A Pandemic Economy: Modifying Spousal or Child Support Awards

Oregon’s unemployment rate has risen to a historic high of almost 15{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many in a state of uncertainty about how they will make ends meet. For those who are party to a child or spousal support award, a change in employment may be grounds for modifying the terms of their support award. When there has been a significant, unanticipated change in economic circumstances, the court will consider a petition to modify a child or spousal support award. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have lost your job or are otherwise significantly impacted by the pandemic, you may consider requesting a child or spousal support modification.

Courts determine the child support awards using a formula based on the income of both parents as well as other factors. Because courts deviate from this formula only in extraordinary circumstances, parents who wish to modify their child support obligations should run the numbers to see if their change in income will result in a change to their child support award. The Oregon Department of Justice provides a useful calculator to help parents determine child support awards.

The guidelines for spousal support are less formulaic than those for child support. Courts will modify spousal support after a change in economic circumstances, if the modification supports the original purpose of the award. Some parties’ judgments do not specify the original purpose of the award. In those cases, the court will assume the award was based on an attempt to distribute the incomes of the parties fairly. The court may then modify the award if either party has a substantial change in income. However, if both parties have a substantial decrease in income, then the court will be less likely to modify the award because the relative position of both parties has stayed the same.

For both child and spousal support modifications the court has the authority to modify the award retroactively, but only to the date of a party’s modification request. This means if you were laid off in March or April and you do not file to modify until July, the earliest date the modification will be effective is July. Filing a motion as soon as you learn about a significant change in income is important because a retroactive award allows you to receive money for the time that motion is in court.

The first step to modifying child or spousal support is to file motion with the court and give notice to a co-parent or ex-spouse. Many courts in Oregon are currently closed or operating on limited hours due to the pandemic. If you are planning to file with your county court, you may wish to check the status of your court on the Oregon State Courts website. We encourage anyone interested in making a request for support award modification to consult an experienced family law attorney.

Emily Clark Cuellar is a litigator at Samuels Yoelin Kantor. Her practice is centered around families, and her passion is helping families navigate all the various obstacles they may face. Her practice focuses on domestic relations and fiduciary and probate litigation.

Family First Law & What It Means

I. Federal Legislative Actions

On Friday, March 13, 2020, the House announced that they reached a deal with President Trump’s administration in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

At 1:00am early Saturday morning, the House passed HR 6201 with a 363 – 40 vote. The emergency bill is cited as “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”

On March 18, 2020, the Senate passed the bill with a 90 – 8 vote. On March 18, 2020, the President signed the bill into law.

The law provides temporary paid sick and family medical leave, increases funding for health, food security and unemployment insurance programs, and provides free coronavirus testing.

Below is an outline of the highlights of the law.

II. Emergency Family Medical Leave Expansion Act

Division C | p. 12

Term

Begins on the date the Act takes effect, and ends December 31, 2020.

Eligible Employees

Eligible employees are employees who have been employed at least 30 calendar days by the employer with respect to whom leave is requested.

Employer Threshold

The Act creates a threshold for qualifying employers. Accordingly, Employers who employ 50 or more employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year are subject to the Emergency Medical Leave Expansion Act.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees

The Secretary of Labor has the authority to issue regulations for good cause to exempt small businesses with fewer than 50 employees from the paid leave requirement.

Qualifying Need Related to a Public Health Emergency

The Act protects employees with a “qualifying need related to a public health emergency.” The term “qualifying need related to a public health emergency,” with respect to leave, means that the employee is unable to work due to a need for leave to care for the son or daughter under 18 years old of such employee if the school or place of care has been closed, or the child care provider of such son or daughter is unavailable, due to a public health emergency.

Unpaid Leave – Initial 10 Days

The first 10 days that an employee takes leave may be unpaid. The employee may elect to substitute any accrued vacation leave, personal leave, or medical or sick leave for unpaid leave under this section; however, the employer may not require the election to substitute.

Paid Leave – After Initial 10 Days

The employer shall provide paid leave for each day of leave that the employee takes after taking the initial 10 days’ leave. The pay shall be calculated based on:

  1. An amount that is not less than 2/3 of an employee’s regular rate of pay; and
  2. The number of hours that the employee would otherwise be normally scheduled to work.

