Senior year is a rite of passage for high school students and is typically filled with special memories like prom, celebrations with friends, and of course, that walk across the stage signifying the culmination of 12 years of hard work.  For the 2020 graduates, though, this year has been anything but typical.

Front yards are filled with signs congratulating graduates. Social media is stuffed with pictures of graduates in their cap and gowns donning masks. And even graduations are being held virtually.  I’m sure we’ve all seen the advertisements selling special mementos to commemorate the unusual times we are currently in.  My personal favorite is the t-shirt crowning the graduating class of 2020 as Senior Skip Day Champions. That they are!

Russell, Krafft & Gruber is proud to celebrate five very special seniors in the firm’s family.

Mataya Chap, 2020 graduate

Mataya Chap is the daughter of Kathleen Krafft Miller, an associate attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber.  Mataya is graduating from Hempfield High School and will be moving to North Carolina, where she will attend Cape Fear for a year and then the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.  She plans to study Physical Therapy and hopes to focus on sports medicine.

Jimmy Hickey, 2020 graduate

Jimmy Hickey is the son of Nancy Hickey, a paralegal at Russell, Krafft & Gruber. Jimmy is graduating from Gettysburg College with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics and Spanish. He is currently relocating to Boulder, Colorado to secure employment.

Ben Marines, 2020 graduate

Ben Marines is the son of Aaron Marines, a partner of Russell, Krafft & Gruber.  Ben is graduating from Hempfield High School and was a National Merit Scholarship Finalist.  He will be attending Penn State University, where he will be majoring in Engineering.

Gabriella Peiffer, 2020 graduate

Gabriella Peiffer is the daughter of Doug Peiffer, a paralegal at Russell, Krafft & Gruber. Gabriella is graduating from Donegal High School. She will be attending Millersville University, where she will majoring in Respiratory Therapy.

Elizabeth Vanasse, 2020 graduate

Elizabeth Vanasse is the daughter of Julie Vanasse, an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber.  Elizabeth graduated summa cum laude from the College of William and Mary with a dual degree in English and French and Francophone Studies. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and will be attending the University of Richmond School of Law in the Fall.

A Graduation Story

We all have a special memory from our own graduations.  I’ll share a unique tidbit from mine.  As the President of the School Board for Ephrata Area School District, my dad and Russell, Krafft & Gruber attorney, Gary Krafft, would give a speech and hand out diplomas at graduation.

Each year, he embedded a few inspirational lines from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin songs into his speech.  Not many knew he did this, but I did, and it made it all the more special to listen to the message he was relaying to me and my classmates.

The year of my graduation (and I won’t tell you what year that was!), his message was to not just be “another brick in the wall.” “There are two paths you can go by,” he continued, “but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you are on.”  Having gone back to law school in my thirties, I am proud to say that I have lived by these words!

We at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, would like to take this opportunity to send a special message to all the 2020 graduates. While you have been faced with obstacles and have been deprived of so many special memories during your senior year, you have persevered and handled these unusual times with grace and determination.   Best of luck to all the graduating seniors of 2020!  We wish you all success and happiness as you start this next phase of your life.

To follow in my dad’s footsteps, Led Zeppelin says it best,

though the course may change sometimes, rivers always lead to the sea

Despite the obstacles and curveballs you encounter along the way, keep moving forward and never give up!

Kathleen Krafft Miller is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University and regularly advises individuals on legal matters related to family law and domestic relations issues.

The Governor has revised his Order to allow the restaurant and retail food service industry to operate some dine-in services as part of the phased reopening of Pennsylvania. The new restaurant guidance specifies when and how the food industry can offer indoor and outdoor dining during COVID-19.

Here’s what you should know:

The New Rules

The Governor’s Office released specific restaurant guidance detailing what is permitted and the rules and processes you must implement to conduct dine-in services.  If you are considering offering dine-in services (starting on June 5 for those counties moving to yellow), please read this guidance carefully.

