (under the direction of Partner Greg Popowitz). Emilio is a student at the University of Miami Law School.

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

LinkedIn  ||  Twitter

Intellectual PropertyLabor & EmploymentCreditors’ Rights & BankruptcyBusiness LitigationCorporate & FinanceReal EstateInternational LawTrust & Estates, Probate and Guardianship

Leave a comment

Filed under Business Litigation, Intellectual Property, IP Litigation, trademark

EMPLOYERS: Are You Exempt from Paid Sick Leave for COVID?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Among other things, the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) provides paid leave to employees to care for a child and paid sick leave.  Though the FFCRA generally applies to employers with less than 500 employees, employers with less than 50 employees can be exempt if compliance with the FFCRA would jeopardize “the viability of the employer’s business as a going concern.” Upon enactment, Congress did not clarify the mechanism for claiming an exemption, but the Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued some guidance.

A small business (with fewer than 50 employees) may be exempt from certain paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave requirements if: (a) leave is requested because the employee’s child’s school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons; and (b) providing that employee such leave would jeopardize the viability of the employer’s business as a going concern.  As to (b), an authorized officer of the business must determine that at least one of the following three conditions is satisfied:

  1. the requested leave would result in the small business’s expenses and financial obligations to exceed available business revenues and cause the small business to cease operating at minimal capacity; or
  2. the absence of the employee or employees requesting leave would entail a substantial risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the business because of their specialized skills, knowledge of the business or responsibilities; or
  3. there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services provided by the employee or employees requesting leave, and those labor or services are needed for the small business to operate at minimal capacity.

The exemption applies only to leave requests under the FFCRA due to school closures and child care unavailability and does not exempt small businesses from providing sick leave for any of the other types of permissible requests under the FFCRA. 

The DOL does not explain how small businesses go about claiming the exemption and specifically advises employers not to send any materials to the DOL.  So what is an employer to do?  We recommend having an authorized officer of the employer sign a statement verifying that one or more of the three qualifying reasons apply and attach supporting materials if available.  The employer must maintain this record for at least four (4) years in case of a lawsuit, DOL audit or other challenge. Remember that this exemption only applies to employers with less than 50 employees and is otherwise inapplicable to employers with 51 to 499 employees.

Ellen M. Leibovitch

Board Certified Labor & Employment Lawyer

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

2300 Glades Road

East Tower – Suite 135

Boca Raton, Florida 33431

Main: 561-361-6566
Direct: 561-948-2479

[Bio] [V-card] [Directions]

eml@assoulineberlowe.com

www.assoulineberlowe.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Labor & Employment

Power to the Patent Office! No Judicial Review of IPR Time Bars

Patent applications are routinely a back and forth process between the patent applicant and the Patent Office. In some rare situations, a third party can submit evidence of prior use to the USPTO during the application process. However, the third party cannot actively participate in the application process.

After a patent is granted, third parties are increasingly using inter parties reviews (IPR) to challenge claims to an issued patent. An IPR is conducted at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) where it will review the patentability of one or more claims based on Section 102 (anticipation) or Section 103 (obviousness).

In a recent decision by The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in Thryv v. Click-to-Call, the Court was tasked with deciding whether 35 U.S.C. 314(d) permits judicial review of the PTAB’s decision to institute an IPR upon finding that Section 315(b)’s time bar did not apply. Section 314(d) states that “[t]he determination by the Director [of the Patent Office] whether to institute an inter parties review under this section shall be final and nonappealable”. Section 215(b), the time bar, states that “[a]n inter parties review may not be instituted if the petition requesting the proceedings us filed more than one year after that date on which the petitioner … is served with a complaint alleging infringement of the patent”.

Despite the long procedural history, the case boils down to whether there should be judicial review of the PTAB’s decision or is the action is limited to the Director of the Patent Office. In a 7-2 majority opinion written by Justice Ginsburg, the Court held that there is no judicial review of the USPTO’s authority to decide whether a party properly petitioned under the AIA within a year of being sued for patent infringement, or was in privity with a supplier, business partner or other party who had been sued.

