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What is the Impact of COVID-19 Regulations on Charter Schools?

Charter schools are unique in their independence and operation. Due to their relative independence, they do not have to meet the strict demands of the bureaucracy of the public-school district. They can offer more flexibility in their curriculum, school hours, school calendar, learning methods, and technology offerings. When the pandemic hit, charter schools were able to pivot to online learning and meet the needs of their student population more rapidly. Charter schools are providing students and families with stability and continuity of education which are essential in this new coronavirus landscape.

Charter schools were able to move online learning relatively quickly, use creative solutions to meet technological needs, and provide meals to their student population. Public schools struggled under pressure. Additionally, many public schools based their decision-making in part out of a fear of  lawsuits, delaying instruction.

Legislation Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The United States Congress passed laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to address the financial and public health needs of the country. The following laws passed in March 2020 to offer relief to individuals and businesses, as well as state and local governments affected by the health crisis:

  • The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act: Provided funds for research, equipment stockpiles, vaccine development, and state and local health budgets.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA): Provided funding for nutritional aid, testing for COVID-19, expanded unemployment insurance, and family and sick leave benefits.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act: Provided emergency funding for businesses and individuals, as well as state and local governments.
  • The Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act: Provided additional funding for small businesses, hospitals, COVID-19 testing, and additional funds to extend the Paycheck Protection Program under the CARES Act.

Legislation Affecting Charter Schools Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The CARES Act particularly has implications for charter schools. Charter schools with fewer than 500 employees must comply with sick leave provisions under the FFCRA and CARES Act to qualify for refundable tax credits for providing sick leave. The CARES Act also allows charter schools to seek financial relief. Charter schools may qualify for various loans, grants, tax credits, and deferrals to utilize toward programs necessitated by the pandemic, such as continuing payroll and paying wages for their employees. As non-profit entities, they may be able to qualify for some provisions under the CARES Act or apply for small business association loans.

The CARES Act may allow charter schools to obtain waivers from the Secretary of Education on assessment, accountability, and reporting results of the assessments under the federal education law. The CARES Act also allows charter schools to obtain additional funds to use toward implementing public health and safety measures used to prevent and prepare for COVID-19 effects on the schools, as well as for costs of cleaning and mental health support. Additional funds may be accessed for programs related to child nutrition.

Navigating the CARES Act

For parents seeking an alternative to the conventional public school, charter schools offer valuable and unique learning environments. The pandemic has highlighted some of the ways the charter school system has met the new challenges due to the flexibility they enjoy. However, even though charter schools are independent from public school districts, they are presented with unique legal challenges. Charter schools now have to respond to the different laws, regulations, and needs created by the pandemic.

The legal team at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser offer comprehensive legal representation to charter schools in the Philadelphia region. Pennsylvania education law can be complicated, and the additional regulations passed by Congress recently create additional challenges. Our attorneys can guide you through all the legal resources available to ensure that you continue to provide quality education to your constituents. For additional information, contact us online or call 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and New Jersey.

How Can I Protect My Business from Whistleblower Lawsuits?

Federal and state laws often encourage employees to report violations of labor, environmental, and/or public safety laws when they occur. An employee who witnesses or has evidence of wrongdoing or waste while employed and who makes a good faith report of the wrongdoing or waste, verbally or in writing, to one of the person’s superiors, to an agent of the employer, or to an appropriate authority is a whistleblower. Federal and state laws protect employees from facing retaliation for making complaints against their employer. Employers should understand what a whistleblower complaint entails and what to do when faced with a such a complaint.

Whistleblower Actions

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) handles complaints from whistleblowers who allege violations of worker safety, food safety, and securities laws. Typically, an employee may report that the employer is violating an OSHA safety regulation involving safety of the public or the worker. Some whistleblower actions involve OSHA violations.

The Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 also provides several means of protection to employees who complain of violations of federal securities laws, such as wire, mail, securities, and bank fraud.  State laws involving discrimination, harassment, family and medical leave, and wage and labor laws are also another source of whistleblower protection. Retaliating against an employee, such as an action to demote, terminate, or make any other changes that impact their employment, because that employee raised an issue qualifying under the Whistleblower law is prohibited.