There are a LOT of requirements that must be in place to ensure you are in compliance with the state’s procedures for dine-in services.  Failure to adhere to this guidance can subject your health license and/or liquor license to suspension or fines.

Generally, the new direction from the Governor allows for limited outdoor dining during the Yellow Phase of reopening.

During the Green Phase, indoor dining is now permissible. However, there must be limited occupancy, social distancing, and/or physical barriers as detailed in the attached guidance.

A Rapid Approval Process Through the PLCB

For those with a liquor license interested in expanding or adding outdoor seating, the PLCB is rumored to be working on an expedited approval process to allow licensees to obtain rapid approval for expanded or new outdoor seating areas.

Remember, if you wish to serve and sell alcohol in an area, the PLCB must add that area to your licensed premises.  Typically, you would do this via an application to expand your licensed premises.  The new PLCB process may allow for approval within a matter of days (as opposed to weeks or months) for an expansion of your outdoor seating.

If/when the PLCB releases guidance for this expedited process, the attorneys at Russell Krafft & Gruber will be ready to assist with the process.

In case you missed it, know that you are allowed to sell mixed drinks to-go immediately.

Two Things to Do While You’re Waiting

In the meantime, if you are considering expanding or adding outdoor seating, there are some things you should consider.

1. Contact Your Landlord

You may need to contact your landlord to add some additional area(s) to your lease.  In some cases, landlords also require their approval to operate any kind of outdoor dining.  Review your lease and start that conversation now.

Even with the expedited PLCB procedure, they will require you to verify that your lease permits you to conduct or occupy any new outdoor space.

2. Contact Your Municipality

You should also consider whether you need to contact your local municipality to obtain approval for outdoor seating areas.  Some municipalities, particularly cities and boroughs, require their approval to conduct outdoor seating, particularly if it is on a sidewalk.

Starting that process now or having even that conversation with your local municipality will also help to expedite the process.


I expect many facilities will want to expand their outdoor seating areas to maximize their dine-in services while in the Yellow Phase of reopening. Who wouldn’t want to accommodate what could be high customer demand for outdoor seating?

However, given the social distancing and other limitations in the new restaurant guidance, your normal outdoor seating capacity is going to be greatly reduced.  Finding additional seating areas and creatively implementing them will be critical to ensuring a smooth transition to dine-in services and accommodating the comfort and peace of mind of your guests.

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas, including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.

For weeks, associations, municipalities, children’s day camps and public swimming pool organizations have been trying to decide if they could open summer recreation facilities such as pools, parks and playgrounds.  The state has only recently released directions on how to open businesses, like construction, in a socially distant way.

Going into the Memorial Day weekend, it was unclear whether any of these facilities could be open if a county were in the “yellow phase” of the Governor’s COVID-19 classification.

Pennsylvania Guidelines

Luckily, the Pennsylvania Department of Health published some guidance that clarifies:

[S]ummer programs that provide child care and enrichment and recreational activities for children and youth are permitted to operate without a waiver in counties in the yellow and green phases of the Governor’s phased-in reopening plan….

The Department of Health guidance also allows swimming pools to operate so long as they comply with CDC guidance.  The CDC Guidance applies to pools that are operated and managed by:

  • city or county governments
  • apartment complexes
  • membership clubs (for example, gyms)
  • schools
  • waterparks
  • homeowners’ associations

However, the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s guidance is subject to any state or local governmental restrictions too.  Pennsylvania does not permit gyms to be open.  This regulation means that a summer camp program for kids can operate and use the inside pool at the gym, even if the regular members might not be able to use it yet.  Apartment buildings, condominium associations and homeowners’ associations, municipal swimming pools and private clubs can also open their pools for the summer.