The unsettling part of this opinion is that the USPTO admitted that the IPR proceeding should not have been instituted due to the privity of the underlying parties and resulting time bar. However, SCOTUS’ decision says a time bar decision is not judicially reviewable under Sections 314(b) and 315(d). Justice Giunburg stated that the language supports the Patent Office’s goal of removing bad patents.

The result will cede more power to the Patent Office’s Precedential Opinion Panel (POP), where PTO management, including Director Andrei Iancu, exercises discretionary review over panel decisions.

The Intellectual Property team at Assouline and Berlowe includes two Registered Patent Attorneys, Peter Koziol and Greg Popowitz. For any questions about the case or how to handle your patent strategy, please contact our office below.

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

LinkedIn  ||  Twitter

Intellectual PropertyLabor & EmploymentCreditors’ Rights & BankruptcyBusiness LitigationCorporate & FinanceReal EstateInternational LawTrust & Estates, Probate and Guardianship

Leave a comment

Filed under Intellectual Property, IP Litigation, Patent Prosecution

Webinar: Branding and Business, with a Primer on Non-Use Due to Covid-19

Intellectual Property Partner Greg Popowitz recently recorded a webinar on the Zoom platform titled Branding and Business, with a Primer on Non-Use Due to Covid-19. The course can be found here.

Mr. Popowitz speaks about the intersection of business and branding. He covers topics such as the importance of a brand, how to select a brand, how to protect a brand, and how to enforce/monetize your brand.

Another focus of the webinar is on the topic of trademark non-use. An often overlooked subject of trademark law, non-use is a critical topic for brand holders in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure (TMEP) outlines several scenarios of excusable non-use. The webinar discusses those scenarios and how trademark owners can document their non-use to fight off challenges to their trademark rights in the future due to non-use.

Mr. Popowitz also references a statistic he saw during a trip to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in 2018. The average person sees approximately 1,500 brands during the course of their day. 1,500? That seems like a lot. But think about all the advertisements on TV and the web, driving on the road (billboards, badges on cars), and walking through a grocery store or shopping mall. Of course, this statistic does not apply to our current stay at home orders during COVID-19.

For more information about the intersection of branding and business, please listen to the webinar. If you have any additional questions about Intellectual Property, contact Mr. Popowitz below.

https://www.nacle.com/CLE/Courses/Branding-and-Business-with-a-Primer-on-Non-Use-Due-to-Covid-19-1465

Greg M. Popowitz, Esq.

Make Your IP Pop

Registered Patent Attorney / Partner

Intellectual Property Litigation

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

LinkedIn  ||  Twitter

Intellectual PropertyLabor & EmploymentCreditors’ Rights & BankruptcyBusiness LitigationCorporate & FinanceReal EstateInternational LawTrust & Estates, Probate and Guardianship

Leave a comment

Filed under Intellectual Property, trademark

PLANNING FOR YOUNG ADULTS AMIDST THE CORONAVIRUS

In older blog posts, I have stressed the importance of creating an estate plan that will best suit your individual and/or family needs.  With all of the craziness and uncertainty brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, this importance has magnified that much more.  In an article written in the Miami Herald recently, Jose A. Iglesias stated “As the coronavirus crisis escalates, catastrophic projections of 100,000 to upwards of 240,000 deaths in the United States are forcing people to act on long-deferred intentions to get their affairs in order. No one is immune. Legal experts urge all mortals — not just the elderly and not just the wealthy — to put their end-of-life plans in writing.”

What we, as parents of young adults, often fail to think about is planning not for our children, but by our children. I, like many of my friends, am about to become an “empty nester”.  My older daughter is about to begin her senior year in college and my youngest is about to begin her freshman year.  As we scour websites to see what their dorms or apartments are going to look like, buy every school supply known to man and prepare for the inevitable parental tears from knowing that the kids are away and mom and dad are going to have to reintroduce ourselves to one another, we need to consider important legal documents that can protect our young adults and our ability to act as their guardian in emergency situations.

