California, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Chicago and New York issue COVID-19 orders; remote work options remain available for offices that can comply with other applicable laws while telecommuting.
ACA International continues to monitor state and city updates and remains available as a resource for members during this difficult time of fast-moving and often ambiguous regulatory change. In addition, our team has maintained regular direct and indirect communications with state and federal regulators to receive up-to-the-minute guidance on industry-relevant orders and emergency regulations, which we have been and will continue to parse and report on at regular intervals.
Here’s the latest:
California Stay at Home Order
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed a stay-at-home order requiring all Californians to stay in their place of residence “except as needed to maintain continuity of operations of the federal critical infrastructure sectors, as outlined here.
In short, this means non-essential businesses, including collection agencies, must close brick-and-mortar operations. Remote work, however, can continue—meaning that businesses may continue to operate with their staff telecommuting.
As a result, collections operations in California may continue with staff working remotely, from their place of residence, but agencies should be mindful of the challenges that telecommuting may impose under other state and federal laws, e.g., the FDCPA (for all third-party collectors), HIPAA (for medical debt collectors), and the CCPA (for those subject to it).
Pennsylvania Business Shut-Down Order
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a proclamation requiring closure of “non-life-sustaining businesses,” which took effect Thursday at 8 p.m. Enforcement actions against businesses that do not close physical locations will begin at?12:01 a.m. on Saturday,?March 21.
The proclamation states: “No person or entity shall operate a place of business in the Commonwealth that is not a life sustaining business regardless of whether the business is open to members of the public. This prohibition does not apply to virtual or telework operations (e.g., work from home), so long as social distancing and other mitigation measures are followed in such operations.”
Accordingly, as in California, it appears that collections operations in Pennsylvania may continue with staff working remotely, but agencies should be mindful of the challenges that telecommuting may impose under other state and federal laws.
New York: Updated Order from Governor on Work-From-Home Procedures
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order with requirements for employees of non-essential businesses to work or stay at home. The order will take effect at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 21. The order states that “all businesses and not-for-profit entities in the state shall utilize, to the maximum extent possible, any telecommuting or work from home procedures that they can safely utilize. Each employer shall reduce the in-person workforce at any work locations by 75% no later than March 21 at 8 p.m. Any essential business or entity providing essential services or functions shall not be subject to the in-person restrictions.”
Unlike California and Pennsylvania, the New York order requires collection agencies to attempt to implement remote-work procedures “to the maximum extent possible.” But, again, agencies must be mindful of the provisions of other federal and state laws when implementing telecommuting collections procedures.
Tennessee: COVID-19 and Remote Work
The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance announced that “[t]he Statute and Rules have been reviewed and it has been determined there is no prohibition for remote work from home as long as a branch business location is still maintained, and the location is on record on your license file. Of course, it is expected that all collection activities will remain in accordance with applicable State and Federal requirements.”
Chicago: Debt Collection Updates
Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot issued a press release announcing that the city of Chicago will temporarily suspend collections and non-safety related citations and impounds, as well as penalties for late payment taking effect through April 30, 2020. The moratorium and forbearance apply to address only collection of debt and penalties owed to the city of Chicago, although some commentators have expressed concern about ambiguity or vagueness in the announcement.
Of note for ACA members, the mayor’s announcement requires law firms and collection agencies that collect on the city’s behalf to cease collection efforts of city-owned debts immediately. The measures additionally include a delay on referrals of city-owned debt to third-party collection agencies, including utility bills.
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