Federal Guidelines

The CDC Guidance for Public Aquatic Venues does not limit the number of people who can use a swimming pool.  It stresses social distancing, such as keeping lounge chairs and tables at least six feet apart.  The Guidance also emphasizes properly disinfecting any shared equipment.  It suggests keeping “clean” chairs separate from chairs that need to be cleaned.  And the Guidance recommends lots of reminders about washing hands and all of the other practices needed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The CDC Guidance will probably change the way that swimming pools and summer recreation programs operate.  Instead of wiping down tables at the end of the day, staff or patrons will need to wipe or disinfect them between uses.  But with these new directions, at least associations and summer programs can start planning to operate for the summer.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including BusinessCommercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.

We can now enjoy professionally-crafted cocktails from our favorite bars and restaurants in the safety and comfort of our own homes and backyards! Of course, this privilege does not come without restrictions…

After much anticipation in the hospitality industry (and from those of us who enjoy a good cocktail), Governor Wolf has signed into law Act 21 of 2020, which immediately authorizes licensees to sell mixed drinks to go in Pennsylvania for the remainder of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration.

Hotel and restaurant liquor licensees operating for food takeout may now also sell cocktails in sealed containers of no less than 4 ounces but no more than 64 ounces in a single transaction. Additionally, establishments selling mixed drinks for takeout are required to display a notice informing patrons of the requirements for transportation of these open containers.

For additional guidance, see my previous blog posts on this matter:

Mixed Drinks To Go?

Break Open the Bottle! PA Licensees Can Sell Mixed Drinks To Go

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas, including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.

The government is doling out more money than it ever has in response to an emergency, and it is doing it faster than ever before. From Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EDILs) to Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to federal, state, and local grants through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) – the largest economic stimulus package in history – trillions of dollars are currently being disbursed to individuals and businesses who are facing the severe financial hardships created by COVID-19.

The emphasis so far has been to get the money into the hands of those who need it as quickly as possible. Given the amount of money that the government has been giving out and how fast they’ve been doing it, there is a lot of confusion as to who is entitled to receive the emergency assistance and how they should use it.

On an almost daily basis, various governmental entities are issuing new regulations and guidance. As an example, the Small Business Administration had to revise the PPP loan applications that many lending institutions were using several times due to ongoing revisions to the PPP distribution guidance. As quickly as we can understand the rules is as quickly as they are changing.

Now that the chaos of the early days of COVID-19 has started to die down, attention will soon switch to implementing COVID-19 compliance oversight of the rules and regulations pertaining to each type of emergency aid.

Because of this, there is the risk that well-intentioned, legitimate businesses receiving relief funds can run afoul of the rules and regulations regarding how they can use them. This possibility may open the door to investigations into how individual businesses received and used emergency aid even if they did their best to follow the law.  Even if no wrongdoing occurred, the financial and reputational expense of defending against this type of investigation could be extremely costly.

As a business owner or decision-maker, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from being investigated and to prepare if you are.

1. Keep Abreast of Laws, Rules, Regulations and Changes

Regarding COVID-19 aid, it seems that the government is acting first and asking questions later. This rapid action can make it very difficult to stay on top of what the government requires for each type of aid. Take the time to read articles, such as the ones posted on Lancaster Law Blog, to keep up to date on changes to the laws.

Also, review regulations and Frequently Asked Questions published by the government body issuing the funds. Consult with an attorney or your financial institution to get help staying up to date on the latest changes in the law. The attorneys at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP are reviewing changes to federal, state and local rules and regulations daily and are here to help you understand them.

2. Be Truthful and Accurate

Most, if not all, loan or assistance programs require an application. One of the best ways to avoid any questions about your eligibility is to be truthful from the time that you complete the application. Take the time to fully review any applications and do not answer any questions that you do not understand until you can get clarification.

In addition, maintain accurate and truthful disclosure of information throughout the entire process. Even if being honest means that you will not qualify for a particular type of assistance, it would cost a lot more than the lost aid if you are investigated and prosecuted for lying.

The best defense to allegations of dishonesty is the truth.

3. Create a Strong Audit Trail

It is vitally important that you keep track of all the money you receive and how you spend it as you go. The longer you wait to track your spending, the more likely it is that you will not capture all the information and that you will not spend the money properly.