I can agree that, while important, a Last Will and Testament may not be a priority for my eighteen year-old and twenty-one year old daughters – however, I cannot stress the importance of them having other essential advance directive documents in place.  In no particular order, I recommend that anyone over the age of 18 have the following:

DESIGNATION OF HEALTH CARE SURROGATE WITH HIPAA AUTHORIZATION

A signed Designation of Health Care Surrogate communicates your wishes in case you are unable to make medical decisions or communicate this information due to a medical emergency or incapacity. This form will also contain a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) authorization by your adult child naming you as a designated “surrogate” giving you the ability to ask for and receive information that would normally be protected from you from your child’s healthcare practitioners about their health status, progress, and treatment. Without a HIPAA authorization in place, the only other way to obtain information regarding your child’s health would be to have a court appoint you as his or her legal guardian.

LIVING WILL AND HEALTH CARE PROXY

A Living Will is a statement indicating you would not want to be kept alive by life-sustaining measures if in a coma or vegetative state with no hope of recovery.

DURABLE POWER OF ATTORNEY (POA)

A Durable Power of Attorney authorizes a trusted person (in the case of young adults, typically parents or legal guardians who are referred to as “attorney-in-fact”) to make important decisions or conduct matters on behalf of the young adult, even after they become incapacitated. With a Durable Power of Attorney, the attorney-in-fact named would be legally permitted to take care of important matters for your young adult, if they’re unable to do so themselves. The powers granted to the attorney-in-fact are broad and provide the ability to make medical, legal, and financial decisions on the young adult’s behalf.

The thought of needing these documents is not something that any parent wants to think about. Unfortunately, with the Coronavirus being such a changing force in our daily lives, there could not be a better time to consider and prepare for this scenario.

While we are on shelter at home Order, I will be offering a fifty percent student discount on my advance directive packages for young adults between the ages of 18-25 or alternatively, to be included at no charge to be as part of a full estate planning package for the parents of young adults.

Jason Steinman, Esq.

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: JSteinman@assoulineberlowe.com 

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com

Intellectual PropertyLabor & EmploymentCreditors’ Rights & BankruptcyBusiness LitigationCorporate & FinanceReal EstateInternational LawTrust & Estates, Probate and Guardianship

Leave a comment

Filed under probate, Trusts & Estates

APRIL FOOL’S DAY? – NOT FOR LANDLORDS

As the enormity of the Coronavirus pandemic takes hold of the business community, the economic stranglehold on tenant’s ability to pay the rent due the first of the month is coming to bear. 

Today, April 1st, is the first due date for monthly rent since the March 11th apocalyptic change to the business environment.  The World Health Organization (WHO) declared on March 11 that the Coronavirus was a pandemic, an Oil Price War began, and President Donald Trump announced travel restrictions from Europe to the United States.  This was the beginning of the new era, which will mark when things changed. 

Tenants nationwide have announced that they will not be making today’s rent payment.  This will cause major pressure on landlords on how to deal with their own obligations to their lenders, to pay real estate taxes, as well as utilities that continue to be provided to the real property (even if they are getting less use), etc. Landlords need to take a good look at the rental environment and figure out their best strategy, especially in light of the fact that no one right now knows how long they are going to have to wait out this crisis. 

Eric N. Assouline, Esq.

Business Litigation Partner

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

Miami Tower

100 SE 2nd St., Suite 3105

Miami, FL 33131

Telephone: 305-567-5576

Email: ena@assoulineberlowe.com

www.assoulineberlowe.com

Intellectual Property, Labor & Employment Law,  Real Estate, International Dispute Resolution, Commercial Litigation, Corporate Law, and Bankruptcy

Miami · Ft. Lauderdale · Boca Raton

Leave a comment

Filed under Litigation, Real Estate

TRADEMARK ALERT – Is Your Brand “Dead” for Non-Use During the Covid-19 Shutdown?

We are in trying times. The Coronavirus known as Covid-19 has impacted the world. Businesses are trying to navigate how to operate in the middle of a pandemic. Emergency orders are continually coming out from all levels of government regarding essential and non-essential businesses, including “stay at home” orders. What if you are deemed a non-essential business and your business is effectively shutdown as a result? While direct revenue is likely a pressing concern, what about the brands around your products or services that you have built over the years?