Protecting a Business from Whistleblower Complaints

The best way to avoid whistleblower complaints is to follow state and federal laws. While it seems so simple, actively working to ensure compliance with labor, safety, regulations, and statutory law is the easiest way to avoid a Whistleblower claim.  Companies should actively create compliance protocols, implement those policies effectively, and evaluate the effectiveness of those policies on a regular basis. Companies operating in health care, financial, and government contracts are more vulnerable to such actions. It is also vital to develop a means by which employees can come forward to report any violations internally, so you have an opportunity to address the issue directly and correct any errors. When establishing internal policies to receive reports of waste and wrongdoing, you must ensure that employees will not face retaliation for coming forward.

Employers should also have a system by which employee complaints are handled so that an employer can verify claims and address any issues. Employers should carefully document all evidence, witness statements, and other

records and findings. If there is a government investigation, having all necessary documents to prove or disprove claims can be easily made.

Even if an employer suspects that an employee has not made a legitimate complaint, you are prohibited from retaliating against that employee, or you can be found to violate their rights.  Yes, even when the report is false or fabricated.  Do not terminate or make decisions that negatively impact an employee’s terms and conditions of employment. Other actions, such as reprimanding the employee, excluding them from meetings, reducing their working hours, or denying a promotion may all be construed as retaliatory.

What Should I Do When a Complaint has Been Launched?

When you receive a complaint from an employee regarding waste or wrongdoing, even if you believe it to be frivolous, you should look into the complaint in an objective manner in compliance with your internal investigation procedures.

When faced with a government investigation, a business must deal with the allegation and handle the whistleblower appropriately. The best way to avoid whistleblower actions is through knowledge of applicable federal and state laws, as well as creating compliance and regulatory mechanisms that ensure that the company adheres to their best practices. However, mistakes can happen that trigger an investigation by a federal or state agency. When they do, consulting with counsel about next steps and following solid advice is strongly recommended.

If you need legal guidance regarding regulatory and compliance practices, contact the legal team at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser. We provide a full suite of employment-related representation, including reviewing employer policies to minimize litigation exposure. For an initial consultation, contact us online or call 484-318-7106. Located in Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Chester County, Philadelphia, and New Jersey.

Resolving Workplace Conflicts

Workplace conflicts are inevitable. Almost 85 percent of employees experience conflicts in their workplace. Conflicts can lead to positive outcomes if management learns to resolve them with efficacy. When conflicts are dealt with quickly and effectively, they can be converted to greater understanding amongst employees, better solutions to problems, and even innovation and creativity. When management fails to act immediately, employee morale is lowered and productivity diminishes. Therefore, conflict resolution in the workplace is of utmost importance for a company’s bottom-line.

Conflicts occur in the workplace due to various reasons. Employees have to deal with different personalities, management styles, stress, discrimination, poor or differing styles of communication, and performance issues. Recognizing and understanding the different sources of conflict may be the first step toward a resolution.

Management-Related Conflicts

Managers come with various personalities and management styles. One manager may tend to micro-manage and control minute details of an employee’s work, while others may be too hands-off, leaving the employee in the dark as to what is required. Balancing a manager’s style with an employee’s needs is critical to creating a greater understanding of what may be required to complete the work at hand. Company policies should emphasize communication and accountability, as well as clearly define roles and expectations.

Performance-Related Conflicts

Conflicts can also arise when different departments do not follow deadlines or project requirements. Each department may be dependent on another department’s ability to fulfill their tasks in order to complete its own. Managers can play a critical role in avoiding such conflicts by delegating tasks clearly and ensuring that deadlines are being met along the way. Managers can also create incentives to ensure teams are motivated to complete their tasks on time, while also ensuring that teams are held accountable when they fail to meet requirements.

Clashing Personalities

Workplaces include individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and socio-economic status. Diverse populations have differing and unique ways of approaching problems and people. Employees may have different styles in communicating and tolerances for others’ behavior. In these instances, managers should learn to listen to everyone’s grievances and empathize, sympathize, and communicate with sensitivity to address these conflicts in an equitable, equal, and uniform way.

Stress-Related Conflicts

Employees have to deal with different types of stress in the workplace. Employees may experience stress at work because they are being overextended, harassed, or discriminated against. Stress can cause resentment and lack of focus, leading to a decrease in productivity. Managers should identify the source of stress an employee is experiencing. This begins with first listening to the employee’s concerns with empathy and involve the Human Resources department if the stress is related to discrimination or harassment. If the conflict is due to lack of resources, managers need to address the issues immediately with flexibility and openness so that an equitable solution is reached.

What can Managers Do to Resolve Conflicts?

