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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

EEOC Issues Updated COVID-19 Technical Assistance Publication Addressing Antibody Testing

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today posted an updated and expanded technical assistance publication addressing questions arising under the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Laws related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new question added to the publication, “What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws” explains that in light of current CDC Interim Guidelines, the ADA at this time does not allow employers to require antibody testing before allowing employees to re-enter the workplace. This information is provided in Q&A A.7.

Please note that an antibody test is different from a test to determine if someone has an active case of COVID-19 (i.e., a viral test). The EEOC has already stated that COVID-19 viral tests may be permissible under the ADA.

In response to inquiries from the public, the EEOC has provided resources on its website related to the pandemic in an employment context. The agency will continue to monitor developments and provide assistance to the public as needed.

The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting employ­ment discrimination. More information is available at www.eeoc.gov.


Thursday, June 25, 2020

California Adopts First in the Nation Workplace Safety Standards Protecting Nighttime Agricultural Workers from Hazards

Sacramento—California has adopted new workplace safety standards to protect agricultural employees who work at night. These are the first lighting standards in the nation written specifically to protect agricultural workers who harvest, operate vehicles and do other jobs between sunset and sunrise.

“Agricultural workers face additional hazards at night when visibility is limited,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Doug Parker. “These common-sense standards will enable workers to see hazards and also make them visible to operators of tractors and other equipment.”

The new standards, which will be enforced by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), were approved June 3 by the Office of Administrative Law and will become effective July 1.

Agricultural employers will now evaluate each outdoor worksite to determine required lighting levels, implement protective measures to improve the visibility of workers by operators of farm equipment and vehicles, and ensure workers have adequate lighting depending on operation, area, or task they are assigned. Supervisors must conduct safety meetings at the beginning of every shift to inform workers about their surroundings and high traffic areas.

The standards will be found in title 8, section 3441 (Operation of Agricultural Equipment) and section 3449 (Outdoor Agricultural Operations During Hours of Darkness).

The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board began the rulemaking in 2014 after receiving a request from Cal/OSHA and the public to amend Section 3441 to add requirements for outdoor worksite lighting and personal protective equipment after at least one agricultural worker was killed and others were seriously injured during nighttime operations.

Cal/OSHA’s Consultation Services Branch provides free and voluntary assistance to employers to improve their safety and health programs. Employers should call (800) 963-9424 for assistance from Cal/OSHA Consultation Services.

Employees with work-related questions or complaints may contact DIR’s Call Center in English or Spanish at 844-LABOR-DIR (844-522-6734).

Contact: Peter Melton / Jeanne-Mairie Duval, Communications@dir.ca.gov or (510) 286-1161

Source: Department of Industrial Relations


Thursday, June 4, 2020

USDA Issues First Coronavirus Food Assistance Program Payments

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) has already approved more than $545 million in payments to producers who have applied for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. FSA began taking applications May 26, and the agency has received over 86,000 applications for this important relief program.

“The coronavirus has hurt America’s farmers, ranchers, and producers, and these payments directed by President Trump will help this critical industry weather the current pandemic so they can continue to plant and harvest a safe, nutritious, and affordable crop for the American people,” said Secretary Perdue. “We have tools and resources available to help producers understand the program and enable them to work with Farm Service Agency staff to complete applications as smoothly and efficiently as possible and get payments into the pockets of our patriotic farmers.”

In the first six days of the application period, FSA has already made payments to more than 35,000 producers. Out of the gate, the top five states for CFAP payments are Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and South Dakota. USDA has released data on application progress and program payments and will release further updates each Monday at 2:00pm ET. The report can be viewed at farmers.gov/cfap.

FSA will accept applications through August 28, 2020. Through CFAP, USDA is making available $16 billion in financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline due to COVID-19 and face additional significant marketing costs as a result of lower demand, surplus production, and disruptions to shipping patterns and the orderly marketing of commodities.

In order to do this, producers will receive 80 percent of their maximum total payment upon approval of the application. The remaining portion of the payment, not to exceed the payment limit, will be paid at a later date nationwide, as funds remain available.

Getting Help from FSA

New customers seeking one-on-one support with the CFAP application process can call 877-508-8364 to speak directly with a USDA employee ready to offer general assistance. This is a recommended first step before a producer engages the team at the FSA county office at their local USDA Service Center.

Producers can download the CFAP application and other eligibility forms from farmers.gov/cfap. Also, on that webpage, producers can find a payment calculator to help producers identify sales and inventory records needed to apply and calculate potential payments. Producers self-certify their records when applying for CFAP and that documentation is not submitted with the application. However, producers may be asked for their documentation to support the certification of eligible commodities, so producers should retain the information used to complete their application.

