Coronavirus Legal FAQ
- Do I need to follow Maryland’s stay-at-home order?
- What are the new federal and Maryland state tax filing deadlines?
- Will COVID-19 affect my personal injury case?
- Will the value of personal injury cases be affected?
- Will Maryland court closures delay my case?
- Will I benefit from the federal stimulus package?
- Do I qualify for worker’s compensation benefits in Maryland if I lose my job due to COVID-19?
- Can I be evicted or foreclosed in Maryland during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- Where can I get help if I lost my job and cannot pay rent or utilities?
- Where can I get help for my Maryland small business?
- Does my employer have to give me paid sick leave if I get the virus?
- Is my employer allowed to take my temperature?
- One of my employees is sick, what do I do?
- Am I allowed to lay off an employee during the Maryland state of emergency?
Yes. Governor Larry Hogan issued a stay-at-home order on March 30th that remains in effect today. The order states that Marylanders cannot leave their homes except for essential reasons, including but not limited to getting groceries, prescriptions, and medical care.
Similar orders are in effect around the world. Staying at home is the best way that we have so far of preventing the spread of the virus, protecting our communities, and reducing the death toll of this awful virus.
Governor Hogan also made the stay-at-home order enforceable. A knowing and intentional violation of the order is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and up to a year in prison.
The order does not mean that you cannot go outside. You can still take walks outside and carry out essential business such as going to the grocery store. The Governor has required wearing face coverings in retail spaces and on public transportation.
Both the federal and Maryland deadlines for filing 2019 taxes have been extended to July 15th. October 15th is the deadline for those who filed for a federal extension.
In Maryland and around the country, courts have closed. All but the most pressing cases, mostly criminal and family law cases, are on hold. The courts are still in the process of working out the many issues presented by this unique moment. At Miller & Zois, we are watching the situation closely and doing everything in our power to get the best possible results for our clients.
We expect the value of personal injury cases to decrease as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. First, we will see a decrease in the amount of medical treatment that plaintiffs receive because any doctor’s offices and treatment facilities have closed. When plaintiffs receive less medical treatment, insurance companies offer lower settlements. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, plaintiffs may be desperate to accept offers quickly, even if they are low, due to the economic hardships caused by the coronavirus. Insurance companies know they can take advantage of this and have already started offering lowball settlements on pending claims.
The courts in Maryland have been closed to the public since March 16th and are currently closed until June 5th. However, essential personnel are still working and hearing emergency cases. This includes things like bail review, criminal arraignments, and protective orders, but not personal injury cases. All personal injury hearings, trials, and other proceedings will be rescheduled.
However, it is still possible to file documents and pleadings for both pending and new cases with the courts. The statute of limitations (typically 3 years) and filing deadlines for personal injury cases have not been extended, so it is important that documents are still filed. Documents can be filed on the MDEC system, by mail, or in a drop-box. The “filing date” for mailed documents is the mailing date, and the previous day for documents placed in a drop-box.
The federal stimulus package, known as the CARES Act, will provide up to $1,200 to eligible Americans. Married couples who file jointly will receive $2,400. Parents can also receive $500 for each child age 16 or younger. These stimulus checks are tax-free, and eligibility is based on the adjusted gross income on your 2019 tax return (or 2018 if you haven’t filed yet). Those who didn’t have to file in 2018 or 2019 but receive social security payments will get a check.
You are not eligible if:
- You do not have a social security number
- If you are claimed as a dependent on somebody else’s taxes (children and adults)
- If your income is above $99,000 for single filers, above $136,500 for head-of-household filers/single parents, and above $198,000 for married couples with no children
Governor Hogan issued a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures while the state of emergency is in effect in Maryland. He also prohibited utility providers from shutting off service or charging late fees during the state of emergency.
However, there is currently no rent freeze in Maryland. Renters are still expected to pay rent and may still face eviction once the state of emergency is lifted. Those who have lost their income due to the virus can apply for unemployment, as discussed below.
- Were laid off
- Your workplace is closed or went out of business
- You were temporarily laid off
- Your hours were reduced
- You cannot work because you were told by a doctor or healthcare worker to isolate due to suspected or confirmed COVID-19
- You are taking off from work because you are sick but are not eligible for/have exhausted your PTO
- You decided to leave your work because you were concerned about getting the virus
Workers’ compensation is different from the expanded unemployment benefits discussed above. Essentially, workers’ compensation is supposed to compensate those who were injured on the job due to a hazard commonly associated with the occupation.
To have a viable workers’ compensation claim, there must be a connection between the employee having the virus and the circumstances of their employment. This may be challenging to prove since the virus is so contagious and its symptoms have a delayed onset.
In order to have a decent claim, there would have to be either a single event that could explain the employee’s infection, a refusal on the part of the employer to implement health guidelines, or a high probability of exposure related to a particular field.
Maryland has a $175 million relief program in place to help businesses survive the COVID-19 shutdown. The program breaks down into several different funds targeting small businesses who will have a harder time losing a few months’ revenue than large companies.
- Businesses with less than 50 employees that are able to demonstrate financial distress can apply for an up to $50,000 loan [note: this application closed on April 6th]
- Small businesses and nonprofits that have lost revenue and whose annual revenues are less than $5 million can apply for an up to $10,000 loan. [note: this application closed on April 6th]
- Small businesses can apply to receive up to $50,000 in funding from the “layoff aversion” fund [note: this application closed on April 6th]
- There is a $5 million incentive program to help Maryland manufacturers produce PPE equipment [apply here]
For information about additional funding and federal funding, follow the links below:
- Additional information and funding from Maryland
- Paycheck Protection Program and more from the US Small Business Administration [note: the SBA is not accepting new applications for EIDL assistance based on available funding]
- Search for Maryland relief options
- Grants for artists and art organizations
- Grants for Maryland’s farms and rural businesses
- Small Business Development Centers’ resources
According to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), federal, state, and local public agencies and companies with fewer than 500 employees must provide their employees with up to 80 hours of sick leave. Employees are eligible for this sick leave if they are full-time workers and have either been diagnosed with the virus, have been told to quarantine, have symptoms of the virus, who are caring for a family member who has the virus, or who have a child younger than 18 who is at home due to schools closing.
Yes, employers have been given the right by the EEOC to take the temperature of an employee exhibiting symptoms and send them home for the safety of employees and to prevent the spread of the virus. Employers are allowed to require a doctor’s note, too, before allowing employees to return to work.
There are no legal requirements that employers must follow in this situation. The best practice is to send the employee and anyone they worked with home.
Laying off an employee due to financial difficulties is allowed and is not wrongful termination. Additionally, if your business is an essential business, you are most likely able to terminate an employee for not coming to work.
People have been arrested in Maryland for willfully ignoring the stay-at-home order. Throwing parties, for example, has gotten people arrested. There have also been cases of people diagnosed with the virus spitting and coughing at other people, a misdemeanor charge called “exposure by an infected individual.” There will also be hundreds of civil cases filed as a result of the pandemic. Plaintiffs will sue over things like insurance claims, gross negligence, medical malpractice, and even battery.
Maryland courts are closed until June 5th. This date may be extended. Most criminal cases are being rescheduled. However, emergency matters are still being heard. These include but are not limited to:
- Bail review hearings
- Bench warrants
- Criminal arraignments
- Emergency evaluation petitions
- High-risk protective orders (domestic violence emergencies)
- Family law emergencies (custody, etc.)
For both new and pending cases, statutory and rules deadlines have been extended. You can still file documents with the court electronically through the MDEC system, by mail, or via the court’s drop-box.