In the unfortunate event that you are audited, you want to be prepared to show how you received the funds and how you spent every penny. Keep all the paperwork you receive and copies of any paperwork that you submit. Once you receive the funds, keep paper records of how you spent the money, who you gave it to, and when. Leave no question as to what happened to the money.

Although daunting, taking these steps will protect you from the attention of government oversight agencies and protect you if you are audited or investigated. If you have any questions on COVID-19 compliance oversight, how to apply for COVID-19 emergency assistance or how that assistance should be used, contact one of our attorneys.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.

I wrote last week about House Bill 327 that would permit restaurant and hotel licensees to sell mixed drinks to go.  The Senate has now passed that bill, which is awaiting signature by the Governor.  All indications are that he will sign the bill into law.

With its passage, restaurant and hotel licensees may immediately begin selling mixed drinks containing liquor to go. 

This bill marks the first time the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) has allowed liquor to be sold to go by anyone other than the PLCB itself and distilleries who make their own product.  While no one expects this concession to make up for all of the lost revenues that many bars, restaurants and hotels have experienced through the COVID-19 pandemic, it should offer some help by allowing licensees another avenue to generate revenue.

I have to admit: I am excited to see the unique and creative ideas that licensees will come up with to promote specialty drinks, cocktail kits, and other products, which now can actually include the alcohol!

Aaron Zeamer is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He practices in a variety of areas, including Business Law and Liquor License matters. Aaron works frequently with commercial real estate agents, brokers, restaurant and bar owners, breweries, distilleries, and wineries to facilitate the sale and transfer of PA liquor licenses.

They are calling it “the flush heard around the world.” I am calling it the “flush heard by the small minority of people who listen to live Supreme Court Oral Arguments.” Whatever it ends up being called, one thing is for sure: during a telephonic oral argument, a United States Supreme Court Justice flushed the toilet, and it was loud enough for everyone listening in to hear. It truly can happen to the best of us.

Since the restrictions related to COVID-19 began, many of us have been relying heavily on technology to conduct telephone or video conferences in our professional and personal lives. Virtual court appearances during the shelter-in-place order have even made their way into scripted televisions shows, appearing in the season finale of the legal drama, All Rise.

Locally, the Lancaster County Court has taken steps to start holding hearings and conferences using video conference technology. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Lancaster County Court is holding hearings via the Lifesize application.

With the increased use of this technology, it is a good idea to review some tips and best practices for video conferencing with judges and other court personnel where respect, decorum, and, as we know now, conscientious bathroom habits are paramount.

Preparation is Key

Before your video conference hearing begins, select a quiet location where you will remain throughout the hearing. This location should have a neutral background and should not contain any personal items that you would not want the Court or the other parties to see. It is a good idea to be in a room with a door that can close to signal to others in your house that you should not be disturbed.  (As a mom who is working from home with two small children, I know that this can be difficult!)

You can use a computer, tablet or smartphone for video conferencing. If you are using a smartphone, set your phone in the landscape orientation so that you appear to the other users in full screen. Place your device on a stationary surface, not in your hand.

Be mindful of what you are wearing. Dress (at least from the waist up) in the same type of clothing that you would wear if you were appearing in person. Do not be that person who gets caught on a Zoom call in their underwear!

If you are new to video conferencing or to the particular app that the Court is using, do a test run before the hearing or conference. The attorneys and staff at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP are happy to do a practice call with you before a hearing to make sure that everything is working. You should test the sound and video quality and practice muting and unmuting your device.

Initiating the Call

 A few minutes before the video conference begins, log in to the application you will be using. You may be placed in a waiting room until the person in charge of leading the conference authorizes it to start. Remember that the conference may begin at any time, so be prepared.  When you initiate the call, assume that your video will be on so all the participants will be able to see you.

If your video is not turned on (which you’ll be able to tell because you can’t see yourself on the screen), click the button to turn the video on. Be sure that your microphone is muted. It is standard practice to keep your device on mute except when it is your turn to speak.

