As employers begin recalling their workers, the topic of mandatory vaccinations has seemingly taken center stage. Of course, employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment to their employees. However, employers also have a countervailing duty to engage in a good-faith interactive process to accommodate the disabilities or sincerely held religious beliefs of their employees.

There are certain persons who suffer from disabilities that do not permit them to be vaccinated. While the ADA permits employers to have a “qualification standard” that employees do not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of individuals in the workplace, if this standard tends to screen out disabled employees, the employer must show that there is a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.” In order to make this showing, the employer must first engage in a good-faith interactive process with the employee to accommodate the disability.  Because the use of teleworking became more prevalent during the pandemic, continued telework is likely to be considered a reasonable accommodation for office workers. On the factory floor, the continued use of masks may also serve as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA for these disabled workers.

Because Title VII protects workers from religious discrimination in the workplace, employers should also take care to properly address requests for religious accommodation made by employees who wish to decline the vaccine on the basis of a sincerely held religious belief. The accommodation process here is similar to the process followed under the ADA.

To better assess the risk that unvaccinated members of the workforce may pose in the workplace, an employer is permitted to ask its employees whether they have received the vaccine, as such a question is not considered a “disability-related inquiry.” However, employers should be wary of adopting this route, as the information gleaned must be stored in a file separate from the employee’s regular personnel file, and further inquiries into the reason for receiving or not receiving the vaccine may not be permitted.

The topic of employers requiring vaccines as a condition of employment presents numerous pitfalls. And as with most aspects of the law, navigating it will not be subject to a one-size-fits-all approach. Employers and employees should consult experienced legal counsel to be fully advised of their rights and obligations under the law. If you need assistance with these matters, feel free to consult Stephen E. Imm (513.943.5678) or Matthew S. Okiishi (513.943.6659).

 

There is a significant new development in Ohio property tax challenges directly and narrowly resulting from valuation reduction arising from the COVID-19 pandemic allowing such challenges this year.

As we discussed in a blog entry here, because of the unique timing of real property valuations versus billing, Ohio property owners impacted by COVID-19 rent reductions and closures really could not bring successful COVID-related valuation challenges before Boards of Revision in 2021.

To exacerbate that problem, Hamilton, Clermont, Butler and Montgomery Counties had the first year of the tax triennial in 2020 (for challenges in 2021). Therefore, if a property owner attempted a COVID valuation challenge in 2021 and lost, a property owner would be stuck with a bad (high) valuation for three years (tax years 2020, 2021 and 2022, billed and payable in 2021, 2022 and 2023).

This placed owners of certain properties in significant financial straits: Owners of apartment buildings near a university where student-based occupancy plunged or downtown when nearby office buildings cleared out, owners of large office buildings that could not rent because of COVID-related vacancies, owners of hotels and motels and other properties in the travel and hospitality industry, owners of restaurant properties and owners of malls and retail strip centers.

That all changed two weeks ago when Governor DeWine signed into law S.B. 57 which adds a second challenge period in 2021 narrowly targeted to COVID-related property valuation reduction (i.e., not that of general market conditions).

Here is the quick overview:

  • “Second bite” challenges may be filed with the Auditor only between July 26 and August 25, 2021.
  • “Second bite” challenges must narrowly be tailored to valuation reduction as a result of COVID-19.
  • The target valuation date for “second bite” valuations is October 1, 2020.
  • The “second bite” valuation reduction is retroactive to January 1, 2020 (before the pandemic hit America).
  • The “second bite” valuation reduction will last for the remainder of the triennial (in Hamilton, Clermont, Butler, and Montgomery Counties thru the 2022 tax year, billed and paid in 2023).
  • The bringing, and “win” or “loss,” of a valuation challenge for the “second bite” hearings is in addition to the general challenge filed before March 31, 2021 and does not prejudice non-COVID-related (i.e. general market conditions) challenges in later years.
  • The legal and evidentiary hurdles associated with “second bite” challenges are the same, as we see it, to challenges brought in Ohio, meaning an appraisal (supported by testimony from the appraiser) and presentation by a qualified attorney are strongly recommended.

If you have a “second bite” property that would benefit from a challenge narrowly targeted to COVID-19 economic impact, please quickly contact Chris Finney (513) 943-6655) or Casey Jones (513-943-5673) to allow us to help you secure this tax savings.

We have been looking for details of the calculations of and eligibility for the second round of PPP in the most recent COVID stimulus bill. We found this excellent in article in Entrepreneur.Com here.

