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President Trump announces signing of Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

COVID-19, Family Leave, Politics Challenge HR Managers

It’s important that HR managers make dealership managers generally aware of the new rules governing paid leave. Also, webinar panelists expect the topic of partisan political expression in the workplace to heat up as the presidential election approaches.

COVID-19 and the upcoming presidential election are hot issues for dealership human resources managers, according to a recent webinar hosted by the Association of Dealership Compliance Officers.

For instance, a common issue cropping up at dealerships is determining when, where and how employees may be eligible for paid leave to stay home with young schoolchildren who are learning remotely because of COVID-19.

“It’s super-duper tricky” to comply with the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which applies to businesses with fewer than 500 employees, says Kelly Hughes, a Charlotte, NC-based attorney. The new act also includes an extension to the older Family and Medical Leave Act, she says.

The FFCRA took effect April 1 and is in place until Dec. 31, 2020. Hughes says steps for dealership HR managers should include consulting a U.S. Department of Labor frequently asked questions page that covers the FFCRA and other requirements. The FAQ is continually updated, Hughes says.


Dallas-based attorney Marcia Jackson says even within the same workplace, eligibility for paid leave could vary depending on which school district employees live in, what arrangements different districts make for at-home learning, and even how old the children are, because that affects whether an adult must watch them at home.

“There’s not going to be an easy one-size-fits-all for going back to school,” Jackson says in the webinar.

As a result, it’s important that HR managers make dealership managers generally aware of the new rules governing paid leave. In turn, dealership managers need to know they should get HR involved when there are questions about leave, the attorneys say.

“We have to educate our managers. Employees are protected, they have their rights under these leaves,” Hughes says. “There will be no retaliation” for taking eligible time off, she says.Nielsen Automotive Group technician1.jpg

News releases on the Department of Labor website include dozens of examples of employers in other industries that were ordered to pay thousands of dollars in back wages, plus penalties in some cases, for wrongfully denying paid leave related to the coronavirus.

Sandy Zannino, who moderated the panel, says it’s OK for dealerships to make sure employees are eligible for leave, but she says in the long run it usually pays to err on the side of the employee.

She calls that “protecting profits,” because losing just one lawsuit can wipe out a lot of dealership profits. Zannino is founder and CEO of Innovative Auto HR of Sarasota, FL.

Another COVID-related issue that affects human resources is the question of bringing back to work – or not bringing back – dealership employees who were laid off in response to business shutdowns earlier this year.

A lot of dealerships find they can operate leaner and more profitably, so they’re not bringing everyone back, speakers say in the webinar.

“We’re definitely working smarter, not harder,” says Lynn Jurenz, human resources director for the six-dealership Nielsen Automotive Group of East Hanover, NJ (above, left).

She says as dealerships in the group brought back staff members who were laid off, the dealerships “found they could operate just fine” at about 60% to 70% of the pre-COVID level. So, restaffing has stopped “considerably short” of 100%, Jurenz says.

Debra Parent, human resources director at McKenna Automotive Group of Norwalk, CA, also with six dealerships, says her group had a similar experience. She says employees with multiple skills get priority to be rehired. She compares them to “Swiss Army knives.”

Speakers at the webinar say they also expect the topic of partisan political expression in the workplace to heat up as the presidential election approaches. For instance, employees could show up at work with controversial T-shirts, posters, slogans, logos or even face masks.

With limited exceptions – such as speech that pertains specifically to employment and working conditions – businesses may be able to limit political expression in the workplace, according to Jackson, the Dallas attorney.

However, the dealership has to have rules in place and must enforce the rules uniformly, without favoring only one side. “There’s no such thing as free speech in the workplace,” she says. “You don’t have the right to say whatever it is you want to say – at work. But you have to apply that across the board.”

In the present political environment, “everything,” including the coronavirus, is political, Jackson says. “Tomorrow, Coke vs. Pepsi is going to be political.”

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