Managers can resolve conflicts that arise and improve outcomes when they focus on issues. First, a manager should actively listen to the employee’s concern to identify the issue. After recognizing the issue at hand, take immediate action by clearing up any misunderstandings between employees and facilitating open discussions. Also, managers can help resolve ensuing conflicts by reframing them in a positive light. Instead of referring to the issue as a conflict, a manager can reframe it to be a discussion or problem-solving session, turning the focus away from the conflict and toward open communication and resolution. A manager can also assist in conflict resolution by requesting workers propose solutions to the problems they are facing and mediate between them to reach a consensus.

The legal team at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser help clients with labor relations and employment law-related issues. For more information, contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106 for an initial consultation. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Philadelphia, Chester County, and New Jersey.

Small and Mid-Sized Businesses Should Seek Counsel From Attorneys When Faced With Legal Issues or Lawsuits

When faced with a legal issues, small business owners have a lot on their plate. With limited funds, employees, and customers, small business owners are often in a position where the cost to fight legal battles is beyond what the budget will allow. However, it is inevitable that a small business owner will face legal challenges at some point. Therefore, it is necessary to be cognizant of the issues and have a plan in place to tackle a lawsuit.

Never Ignore a Lawsuit

First and foremost, do not ignore a lawsuit or a potential suit. When any legal document is served upon a business or a letter from an attorney threatening suit arrives, there may be a tendency to forget about it hoping it will go away. However, legal documents, such as complaints when not responded to in a correct fashion, can create more problems. When served with a legal document, it is essential to prioritize it by thoroughly reading the allegations and contacting an attorney immediately.  Also, when a threat of a lawsuit arrives, it may be the first, and in come cases the best, opportunity to eliminate exposure caused by the threatened litigation.

Cultivate Relationships with Lawyers

Ideally, before confronting a lawsuit, the business should have an attorney that works for the business either on payroll or a retainer so that they can be contacted immediately. The attorney should be knowledgeable of business operations, culture, and management so that they can quickly acquaint themselves of the issues and formulate a response. Most small businesses may not have a lawyer on retainer or payroll. Therefore, it may be necessary to rely on referrals from other businesses, friends, and family to request a legal consultation. It is very important that the owner seek legal counsel and follow expert legal advice when responding to a lawsuit or threat of litigation.

Contact an Insurance Agent

Some business owners may already have business insurance that provides coverage for business-related lawsuits. Employment matters, errors and omissions coverage, cyber liability, and general liability coverage are among coverages that should be considered. It is crucial to provide notice of the lawsuit so that the insurance company can act on the business owner’s behalf. Often, when coverage is triggered, the insurer will appoint an attorney to defend the lawsuit.

Types of Lawsuits Faced by Small Business Owners

Small business owners can be sued by their employees, customers, competitors, or even by state and local governments. It is important to know the type of lawsuit one is facing to retain the appropriate attorneys. From employment litigation to intellectual property litigation, practice types can vary, and it may be necessary to consult an attorney that has specific expertise required for a specific lawsuit.

Contract-Based Lawsuit. Small business owners may face a lawsuit from a disgruntled vendor, supplier, or customer. Businesses operate on the basis of various contracts and agreements. Failure to abide by contract terms can be the basis of a lawsuit.   When preparing contracts, it is a good idea to make sure that the terms are spelled out in writing and that both parties agree to the terms.  This can avoid issues going forward.

Employment-Related Lawsuit. Employees may sue small business owners for employment-related issues, such as discrimination, harassment, and missed wages. Businesses should be aware of federal and state laws regarding these issues and it is essential to have Workers’ Compensation insurance for work-related injuries.  A review of policies regarding overtime pay, harassment and anti-discrimination, and termination or disciplinary procedures are all important preventative measures small businesses should undertake regularly.

Intellectual Property Rights Violations. Small business owners may also face a lawsuit for violating intellectual property rights, such as the usage of a competitor’s trademark or patent, or copyrighted work without a license.

Personal Injuries. Personal injuries on the premises of a business are also cause for a lawsuit. For example, someone may slip and fall, or an object may fall on them due to a defect on the premises resulting in injuries.

The legal team at MacMain, Connell & Leinhauser serves as general counsel to businesses of all sizes and provides  a wide range of services for small business owners. If you need legal counseling regarding business formation or defense of a lawsuit, we can assist you with daily compliance, employment, and human resource matters, as well as litigation representation. For more information regarding these services, please contact us online or call us at 484-318-7106. Located in West Chester, Pennsylvania, we serve clients in and around Philadelphia, Chester County, and across Pennsylvania and New Jersey.