Some details from the article follow (note, since the PPP “loans” are forgivable, the word “loan” essentially means “grant” for most eligible businesses):

Qualifications:

  • A loss of revenue of 25% or greater, for any one quarter — comparing 2019 to 2020. If your firm had swings in revenue or had a pronounced one-quarter loss due to COVID or other causes, you may be eligible even if your annual revenue did not dip by 25%.
  • 300 employees or fewer.
  • Must have already used or plan to use their original PPP funding.

Loan terms:

  • Maximum loan limit of $2 million.
  • Loans of 2.5 months of payroll, which is the same as the original PPP. We are checking the legislation to see if the loan amount will change based upon increased payrolls from the original calculation (for example, if additional employees were added).
  • Restaurants food businesses (we are checking on the meaning of that term) qualify for 3.5 months of payroll as their loan amount.
  • Qualifying expenses are expanded from payroll and rent or mortgage payments in the original PPP to now include operating expenses, workplace protection costs to protect employees from COVID-19 and covered property damage.
  • Loan proceeds are not taxable and loan expenses are deductible (this is true for the new program and the original PPP payments).
  • Loans less than $150,000 have significantly simplified loan forgiveness (a one-page form).

For additional details on second round PPP loans, contact attorney Rebecca Heimlich (513.797.2856) of Finney Law Firm.

Tonight, a second historic COVID relief bill passed both Houses of Congress and awaits signature by President Trump.

The bill provides significant supplemental relief for small business in addition to direct payments to individuals. Here are some highlights of the bill’s business provisions:

  1. Paycheck Protection Program funds distributed under the first relief bill this spring and summer already by law were not to be counted as income, but the IRS had ruled that businesses could not count their expenditure as deductions, which essentially reversed the “tax free” nature of the forgivable loans. Under this bill, for all businesses who received the PPP this spring or summer, Congress has clarified that the expenses are deductible, which results in a benefit of another 30% or more from the previously-granted funds for businesses that are profitable.
  2. A second round of PPP funding will be handed out, but this time it is limited to businesses with documentable and demonstrable downturn of 30% or more as a result of the COVID pandemic. Other tight conditions will apply. Thus, the pool of eligible borrowers (grantees) is far more limited than under the first PPP program. Amounts of the loans (grants) are not yet available.
  3. In a significant give and take for landlords, Congress extended the eviction moratorium until the end of January, but they added $25 billion in assistance to tenants in arrears on their rent, allowing landlords to make application for the funds. It is expected that the Biden administration will extend the moratorium further after he takes office January 20 of next year. The applications are allowed for tenants who meet eligibility requirements, including (i) earning less than 80% of median income, (ii) at least one person in their households has lost a job and (iii) are at risk of losing housing.
  4. Making meals and drinks for business entertainment of clients and customers 100% deductible.

The bill is 5,593 pages in length, meaning there remains a lot of dissection of its intricacies. Attorney Rebecca Heimlich of the Finney Law Firm will be leading another EmpowerU webinar in early January covering how businesses and individuals can fully take advantage of the deductions and subsidies the bill provides. We will announce that webinar shortly.

More on the bill is detailed here in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Advancing our objective of “Making a Difference” for our clients, Finney Law Firm has made a point of briefing the various COVID relief and legal developments for our clients throughout 2020, and that will continue on this blog into 2021. Stay tuned for updates.

The State of Ohio has added two programs to further assist small businesses with the unprecedented business interruption associated with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, (a) $125 million in Small Business Relief Grants and (b) $1.5 billion in refunds to small businesses from the Workers Compensation program. Details on both programs are below

  1. Small Business Relief Grant.

    The Small Business Relief Grant (“SBRG”) is designed to provide necessary relief to Ohio businesses that have been negatively impacted by the effects of COVID-19. The State has designated up to one hundred twenty-five  million dollars ($125,000,000) of funding received by the State of Ohio from the Federal CARES Act to provide $10,000 grants to small businesses to assist in ensuring the survival and stability of these crucial businesses.

    Some of the terms  are:

    • The applicant business is a for-profit entity (corporation, LLC, partnership, joint venture, sole proprietor).
    • The applicant business is an employer firm with at least 1 and no more than 25 Ohio employees paid via W2 wages as of 1/1/2020, determined either by a headcount or full-time equivalent employee calculation.
      • NOTE: A headcount calculation should include both part-time and full-time employees. A full-time equivalent calculation equals the total hours compensated for all W2 employees in calendar year 2019 divided by 2,080.
    • The applicant business has a physical location in Ohio and earns at least 90% of annual revenue from activities based in Ohio.
    • The applicant business has been in continuous operation since January 1, 2020, except for interruptions required by COVID-19 public health orders, and has the ability to continue operations as a going concern, taking into account a potential program grant.
    • The applicant business has experienced revenue loss or incurred unplanned costs substantially caused by COVID-19 and a grant is necessary to help it recover from the impact of COVID-19.
    • The applicant business is in good standing with the Ohio Secretary of State, the Ohio Department of Taxation, and any other governmental entity charged with regulating the business.
    • If applicable, the applicant business has fully utilized any other government support received (including both grants and loans) by the applicant business for business expenses incurred due to COVID-19 or that can be utilized for business expenses incurred due to COVID-19.
    • The link for the Ohio Small Business Relief Grant program from the Ohio Development Services Agency is here.

