Hotelier Alternatives to Layoffs

Hotelier Alternatives to Layoffs

By David DeMoss

In the current climate, many companies are experiencing a major loss in revenue and are trying to find ways to sustain their business. Unfortunately, sometimes that includes laying off employees. Having to lay off employees is always a very difficult task, but there may be some strategies hotel owners can implement before reaching that stage.

The first option includes mandatory furloughs, where hoteliers require exempt employees to take a full week of work off without pay. Because furloughs are a temporary situation, they allow employers to avoid losing employees and avoid paying them any unused paid time off — which is an unfortunate result that comes terminations. Do note that hoteliers should have a plan of action for benefits, healthcare continuation, paid time off, and retirement benefits prior to furloughs. Employers can also reduce pay for at-will employees (as long as the employees’ pay still meets the minimum for their state laws) or reduce pay for exempt employees who voluntarily take full days off. If an employee is absent for one or more full days of work due to sickness or a work-related disability, hoteliers may create a bona fide plan or policy that allows for a deduction in that employee’s pay, as long as the plan includes compensation for the employee’s loss of salary. 

Additionally, there are two additional programs that can help. The first includes hoteliers with 500 or less employees to claim tax deductions on the two weeks of paid leave employees receive via the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The other option involves the CARES Act, which allows eligible employers to claim a payroll tax credit for half of their wages paid to employees, up to $5,000 tax credit per employee. This option, known as the employee retention credit, is only available to employers who have had business operations partially or completely suspended by governmental orders relating to COVID-19 or have gross receipts that are 50% less than the same period one year prior. Before implementing any of these strategies, we suggest consulting with an expert to see which one will work best with your situation. Read the full article by Sarah Kuehnel and Melissa Pesce below.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, hoteliers across the country are implementing cost-cutting measures to avoid wholesale reductions in force (RIFs), opting instead for temporary saving measures, reversible when the economy recovers. The following suggestions may offer hoteliers options to save funds related to exempt employees.

1. Mandatory Furloughs

Hoteliers may require exempt employees to take a full work week off without pay (known as a “furlough”) because exempt employees need not be paid for any week in which they did not perform work. Furloughs, which are short-term and temporary in nature, can avoid the consequences associated with terminations (i.e., payout of unused paid time off). During a furlough, exempt employees may not perform any work (e.g., no e-mails or calls). Furloughing the same employee on an intermittent, staggered, or non-consecutive basis, though, could jeopardize employees’ exempt status. When using a furlough, myriad complications must be considered such as benefits, healthcare continuation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), paid time off (PTO), and retirement benefits. Hoteliers should have a plan in place prior to the furlough to address each of these issues in a uniform and consistent manner.

2. Reduced Pay (With or Without a Reduction in Job Duties)

For all “at-will” employees, pay rates may be changed on a prospective basis, even if the exempt employee’s workload and schedule remain unchanged, as long as the guaranteed salary remains over $684 a week (California and New York have higher minimum salary requirements, so state law must always be taken into consideration). The reduction should not be intermittent and should extend beyond a single week or two to avoid looking more like docking pay and less like a reduced-schedule arrangement. State law may also require prior notice before making this change.

3. Unpaid Personal Days for Volunteers

Employers may reduce weekly pay if the exempt employee takes (i) entire days off in a way that is (ii) completely voluntary. This option is only available to full-day absences caused by the employee—not the employer.

4. Full-Day Deductions for Bona Fide Sick Leave

Deductions from an exempt employee’s salary may also be made for absences of one or more full days due to sickness or disability (including work-related accidents), if the deductions are made “in accordance with a bona fide plan, policy or practice of providing compensation for loss of salary occasioned by such sickness or disability,” including for absences after the employee exhausts plan-covered absences. Thus, if the hotelier’s plan provides compensation for such absences, it can make deductions for absences of one or more full days because of sickness or disability.

5. Requiring PTO Use During Shortened Work Periods

Hoteliers may require employees use accrued PTO if the employee works shortened days or weeks, provided they still receive the same full weekly salary. No true deduction from pay occurs here, only a reduction in the exempt employee’s PTO bank.

6. Voluntary Separations

Hoteliers may offer consideration for employees to voluntarily end their employment. Though this options requires some monetary consideration, developing a voluntary separation program offers many advantages. Because the program is voluntary, this approach helps protect employee morale and allows employees considering retirement or separation an opportunity to move forward with their plans more quickly.

7. Tax Deductions for Eligible Wages

The recent Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) applies to hoteliers with fewer than 500 employees. In certain situations, hoteliers face obligations to provide up to two weeks of paid sick leave for leave caused by an employee’s inability to work relating to COVID-19. Still, where FFCRA requires paid leave, hoteliers are entitled to claim a tax deduction equal to the wages paid, subject to the statutory caps.

In addition, in specified situations, the CARES Act allows eligible employers of any size to claim a payroll tax credit for 50 percent of wage paid to employees, up to $10,000 per employee, for a tax credit of up to $5,000. The CARES Act predicates this credit, known as the employee retention credit, on employers having business operations fully or partially suspended based on governmental orders relating to the coronavirus, or having gross receipts that are 50 percent less than the same quarter one year prior.

Before invoking either tax credit, hoteliers should consult with counsel or experts on the respective issues.

Conclusion

As this article demonstrates, hoteliers have a number of options to save costs to address the challenges COVID-19 continues to present. Hoteliers should carefully review and understand applicable federal, state, and local obligations in implementing any of these strategies, as well as considering the impact on employee morale before implementation.

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