Those who use the online calculator tool will be able to print a pre-filled CFAP application, sign it, and submit it to your local FSA office either electronically or via hand delivery through an office drop box. Please contact your local office to determine the preferred delivery method for your local office. Team members at FSA county offices will be able to answer detailed questions and help producers apply quickly and efficiently through phone and online tools. Find contact information for your local office at farmers.gov/cfap.

Policy Clarifications

FSA has been working with stakeholder groups to provide further clarification to producers on the CFAP program. For example, the agency has published a matrix of common marketing contracts that impact eligibility for non-specialty crops and has provided a table that crosswalks common livestock terms to CFAP cattle categories. Updated information can be found in the frequently asked questions section of the CFAP website.

More Information

To find the latest information on CFAP, visit farmers.gov/CFAP or call 877-508-8364.

USDA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only, and field work will continue with appropriate social distancing. While program delivery staff will continue to come into the office, they will be working with producers by phone and using online tools whenever possible. All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with the FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or any other Service Center agency are required to call their Service Center to schedule a phone appointment. More information can be found at farmers.gov/coronavirus.

Source:USDA.gov


Thursday, May 28, 2020

OCR Issues Guidance on Covered Health Care Providers and Restrictions on Media Access to Protected Health Information about Individuals in Their Facilities

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued additional guidance reminding covered health care providers that the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not permit them to give media and film crews access to facilities where patients’ protected health information (PHI) will be accessible without the patients’ prior authorization.

The guidance explains that even during the current COVID-19 public health emergency, covered health care providers are still required to obtain a valid HIPAA authorization from each patient whose PHI will be accessible to the media before the media is given access to that PHI. The guidance clarifies that masking or obscuring patients’ faces or identifying information before broadcasting a recording of a patient is not sufficient, as a valid HIPAA authorization is still required before giving the media such access. Additionally, the guidance describes reasonable safeguards that should be used to protect the privacy of patients whenever the media is granted access to facilities.

“The last thing hospital patients need to worry about during the COVID-19 crisis is a film crew walking around their bed shooting ‘B-roll,’” said Roger Severino, OCR Director. “Hospitals and health care providers must get authorization from patients before giving the media access to their medical information; obscuring faces after the fact just doesn’t cut it,” Severino added.

The guidance may be found at https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/guidance-on-media-and-film-crews-access-to-phi.pdf - PDF.

For more information related to HIPAA and COVID-19, please visit: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/hipaa-covid19/index.html.

Source: HHS.gov


Thursday, May 21, 2020

FSA Expands Set-Aside Loan Provision for Customers Impacted by COVID-19

Set-Aside Delays Loan Payments for Borrowers

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2020– USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) will broaden the use of the Disaster Set-Aside (DSA) loan provision, normally used in the wake of natural disasters, to allow farmers with USDA farm loans who are affected by COVID-19, and are determined eligible, to have their next payment set aside. In some cases, FSA may also set aside a second payment for farmers who have already had one payment set aside because of a prior designated disaster.

“This immediate change of the Set-Aside provision can provide some welcome financial relief to borrowers during this current crisis,” said FSA Administrator Richard Fordyce. “FSA recognizes that some customers may need this option to improve their cash flow circumstances in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

FSA direct loan borrowers will receive a letter with the details of the expanded Disaster Set-Aside authorities, which includes the possible set-aside of annual operating loans, as well as explanations of the additional loan servicing options that are available. To discuss or request a loan payment Set-Aside, borrowers should call or email the farm loan staff at their local FSA county office.

The set-aside payment’s due date is moved to the final maturity date of the loan or extended up to twelve months in the case of an annual operating loan. Any principal set-aside will continue to accrue interest until it is repaid. This aims to improve the borrower’s cashflow in the current production cycle.

FSA previously announced it was relaxing the loan-making process and adding flexibilities for servicing direct and guaranteed loans to provide credit to producers in need. Direct loan applicants and borrowers are encouraged to contact their local FSA county office to discuss loan making and servicing flexibilities and other needs or concerns. Customers participating in FSA’s guaranteed loan programs are encouraged to contact their lender. Information on these flexibilities, and office contact information, can be found on farmers.gov/coronavirus.

FSA will be accepting most forms and applications by facsimile or electronic signature. Some services are also available online to customers with an eAuth account, which provides access to the farmers.gov portal where producers can view USDA farm loan information and certain program applications and payments. Customers can track payments, report completed practices, request conservation assistance and electronically sign documents. Customers who do not already have an eAuth account can enroll at farmers.gov/sign-in.

USDA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only, and field work will continue with appropriate social distancing. While program delivery staff will continue to come into the office, they will be working with producers by phone and using online tools whenever possible. All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with the FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service or any other Service Center agency are required to call their Service Center to schedule a phone appointment. More information can be found at farmers.gov/coronavirus.

Source: USDA Farm Service Agency