Minnesota COVID-19 Update— May 18, 2020

Minnesota COVID-19 Update— May 18, 2020

This update provides a quick-reference summary of major Minnesota state and local government actions taken in response to the novel COVID-19 outbreak that may be pertinent to Minnesota clients’ business operations. We will seek to update the summary for major events as the state and local response unfolds.

We have divided this summary into the following broad categories: (i) Stay-at-Home Order; (ii) unemployment benefits and employment; (iii) restaurants, bars, and other public accommodations; (iv) health care; (v) other Minnesota actions; (vi) litigation; and (vii) more to come.

I. STAY-AT-HOME ORDER

Governor Tim Walz had issued a constellation of executive orders that require Minnesotans to stay at home through May 3, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.[1] On April 30, 2020, he issued Executive Order 20-48, which consolidated the existing series of Orders and extended the stay-at-home order, with modifications, through May 17, 2020.[2] Most recently, on May 14, 2020, Governor Walz issued Executive Order 20-56 (the “Order”), which is effective through May 31, 2020 at 11:59 p.m., and works to “reopen” certain sectors of the economy.[3]

The Order makes some rules applicable to everyone. The Order encourages Minnesota workers to continue to work from home to the extent possible. For those who leave the home for work, errands, or recreation, the Order requires compliance with guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health (“MDH”), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Minnesotans are “strongly encouraged” to wear a face covering as a means of source control whenever they leave the home.

The Order prohibits gatherings of non-household members in groups greater than 10 people, except for government meetings, Judicial Branch functions (such as court appearances), and drive-in gatherings wherein all participants remain in their own vehicles.

Businesses deemed “critical” and “non-critical” by past stay-at-home orders[4] may continue to operate and/or expand their operations so long as they create, implement, certify, disseminate, post, comply with, and train employees on a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan. Such a Preparedness Plan must implement MNOSHA standards, MDH and CDC guidelines, contemplate work-from-home arrangements for workers, maintain social distancing standards, account for hygiene and source control, cleaning, and disinfection of the workplace. The Preparedness Plan for any customer-facing business must include provisions to keep the public and workers safe through social distancing and/or other measures. Further, businesses in both critical and non-critical businesses must post signage regarding social distancing and hygiene at the entrances and at other locations such that they can be viewed by customers or visitors.

Restaurants, bars, and other places of public accommodation remain closed. Such businesses or accommodations will reopen on June 1, 2020 pursuant to forthcoming guidance.

Outdoor recreation is permitted with certain exceptions for activities that do not permit social distancing (e.g., charter boats, launches, mini golf, pools, racetracks, concert venues). All Minnesota, regional, and local parks, trails, and recreation areas are open. Visitors must adhere to social distancing guidelines while engaging in outdoor recreation.

Populations deemed to be “at-risk” are strongly encouraged to stay home except to engage in necessary activities (e.g., medical visits, grocery shopping, outdoor recreation, caretaking).[5] At-risk populations are defined as those (1) over the age of 65; (2) living in a nursing home or long-term care facility; or (3) any age with certain underlying medical conditions. Guidance for businesses is forthcoming regarding required special accommodations for at-risk populations.

II. UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS AND EMPLOYMENT

  • Consistent with federal guidance,[6] Governor Walz announced several changes to unemployment benefits in Minnesota, including:[7]
    • The following individuals may be eligible for unemployment benefits in addition to those were previously eligible:
      • individuals whose employment is terminated, who become underemployed, or who are unable to start a new position as a result of COVID-19;
      • individuals who are recommended or ordered to avoid contact with others by a health care authority or provider;
      • individuals who are unable to work due to cancellation or unavailability of schools, daycares, or other childcare providers as long as the individual made reasonable effort to find other childcare and requested time off or other reasonable accommodation from their former employer;
      • self-employed individuals and independent contractors; and
      • workers will not forego unemployment insurance benefits if they quit employment due to an employer’s failure to correct an adverse work condition related to the pandemic after such worker makes a formal complaint.[8]
    • The ordinary one-week waiting period to access benefits will be waived for benefit applications made on or after March 1, 2020.
    • Eligible workers are entitled to additional benefits under the CARES Act, including $600/week additional unemployment benefit payment; a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for workers who have exhausted their regular benefits; and weekly payments for those who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits from the state.[9]
    • The ordinary work-search requirements for individuals receiving benefits are modified such that: (1) benefit recipients are only required to search for work that does not pose a health risk to the individual or others; and (2) if the recipient is temporarily laid off, they must maintain regular contact with the employer.
    • The regular five-week benefit limitation is waived for business owners who had previously elected coverage and became unemployed due to COVID-19.
    • Unemployment benefits paid as a result of COVID-19 will not be used in computing future unemployment tax rates of a taxpaying employer.
  • Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth have sick and safe time ordinances that will allow time off for a number of purposes related to COVID-19:
    • The City of Minneapolis issued FAQs stating that employees may use accrued Minneapolis sick and safe leave for absences relating to COVID-19 testing, care or quarantine in the event of COVID-19 symptoms or close contact with someone with COVID-19 symptoms, caring for a family member whose ordinary care arrangements have been disrupted by the outbreak, and for workplace closures ordered by a public official.[10] 
    • St. Paul and Duluth’s ordinances should similarly apply in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak and would allow eligible employees to use accrued benefits for their own diagnosis, care or treatment, or to obtain the same for a covered family member.[11]
  • MNOSHA issued a bulletin stating that employers have a responsibility to assure the safety of every worker, including preventing the spread of communicable diseases.[12] The bulletin also advised that employers must not retaliate against employees who contract or are exposed to COVID-19, or who miss work to care for a family member who has been exposed to or contracts COVID-19.
  • MNOSHA has released guidance specific to certain workplaces and/or industries, including grocery stores, meatpacking, dentistry, manufacturing, convenience stores, construction, golf course and bait shop workers and customers, and non-essential businesses.[13]
  • Pursuant to Executive Order 20-54:[14]
    • Employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against any worker who wears protective gear;
    • Workers may refuse to work under conditions that they reasonably believe present an imminent danger of death or physical harm, such as exposure to COVID-19;
    • The Department of Labor and Industry is authorized to receive worker complaints about workplace discrimination, retaliation, and violations of safety standards, and may conduct workplace inspections;
    • Reasonable accommodations related to COVID-19 may include adjusting schedules or work stations, allowing employees to work from home, or permitting the use of leave.