Trademark law is centered upon use of a brand in commerce. Without use, the brand will eventually become abandoned. After three years of non-use without any attempt to resume use, the USPTO will presume the owner abandoned the brand. Section 71 of the Trademark Act is designed to remove “deadwood” from the register. However, it is not designed to cancel registrations due to a temporary interruption of use of the brand due to circumstances beyond the control of the trademark owner.

The Trademark Manual of Examination and Procedure (TMEP) details excusable (and non-excusable) non-use of a brand. See TMEP 1613.11.

Some examples of excusable non-use include:

  • Trade Embargo or Other Circumstance Beyond Holder’s Control (Covid-19?):  When the holder of the registered brand is willing and able to continue use of the brand in commerce, but is unable to do so due to a trade embargo
  • Sale of Business: Temporary non-use during the sale
  • Retooling: Limited circumstances if the tooling was critical and there was no other means to produce without the shutdown for tooling
  • Orders on Hand: If the product is the kind of good that cannot be produced quickly or in large numbers (for example, airplanes), but there are orders on hand and activity toward filling them
  • llness, Fire, and Other Catastrophes (Covid-19?): Illness, fire, and other catastrophes may create situations of temporary non-use, with the holder being able to outline arrangements and plans for resumption of use.  Note, illness of the owner does not qualify as excusable non-use unless the business cannot operate without the owner

Examples of non-excusable non-use:

  • Business Decision: A business decision to stop use of the brand is not beyond the holder’s control
  • Decreased Demand: Decreased demand for the product sold under the brand, resulting in its discontinuance for an indefinite period
  • Negotiations with Distributors: Helps to show lack of intention to abandon the mark but not excusable non-use
  • Use in Foreign Country: This has no bearing on excusable non-use in the United States that can be regulated by the U.S. Congress (use in commerce)
  • Use of Mark on Different Goods/Services: Using the brand on goods/services outside of the registered class
  • Use of Mark in Another Form: Material changes to mark

Non-use of a brand due to Covid-19 may be covered as excusable non-use under “Other Circumstance Beyond Holder’s Control” and/or “Catastrophe”. If you have stopped using your brand, it is advisable to document the date you stopped using the brand in all related products and/or services covered by your trademark registration, including why you stopped using the brand. For example, shutdown orders by the government, lack of supply chain to make the products, or workers contracting Covid-19 and directly impacting your facilities. Documenting this situation will suport a declaration surrounding excusable non-use if or when you need to provide justification for the gap of time for non-use of your brand(s). You had spent considerable time and money building your brand through the years. It is important you take the necessary steps to protect the brand if use has temporarily stopped during this pandemic.

For any questions about excusable non-use or to look into protecting your brands, contact Greg Popowitz.

Greg M. Popowitz, Esq.

Make Your IP Pop

Registered Patent Attorney / Partner

Intellectual Property Litigation

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3

Dania Beach, Florida  33004

Main: 954.929.1899

Fax: 954.922.6662

Email: GMP@assoulineberlowe.com

http://www.assoulineberlowe.com/

LinkedIn  ||  Twitter

Intellectual PropertyLabor & EmploymentCreditors’ Rights & BankruptcyBusiness LitigationCorporate & FinanceReal EstateInternational LawTrust & Estates, Probate and Guardianship

Leave a comment

Filed under Intellectual Property, trademark

BANKRUPTCY BREAKING NEWS – CHANGES DUE TO COVID-19

WASHINGTON, D.C. – According to the American Bankruptcy Institute (“ABI”), the Senate has now included certain provisions in the $2 Trillion “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act” (“CARES Act”) in order to provide greater access to bankruptcy relief.  The Act, goes to the House, and , if passed, to President Trump.

According to ABI, certain provisions within Sect. 1113 of the CARES Act include:

  • Amendments to the newly created Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019 (SBRA) to increase the eligibility threshold for businesses filing under new subchapter V of chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code from $2,725,625 of debt to $7,500,000. The eligibility threshold will return to $2,725,625 after one year. The increased debt limit for struggling small businesses to access subchapter V reflects recommendations of ABI’s Commission to Study the Reform of Chapter 11.
     