Participating in the Call

During the call, the judge or court officer will direct how they will run the hearing or conference. Defer to your attorney as to when to speak but pay close attention so that you are ready to respond if the judge or your attorney asks you any questions.

If you would like to speak to your attorney privately during the call, let your attorney know and they can make arrangements to allow for a private conversation offline.

The attorneys are Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP are experienced in appearing before the Court using videoconference technology. If you have a legal matter that requires a video conference court appearance, contact one of our attorneys to discuss how to make the most of your hearing.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.

One of the casualties of this pandemic and economic shutdown has been the stock market and, with it, the values of retirement accounts. Defined contribution accounts, both private and employment-based, have taken significant investment hits. You may be wondering how this downturn will affect the consideration of plans such as 401Ks and IRAs in your divorce case.

Depending on where your divorce is in the process, due to COVID-19, there may be many retirement account considerations.

My divorce is ongoing, and my retirement account values are changing. What should I do?        

As divorce cases proceed, things change, including asset values. In the current crisis, this is especially true for fluctuating assets like defined contribution accounts. Keep your lawyer informed and rest assured that prior values placed on retirement assets and disclosed in court documents like inventories are not set in stone. If the market is to blame for declining values, your attorney can update documents as part of an ongoing process.

However, do not make voluntary decisions that may affect the values of your accounts without checking with counsel. One of the factors considered in property distribution ⁠— called Equitable Distribution ⁠— is the contribution to or dissipation of an asset. If you panic and take all of your money out of the market and put it into cash holdings, that could be regarded as dissipation.

However, sometimes it is prudent in a volatile market to make alternative investment choices to preserve value. Any changes should be made with advice from your investment professional as well as with disclosure to your lawyer.

Because of the pandemic, you can also remove money from a defined contribution account without the usual penalties. However, do not consider doing this without first consulting your attorney. Any removal of money from marital accounts can be considered as dissipation of the asset even if there is no penalty.

My case is before the Divorce Master, so how will my account be valued if it fluctuates?

Any division of property is to be “equitable.” The concept of fairness applies to the method by which the court divides these accounts.  This becomes particularly important when retirement accounts fluctuate.  There are ways that a lawyer can and should ask the court to address the current situation of changing values.

The court looks at the latest statement of value for any retirement account as such accounts are to be divided as closely as possible to the hearing date. But it would be totally unfair to divide the account without considering that the value may change. Therefore, any division of that account should refer specifically to the date of the value used, and any division utilizing that value should have that “as of” date.

For example, what if an account is worth $50,000 based on a statement from March 31, 2020, and it is to be divided with a specific sum of $20,000 to the other party? The court can direct the division of that sum to be made “as of March 31, 2020.” When the actual division of the account happens, the investment plan administrator will consider that $20,000 as having been distributed that day.  The payment will be subject to whatever happens in the market since that time up until the distribution. So, it may be more or less, depending on investment performance in the meantime.

There is also a special consideration if the retirement account was begun before the marriage —called a “pre-marital value”. In this situation, the court determines and divides only the “increase in value” of the asset as part of marital property. The increase in value refers to the growth of the asset during the marriage. The Divorce Code specifies that this is calculated as the difference between the value of the account on the date of marriage and the date of separation or the date of distribution, whichever increase is the smaller amount.

Always make sure your lawyer has the most current values of your accounts so you can run the numbers both ways. Historically, most often the date of separation would be the smaller increase. However, with the economic downturns during this pandemic, that is less likely to be the case now.

What about fluctuation in the accounts if I am signing a Postnuptial Agreement?

 The same considerations apply whether you are before the court or settling your case.

If you resolve your divorce case, a binding property settlement agreement, also known as a Postnuptial Agreement, controls the division of property. Sometimes, you will have negotiated a set monetary amount to be taken from a retirement account, and the amount is not linked to market fluctuation. I would guess that after this unprecedented pandemic, we will see fewer agreements for such guaranteed amounts.