III. RESTAURANTS, BARS, AND OTHER PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS

  • Governor Walz ordered restaurants, bars, event venues, and other places of public accommodation to remain closed to customers until June 1, 2020.[15] Such establishments will receive guidance on safe reopening by or before May 20, 2020.[16]
    • While most other establishments and venues must be closed:
      • Restaurants are allowed and encouraged to offer take-out and delivery options (as long as such methods of purveyance adhere to social distancing recommendations).
      • Restaurants may sell up to 750 mL of wine and up to 72 ounces of beer, hard seltzer, or cider, in its original and unopened packaging, with takeaway food orders.[17]
  • The City of Minneapolis is waiving all licensing late fees for food, taxi, liquor, wine, beer, or catering licenses.[18]
  • Restaurants or other take-out businesses in Minneapolis may apply for a free permit to establish “Food Pickup Zones” in metered spots outside of their business.[19]
  •  For businesses impacted by the closure of places of public accommodation, the Minnesota Department of Revenue is granting a Sales and Use Tax grace period during which the Department will not assess penalties or interest—payments that were due by March 20 have an extension until May 20, 2020 (businesses that require additional relief may request it from the Minnesota Department of Revenue (see link)).[20]
  • Licensed food trucks may temporarily operate at certain highway rest stops through May 17, 2020.[21] 

IV. HEALTH CARE FACILITIES AND PROCEDURES

  • On March 19, Governor Walz ordered that health care providers cease all non-essential or elective surgeries and procedures, including dental care, that utilize PPE or ventilators (essentially any procedure or care) for an indefinite period. On March 23, Governor Walz extended the order to other entities and to include non-essential or elective veterinary procedures.[22]
  • On May 6, Governor Walz partially rescinded these previous orders, allowing health care providers and veterinarians to begin providing non-essential and elective surgeries, procedures, and care, subject to certain prioritization, social distancing, and worker protection restrictions.[23]

V. OTHER MINNESOTA AND LOCAL ACTION

  • No Minnesota business may sell any good for more than 20 percent of its price before the COVID-19 outbreak. Businesses may be fined up to $10,000 per violation.[24]
  • Any Minnesota-based business that has less than 250 employees and has been closed due to an executive order is eligible for interest-free loans between $2,500–$35,000 through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).[25] The program will be open for up to 12 months following the declaration of a peacetime emergency on March 13, 2020.[26]
  • The Minnesota Department of Revenue has extended the income tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020 (tracking the IRS’s extended federal filing deadline). The Department did not extended the filing deadline for corporation franchise, S-corporations, partnerships, or fiduciary taxes—however, such entities may qualify for an automatic extension.[27]
  • Certain highway weight restrictions and hours of service for carriers and drivers of commercial motor vehicles are suspended.[28]
  •  On March 20, 2020, Governor Walz ordered a moratorium on all foreclosure actions brought by mortgage holders.[29]
  • Several recent orders from Governor Walz have attempted to eliminate regulatory hurdles for several critical occupations, including actions related to certain licensed health professions,[30] motor carriers and drivers operating in Minnesota,[31] and licensed police officers, firefighters, and security positions.[32]
  • Boards of directors and shareholders of Minnesota corporations may, with proper notice, change a meeting previously scheduled to be held in-person to a remote meeting.[33]
  • All Hennepin and Ramsey County government buildings are closed.[34] Services in both counties are generally available by telephone.