  • Amending the definition of “income” in the Bankruptcy Code for chapters 7 and 13 to exclude coronavirus-related payments from the federal government from being treated as “income” for purposes of filing bankruptcy.
     
  • Clarifying that the calculation of disposable income for purposes of confirming a chapter 13 plan shall not include coronavirus-related payments.
     
  • Explicitly permitting individuals and families currently in chapter 13 to seek payment plan modifications if they are experiencing a material financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic, including extending their payments for up to seven years after their initial plan payment was due.

The bankruptcy provisions of the CARES Act listed above sunset within a year of the legislation being enacted.

Additionally, Sect. 3513 of the legislative package provides temporary relief for federal student loan borrowers by requiring the Secretary of Education to defer student loan payments, principal, and interest for 6 months, through September 30, 2020, without penalty to the borrower for all federally owned loans. This provides relief for over 95 percent of student loan borrowers.

Eric N. Assouline, Esq.

Business Litigation Partner

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

Miami Tower

100 SE 2nd St., Suite 3105

Miami, FL 33131

Telephone: 305-567-5576

Email: ena@assoulineberlowe.com

www.assoulineberlowe.com

Intellectual Property, Labor & Employment Law,  Real Estate, International Dispute Resolution, Commercial Litigation, Corporate Law, and Bankruptcy

Miami · Ft. Lauderdale · Boca Raton

Assouline & Berlowe SuperLawyers 2019

Leave a comment

Filed under Bankruptcy, BK, Business Litigation

U.S. Department of Labor Issues Final Rule To Update FLSA’s Joint Employer Regulations

In addition to all the other labor and employment updates in the law of the last week, the issue of “joint employment” has gone through an official transformation this past week. 

The issue of Joint Employer arises frequently in Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) cases when employees seek to hold more than one “employer” liable for overtime and other wages claimed to be owed.  Oftentimes, the question of whether entities can be considered joint employers is uncertain and differs from court to court.  In an effort to clarify the matter, the Department of Labor (DOL) has adopted a four-factor balancing test to determine joint employer status that is focused on decision-making (did the alleged employer have the right to hire and fire the employee?), supervision (did the alleged employer substantially control the conditions of employee’s employment?), payment (did the alleged employer set the employee’s pay?) and record-keeping (did the alleged employer maintain employment records?).

As with all balancing tests, no one factor is more important than the other.  The questions becomes whether, on balance, the employee performed work that benefitted more than one employer, and additional facts relevant to this inquiry may also be considered.

This final rule quietly went into effect on March 16, 2020 but was understandably overshadowed by critical issues surrounding COVID-19. 

Important to note that this rule is only applicable to joint employer issues arising under the FLSA and not to other federal laws impacting employment such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

More information about the new rule can be found at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/flsa/2020-joint-employment.

Of course, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Ellen M. Leibovitch

Board Certified Labor & Employment Lawyer

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

2300 Glades Road

East Tower – Suite 135

Boca Raton, Florida 33431

Main: 561-361-6566
Direct: 561-948-2479

[Bio] [V-card] [Directions]

eml@assoulineberlowe.com

www.assoulineberlowe.com


Intellectual Property, Labor & Employment Law,  Real Estate, International Dispute Resolution, Commercial Litigation, Corporate Law, Bankruptcy, Trusts & Estates, Probate and Guardianship


Miami • Ft. Lauderdale • Boca Raton 

Leave a comment

Filed under Labor & Employment, Uncategorized

URGENT EMPLOYMENT LAW UPDATE – FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Act”) was signed into law on March 18, 2020, takes effect on April 2, 2020 and expires on December 31, 2020.  This email briefly summarizes those aspects of the Act applicable to employers with fewer than 500 employees.