But typically, if you are dividing retirement accounts, the agreement usually spells out the account values as well as the “as of” dates. If there is a division of the account and a percentage or sum payable to the other party, the common language is that this amount is “segregated” to the party as of a certain date.  This may be the date of an agreed-upon value, a certain statement value or the execution date of the agreement.

After that segregation date, the amount is subject to market fluctuations until actual distribution.  A court order called a QDRO- a Qualified Domestic Relations Order is what accomplishes the actual distribution. An expert actuary often drafts that order, which contains very specific instructions about the division, including market fluctuations.

No matter where you are in the process of your divorce case, the family lawyers at Russell Krafft and Gruber, LLC are here to advise you in this ever-changing legal environment.

Julia Vanasse is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP. She represents individuals dealing with both simple and complex family law matters. She previously served as a Divorce Master in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for almost 20 years and helped countless litigants resolve difficult and complex divorce matters.

As Pennsylvania’s stay-at-home restrictions slowly lift, many employers will be welcoming back employees temporarily laid off since March. So let’s go through the unique employment law requirements created by one of Congress’s first COVID-19 responses, the Families First First Coronovirus Response Act. (We’ll call it the “Families First Act,” for short.)

What is the Families First Act?

The Families First Act is one of several stimulus bills passed by Congress in response to COVID-19. For most private employers, it has two main components. First, it created a special category of paid time off known as “emergency paid sick leave.” Second, it expanded the FMLA program because of COVID-19. Both of these programs are temporary and will expire at the end of 2020.

Small and medium-sized businesses need to comply with the Families First Act rules, which apply to every employer with 500 or fewer employees.

So even if you do not have to worry about FMLA leave normally, you must be mindful of the Families First Act’s expanded FMLA requirements. You can seek a limited exemption if you are a small business (i.e., less than 50 employees) but talk to your attorney about the specific requirements.

What are the rules for Emergency Paid Sick Leave?

The Families First Act obligates all employers to offer paid emergency sick leave for COVID-19-related events. Here are a few things you should remember:

Every employee qualifies

Every employee on your payroll after April 1, 2020 qualifies for emergency paid sick leave. Even if they were back in the office for one day, you need to give them paid leave.

This rule does not apply, however, to employees laid off before April 1. So be careful about when you are ready to bring employees back.

Leave is based on hours worked

The Families First Act bases emergency paid sick leave on the average number of hours the employee would have worked in a two week period pre-COVID-19. For example, a part-time employee who usually worked 25 hours per week would get 50 hours of emergency paid sick leave.

Leave can only be used for specific events

Employees can only use this emergency sick leave for specific events. The ones you will generally run into are:

  • The employee cannot work because of a governmental shutdown order (more on that in the next bullet below because this one is complicated!);
  • The employee cannot work because they are sick with COVID-19, are seeking treatment, or are caring for someone with COVID-19; and
  • The employee needs to stay home to be the primary caregiver for a son or daughter whose school or daycare is shut down due to COVID-19.

The COVID-19 shutdown order must be the cause

One of the most complicated questions is whether a COVID-19 shutdown order is what causes the employee not to have work vs. a simple lack of work. Emergency paid sick leave only applies to the former.

  • For example, if you would have tasks for an employee to do, but they cannot do them without being in your office (which the order shut down), then they can use the leave.
  • But if you do not need the employee because business is down, then they cannot use the leave. So if you employ a server as a restaurant and you have no customers to serve, it is the lack of business, not the shutdown order, which keeps the employee from working.

This distinction is a hard line to draw in many cases. Here’s another way to look at it. Ask yourself:

  • Does the order keep this particular person from working? If yes, the leave applies.
  • Is the global effect of the order eliminating business keeping this particular person from working? If yes, the leave does not apply.

Leave must be paid

An employee using emergency paid sick leave must, as you’d expect from the name, be paid during the time off. You cannot force the employee to use other types of leave first.