VI. LITIGATION

  • All deadlines imposed by statute (including statutes of limitations) are suspended until 60 days after the end of the statewide peacetime emergency declaration.[35]
  • Courts are not prevented from holding hearings, requiring appearances, or issuing orders as required for the needs of a case.[36]
  • State district court judges and court staff will implement “transitional case strategies” to continue to process cases.[37] Jury trials in criminal cases will resume on July 6, 2020, and in civil cases on September 1, 2020.
  • State appellate courts may extend certain deadlines established by court rule up to 30 days at their discretion.[38]

VII. MORE TO COME

  • Several of Governor Walz’s recent orders will likely be subject to clarification and additional rulemaking, for example:
    • DEED initially provided guidance indicating that individuals that accepted a voluntary layoff would be eligible for unemployment benefits. Later, its FAQ related to “a voluntary, unpaid leave of absence due to COVID-19” stated: “If you are in this situation, complete an application. We will notify you if you are eligible.” Now, however, that same FAQ provides that Minn. Stat. § 268.088 governs eligibility for unemployment benefits in the event of a voluntary layoff.
    • It is also unclear how the State will determine when unemployment benefits were “paid as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic” to carry out the Governor’s order that these not be used in computing employers unemployment tax rate.

  1. Executive Orders 20-20, 20-33, 20-40, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp; see also #StayHomeMN Frequently Asked Questions, Office of Gov. Tim Walz, https://mn.gov/governor/covid-19/faq/.
  2. Executive Order 20-48, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  3. Executive Order 20-56, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  4. Executive Order 20-48 described critical sectors as, for example, healthcare, law enforcement and first responders, water, energy, financial services, childcare, certain government employees, animal shelters, and public works. Non-critical businesses comprised certain (1) industrial and manufacturing businesses, (2) office-based businesses, and (3) retail businesses. See Executive Order 20-48, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  5. Executive Order 20-55, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  6. See U.S. Department of Labor Announces New Guidance on Unemployment Insurance Flexibilities During COVID-19 Outbreak, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/eta/eta20200312-0.
  7. Executive Order 20-05, Office of Gov. Tim Walz, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp; COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and Unemployment Benefits, Minn. Unemployment Ins., https://www.uimn.org/applicants/needtoknow/news-updates/covid-19.jsp.
  8. Executive Orders 20-54, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  9. COVID-19 Information for Workers, Minn. Unemployment Ins., https://www.uimn.org/applicants/needtoknow/news-updates/covid19-workers.jsp.
  10. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and the Sick and Safe Time Ordinance Frequently Asked Questions, City of Minneapolis, http://sicktimeinfo.minneapolismn.gov/.
  11. Earned Sick and Safe Time and COVID 19 Frequently Asked Questions, City of Duluth, https://duluthmn.gov/media/9458/covid19-info.pdf.
  12. Worker Protections Related to COVID-19, MNOSHA (May 6, 2020), https://www.saul.com/sites/default/files/MN_worker_protections_related_to_COVID_19.pdf.
  13. MNOSHA Compliance: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), Minn. Dep’t of Labor & Indus., https://www.dli.mn.gov/business/workplace-safety-and-health/mnosha-compliance-novel-coronavirus-covid-19 .
  14. Executive Orders 20-54, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  15. Executive Orders 20-56, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  16. Id.
  17. See Sess. L. ch. 75—S.F. No. 4498 (Apr. 17, 2020).
  18. FAQs for Local Businesses, City of Minneapolis, http://www.minneapolismn.gov/coronavirus/WCMSP-223299.
  19. Id.
  20. Sales and Use Tax, Minn. Dep’t of Rev., https://www.revenue.state.mn.us/sales-and-use-tax.
  21. Executive Order 20-49, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  22. Executive Orders 20-09, 20-16, 20-17, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  23. Executive Order 20-51, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  24. Executive Order 20-10, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  25. Executive Order 20-15, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  26. DEED Announces Small Business Loan Guarantee Program, Minnesota Employment & Econ. Dev’t (Mar. 30, 2020), https://mn.gov/deed/newscenter/press-releases/#/detail/appld/1/id/425536.
  27. Our Response to COVID-19, Minn. Dep’t of Revenue, https://revenue.state.mn.us/our-response-covid-19.
  28. Executive Orders 20-04, -06, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  29. Id.
  30. Executive Order 20-23, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  31. Executive Order 20-24, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  32. Executive Order 20-25, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  33. Executive Order 20-43, https://mn.gov/governor/news/executiveorders.jsp.
  34. COVID-19 Response, Hennepin County, Minnesota, https://hennepin.us/residents/emergencies/covid-19; Coronavirus Impacts on County Services, Ramsey County, https://ramseycounty.us/covid-19-info/coronavirus-impacts-county-services.
  35. Act of April 14, 2020, ch. 74, 2020 Minn. Laws (2020), available at https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/2020/0/Session+Law/Chapter/74/.
  36. Id.
  37. Order Governing the Operations of the Minnesota Judicial Branch Under Emergency Executive Order Nos. 20-53, 20-56 (Minn. May 15, 2020), available at https://www.saul.com/sites/default/files/Order-5152020.pdf. Links to “transitional case strategies” are embedded in Paragraph A.2 of the Order.
  38. Id.​
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