EMERGENCY FAMILY & MEDICAL LEAVE

The Act amends the Family & Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) by providing 12 weeks of job-protected leave for employees who have been on the job for at least 30 days, as follows:

  • The emergency leave must be for an employee to quarantine due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus, to care for an at-risk family member who is quarantined due to exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus, or care for a child if the child’s school is closed or a child-care provided is unavailable due to the virus.
  • The first ten (10) days of the leave may be unpaid (though the employee may elect to substitute any accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave for unpaid leave), but the rest of the leave must be paid as follows: two (2) weeks of fully paid leave, and the remaining leave paid at two-thirds (2/3) the employee’s usual pay.
  • Paid leave shall not exceed $200 per day and $10,000 in the aggregate.
  • While employees taking this leave have the right to be reinstated in a position with equivalent pay and benefits, employers with fewer than 25 employees do not have to reinstate an employee if the position held by the employee when the leave commenced does not exist due to economic conditions or changes of operation that were caused by the public health emergency.
  • Employees who are emergency responders or who work for health care providers may not be eligible for emergency FMLA.
  • Employers with less than 50 employees can be exempted from the Act’s requirements when the imposition of such requirements would jeopardize the viability of the business as a going concern.

EMERGENCY PAID SICK LEAVE

The Act also allows for paid sick leave for employees (the “Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act”) who are unable to work due to: 

  1. A governmental quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. Advice from a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
  3. The employee experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. A need to care for or assist an individual who is subject to a governmental quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19 or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; or
  5. A need to care for a child whose school or place of childcare is closed or unavailable due to coronavirus.

Other highlights of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act include the following:

  • Employers with fewer than 500 employees are required to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for full time employees.  Part-time employees can receive an amount equal to the to the number of hours the employee works on average over a two-week period. 
  • Employers may not require that employees use other paid leave time prior to using emergency paid sick time. 
  • Employers may not require employees who request paid sick leave to find a replacement to cover for their scheduled hours as a condition to grant the request.
  • Sick time will not carry over after 2020.
  • As with emergency FMLA, employers of health care providers and emergency responders may elect to exclude such employees from the application of the paid sick leave; and employers with less than 50 employees can be exempted from the Act’s requirements.
  • This section of the Act makes it unlawful for an employer to discharge, discipline, or in any other manner discriminate against any employee (1) who takes leave in accordance with this Act, or (2) has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this Act (including a proceeding that seeks enforcement of this Act), or has testified or is about to testify in any such proceeding. 
  • An employer who fails to provide sick leave as required under the Act shall (1) be considered to have failed to pay minimum wages in violation of section 6 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and (2) be subject to the penalties described thereunder with respect to such violation, including liquidated (double) damages for willful violations.
  • As with other labor law posters, employers will be required to post notice of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (to be provided by the Secretary of Labor) in a conspicuous place on the employer’s premises within seven (7) days from enactment.

TAX CREDITS

Employers who pay employees for emergency FMLA leave or sick leave under the Act are entitled to refundable tax credit taken against the employer’s share of certain employment taxes. The credits are limited up to $200 per day for up to 10 days for each employee who takes paid sick leave, but if the sick leave was for the employee’s own covered quarantine or isolation or for the time for the employee to receive his or her own diagnosis, the credit is limited to up to $511 per day. 

CONCLUSION 

This time of crisis requires everyone to be flexible – employers and employees – and employers must definitely update their time off and sickness policies to reflect the  changes imposed by the Act.  Employers who are able to allow employees to work from home and remain productive, should do so.  Employees who cannot work remotely and who do not qualify for emergency FMLA or sick leave should continue to work for as long as local ordinances do not require sheltering in place and so long as the employer has work for the employee.  The bigger issue, and one which Congress may next have to address, is the slowing down of commerce and the lack of work in many sectors of the business community.  More on that to follow as the matter winds its way through the halls of government.

As always, please stay safe and take care of yourselves and your families.

Ellen M. Leibovitch

Board Certified Labor & Employment Lawyer

ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.

2300 Glades Road

East Tower – Suite 135

Boca Raton, Florida 33431

Main: 561-361-6566
Direct: 561-948-2479

[Bio] [V-card] [Directions]

eml@assoulineberlowe.com

www.assoulineberlowe.com


Intellectual Property, Labor & Employment Law,  Real Estate, International Dispute Resolution, Commercial Litigation, Corporate Law, Bankruptcy, Trusts & Estates, Probate and Guardianship


Miami • Ft. Lauderdale • Boca Raton 

Leave a comment

Filed under Labor & Employment