    There are also restrictions that may nullify your ability to obtain a grant.  Contact Jane Schulte at Finney Law Firm for more information on how we can assist you in navigating the application process.

  2. Workers Compensation refunds.

    • This is the second refund program this year, this time distributing $1.5 billion in excess funds held by the Ohio Worker’s Compensation program to Ohio employers. BWC started sending checks to up to 200,000 private and public employers in its system in late October after first applying the dividend to any unpaid balances. The dividend follows a similar dividend in April, where the average check size was $8,500.
    • The refunds are automatically calculated and the checks sent by the BWC. No action on the part of employers is necessary.
    • The announcement from the BWC is here.
Attorney Matthew S. Okiishi

Today, Finney Law Firm attorney Matt Okiishi participated in a panel discussion for the public sponsored by the Cincinnati Bar Association on employment law issues presented by the COVID-19 crisis.

That discussion is now on line. You may watch it here.

Matt Okiishi devotes his practice to the employment law arena, representing both employers and employees in disputes, which include wage and hour issues, Family and Medical Leave Act issues, and illegal discrimination based upon age, race, gender, handicap, national origin, and other protected classifications. He has written extensively on COVID-19-related employment legislation on this blog.

Please contact Matt (513.943-6659) for help with your employment law issues.

 

 

Finney Law Firm attorney Matt Okiishi

Today at 3 PM Finney Law Firm attorney Matt Okiishi co-presents to the public (not just CBA members) at the Cincinnati Bar Association with attorney Kelly Mulloy Myers on “legal issues in the wake of COVID-19.”

It is simply a 30-minute program of pre-selected questions submitted by the public on the noted topic.

A link to the Facebook announcement about the program is here and you can sign up for the program thru that link.

Attorney Susan Cress Browning

As we are all aware by now, the COVID-19 crisis has had a dramatic impact on the day-to-day workings of our lives.  It has disrupted health, employment, education, childcare, finances, transportation, etc.  So too, the judicial system did not come out unscathed.  Even the United States Supreme Court is relegated to teleconference hearings reportedly with Justice Ginsberg participating from a hospital bed.  Given that in times of economic uncertainty, such as this, many people turn to the Bankruptcy system for a fresh start, what effect will the shutdowns and re-openings have on the bankruptcy system from beginning to end?

In the last month we have seen stay at home/shelter-in-place orders in effect to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.  Many business offices deemed non-essential have been forced to shutter their doors.  At Finney Law Firm we have been considered essential from the start.  We provide a necessary service to our clients and even more so in your time of financial hardship.

Case filing and attending hearings

Understanding the current impracticality, the courts have eased the long-standing requirement that bankruptcy debtors sign their paperwork in the attorney’s office.  Our lead bankruptcy attorney, Susan Cress Browning, will thoroughly review your filing with you to ensure accuracy and understanding of its contents.

However, the Southern District of Ohio Bankruptcy Court has imposed a temporary procedure allowing for remote signing.  See General Order No. 37-2.  Finally, bankruptcy cases require attendance by the debtor at a Meeting of Creditors.  These have traditionally been brief, in-person hearings.  This practice has been temporarily modified to allow for teleconference hearings.  It is expected that the in-person hearings will be revived once the Coronavirus crisis subsides.

Even though the landscape may look different during this troubling time, keep in mind that there is legal help available through Finney Law Firm and access to that assistance is more convenient than ever before.

Providing information and documentation

Once you determine bankruptcy is the right option for you, Ms. Browning will request important information and documentation.  This may be provided in numerous ways.  Our confidential questionnaire can be supplied by mail, email or fax.  It will soon be available directly on our website by simply clicking a link and inputting the data in a confidential platform.  As you gather these documents for review, Ms. Browning and her staff are readily available by phone or email to answer any questions you may have.  Our online questionnaire provides a direct link to email Ms. Browning and her staff as you are filling out the information.  You are not alone during this frightening time.