Any unused leave will expire at the end of 2020. However, this act will not require employers to pay employees for unused emergency leave even if their policies normally call for the payment of unused paid time off at the end of employment.

Employers must post notice about Emergency Paid Leave

Employers must post a notice about this leave in the breakroom. With many offices closed, you should also distribute this notice electronically, including to employees as they come back to work. You can use the Department of Labor’s poster located on their website.

What about the expanded FMLA Leave?

Employees are generally meant to use FMLA leave so that they can seek medical care that will make them unable to work or to allow an employee to care for a family member. The Families First Act, however, adds a new, unique bucket of leave.

Here are the things to remember about this FMLA expansion of leave:

There’s a 30-Day employment requirement

Like with normal FMLA leave, an employee needs to be with you for 30 days before being eligible for expanded FMLA leave. But this look back period does count the time before COVID-19, even if the employee was temporarily furloughed and then brought back.

It’s only for Primary Caregivers

The only reason an employee can use expanded FMLA leave is to be the primary caregiver for a son or daughter whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19.

Employees will be partially paid after the first 2 weeks

While normally FMLA leave is unpaid, expanded FMLA is a little different. The first two weeks are unpaid (because they will probably be paid using emergency paid sick leave as discussed above). After that, they are eligible for two-thirds of their normal wages for up to 12 weeks.

Employees can use it concurrently with other leave

An employee can use other leave time concurrently with their expanded FMLA. For example, they can use paid time off so they receive their full pay rather than partial pay. But these times will run simultaneously, not with paid time off being used first and then 12 weeks of expanded leave after that.

How do I pay for all this?

So how do you, as the employer, pay for all this extra time off? The Families First Act addresses this through the form of payroll tax credits. If you document when employees take this leave, you can use that to reduce the employer portion of your payroll taxes. Talk to your payroll provider and accountant to make sure you are doing this correctly. You may owe penalties if you fail to remit taxes appropriately.

You can also pay for this time using other stimulus programs, such as the Payroll Protection Program (commonly called PPP loans). Learn more about those loans by clicking on this post here at the Lancaster Law Blog.

The Families First Act and its supporting regulations are a whole new world that can be difficult to navigate. If you have specific questions, contact your lawyer today. While our physical offices remain closed, our attorneys and staff remain ready to help by video conference, phone, and email.

Brandon Harter is a litigator and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Civil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionMunicipal Law, and chairs the firm’s Tech Law Group.

Now that the shock of business and court closures has started to wear off, we are beginning to ask ourselves, “Now what?” Fortunately, the Lancaster County Court is taking that question very seriously. It has started processing legal matters and holding hearings, particularly domestic relations or family law matters, via video conferencing.

The Lancaster County Court has been using an application called Lifesize to hold virtual hearings and conferences. The family law attorneys at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP have participated in a number of these and have had success in resolving matters or working with the court to keep pending cases moving.

What is Lifesize?

Lifesize, which is very similar to Zoom, allows the parties and their attorneys to participate in existing or newly scheduled court matters. Some of the types of hearings and conferences that the court is holding via Lifesize include:

  • custody conferences;
  • presentations of routine motions and petitions;
  • adoption hearings; and
  • emergency custody disputes.

We anticipate that the court will continue to add to the list of matters that it can handle via video conferencing in the coming weeks.

Look for another blog soon about video conferencing best practices and tips.

Other Family Law Orders Are Still Moving

The Lancaster County Family Court has also indicated that it is willing to accept and enter orders regarding agreements and other documents that do not require a hearing, including:

  • custody stipulations;
  • temporary support agreements;
  • qualified domestic relations orders; and
  • other uncontested matters that require a judge’s signature.

If you have a family law matter that requires the court’s attention, contact one of our attorneys to discuss how to navigate the court system during these uncertain times.  Although we have closed our physical office, our virtual office is open for business.

Laura McGarry is an attorney at Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Penn State Law and provides legal counsel to individuals and businesses in Lancaster and surrounding communities.