Contact us

With the current loosening of restrictions, we are available to assess your situation with greater ease and with less strain and discomfort to you, the debtor.  Bankruptcy has traditionally been an in-person, pen-to-paper field of law.  Given the state of our country, we have all had to learn to interact and communicate effectively by virtual means.  As restrictive as this seems, it has effectively created a new avenue for our clients to pursue a bankruptcy filing while carrying on with their daily lives.

At Finney Law Firm, you can participate in a FREE CONSULTATION with Susan Browning by visiting one of our two convenient locations:

  • Eastgate – Finney Law Firm – 4270 Ivy Pointe Blvd Suite 225, Cincinnati, OH 45245
  • Mt. Adams – Finney Law Firm – 1077 Celestial St #10, Cincinnati, OH 45202

We now also offer telephone and virtual FREE CONSULTATIONS.  You can schedule to speak to Susan by phone at a time convenient to you by calling 513.797.2857.  You can also choose to have a virtual meeting through one of the following platforms, Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Team Meetings.

Call Finney Law Firm to set a convenient consultation with Susan Browning, 513-797.2857.

 

Attorney Susan Cress Browning

During this unprecedented age of Covid-19 you may be experiencing life changes like never before.  With quarantines, business shutdowns, layoffs, furloughs, as well as a downturn in self-employment opportunities, financial hardship is rampant.  Managing your debt may prove to be a struggle right now and it is extremely important to know what options may be available to you to guide you through this difficult period. 

Whether you find yourself unable to pay your mortgage, make rent, stay current on a car payment, make minimum credit card or medical bill payments or keep up with student loans, the suggestions below may help you to buy some time in order to make plans for the long term.  Please keep in mind that each lender, collection agency or creditor will have different guidelines on whether and how they will offer some reprieve in this time of crisis. 

Have you lost your job?   

Please contact the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services to determine if you qualify for unemployment compensation.  The government is offering additional compensation to those who qualify.  Make certain you get detailed information on how to apply and how often.  Information regarding unemployment insurance is available at here  or call Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services at (877)644-6562.   

Ohioans who are unemployed as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but who don’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits can begin pre-registering for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a new federal program that covers many more categories of workers, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) has announced. To pre-register for PUA benefits, Ohioans should visit here and click on “Get Started Now.” The benefit amount will be similar to traditional unemployment benefits, plus an additional $600 per week through July 25. The pre-registration tool will allow individuals to get in line early and pre-register their account, so that as soon as the agency has the technical ability to process their claims in May, they can log in and complete their paperwork. For those eligible, PUA benefits will be retroactive to the date they qualified, as early as February 2. The program will provide up to 39 weeks of benefits to many who historically have not qualified for unemployment benefits, such as self-employed workers, 1099 tax filers, part-time workers, and those who lack sufficient work history.  Anyone with questions should call (833) 604-0774. 

For additional family assistance please contact Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services here. 

 Are you the owner of a small business? 

If you are the owner of small business you may qualify for government assistance through the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act): please visit these sites for assistance: here and here and learn more about the Paycheck Protection Program here

Do you qualify to receive the stimulus payment from the federal government? 

Read here.

Are you Struggling to make monthly payments? 

Small Business loans are offering assistance whereby the Small Business Administration will make your payment for a period of time.  These payments may not require repayment. Read here.

 

Contact your mortgage or automobile lender by phone or on their website if you are unable to make your regular payments.  Some lenders are offering programs to lower or skip payments that, most often, will be repaid at a later date.  Pay close attention to the terms of these agreements.  Be sure you understand how the missed payments will be caught up.  If your mortgage lender is not participating in such a program, it may benefit you to apply for a mortgage modification program.  Contact your lender by phone or visit their website for guidance on this application process. 

Are you a veteran? 

Please visit the following Veteran’s Administration website to get answers to your questions regarding benefits here.  

Do you need to discuss your debt problems with an attorney? 

If you find yourself unable to work cooperatively with your creditors it may be time to discuss your situation with a bankruptcy/debt relief attorney.  Please contact Finney Law Firm to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION with attorney Susan Browning (513.797-2857) today.  Susan offers flexible scheduling as well as phone and virtual consultations.  Finney Law Firm maintains two convenient locations in Cincinnati: Eastgate and Mt. Adams. 

Here is the podcast from today on 550 WKRC Radio with Brian Thomas. The broadcast starts at 69:50.

The discussion in this show again addressed the Finney Law Firm suit on behalf of Tanya Hartman and her business, Gilded Social, a bridal dress shop, who desires a due process hearing on the forced closure of her business in the COVID-19 crisis.

Contact Christopher P. Finney (513.943.6655) if you care to discuss your rights as a business owner under a COVID-19 closure order.

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