In no event shall paid leave exceed $200 per day, or $10,000 in the aggregate.

Employees with Varying Schedules

For those employees whose schedules vary week-to-week, the employer should calculate hours by determining the average number of hours that employee is scheduled for per day over the 6-month period ending on the date that the employee’s leave begins. If the employee has not worked for 6-months prior, the employer should consider the reasonable expectation of hours that the employee would normally be scheduled.

Notice

Where practicable, the employee shall give notice to the employer where the necessity for leave is foreseeable.

III. Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act of 2020

Division D | p. 15

Notification

The State shall notify an employee at the time of their separation from employment of the availability of unemployment compensation.

Notice of Received/Processed Application

The State must then notify the applicant when the application is received and is being processed.

Non-Charge for COVID-19

The State may not charge employers directly impacted by COVID-19 due to an illness in the workplace, or direction from a public health official to isolate or quarantine workers. (p. 41).

IV. Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

Division E | p. 18

Covered Employers

The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act applies to private employers that employ fewer than 500 employees, and public agencies that employ one or more employees.

Employers Must Provide

An employer shall provide to each employee employed by the employer paid sick time for any of the following uses:

  1. The employee is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19.
  2. The employee has been advised by a health care professional to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
  3. The employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical diagnosis.
  4. The employee is caring for an individual who is subject to an order described in (i), or has been advised as described in (ii).
  5. The employee is caring for the son or daughter of such employee if the school or place of care for the son or daughter has been closed or the childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19 precautions.
  6. The employee is experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

Amount of Paid Time

For full time employees, the employee is entitled to 80 hours of paid sick time.

For part time employees, the employee is entitled to the number of hours equal to the number of hours that employee works on average, over a 2-week period.

No Carryover

Paid sick time under this Act shall not carry over from one year to the next.

Termination

Paid sick leave under this Act terminates beginning with the employee’s next scheduled work shift immediately following termination of the need for paid sick time, as described in (b) above.

Immediate Use

Paid sick time under this Act shall be available for immediate use by the employee for purposes described in section (b) above, to cover the hours during which the employee is using paid sick time.

Employer with Existing Paid Sick Time Policy

The employee may first use the paid sick time under the Act. The employer may not require the employee to use the paid leave provided by the employer before using paid sick leave under the Act.

Cover Employee

The employer may not require the employee seek a replacement employee to cover in their absence.

Notice

The employer shall post, and keep posted, in a conspicuous place on the premises, the requirements described in the Act.

Model Notice

Seven days after the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Labor shall make publicly available a model of a notice that meets the requirements of the Act.

Discrimination, Discipline, Discharge

It is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against, discharge, or discipline an employee who takes leave in accordance with the Act and has filed any complaint or proceeding under this Act.

Violation

An employer who fails to provide paid sick leave will be considered to have failed to pay minimum wages in violation of section 6 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 USC 206), and shall be subject to the penalties described in sections 16 and 17 therefrom.

Effective Date

This Act and the requirements of this Act shall take effect not later than 15 days after the date of enactment for the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. The Act shall expire on December 31, 2020.

Payroll Tax Credits for Paid Sick and Paid Family and Medical Leave

Division G | p. 33

The Act makes several changes to Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), which is at IRC 3111.  The FICA taxes are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  We anticipate larger changes to the income and excise tax rules as part of the $1 trillion economic stimulus package currently working its way through Congress.

Paid Sick Leave.

    1. 100% Tax Credit. The employer shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed under Section 3111(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for each calendar quarter an amount equal to 100% of the qualified sick leave wages paid by the employer with respect to such calendar quarter.
    2. $200 Daily Limit per Employee. The amount of qualified sick leave wages taken into account with respect to any individual shall not exceed $200 for any day for which the individual is paid qualified sick leave wages.
    3. Overall Limit on Number of Days Taken into Account. The aggregate number of days taken into account under this section for any calendar quarter shall not exceed the excess of:
      1. 10, over
      2. The aggregate number of days so taken into account for all preceding calendar quarters.
    4. Election of Applicability. This section shall not apply with respect to any employer for any calendar quarter if such employer elects not to have this section apply.

Self-Employed Individuals.

      1. Eligibility. Must be someone who regularly carries on a trade or business under Section 1402 of the IRC, and would be entitled to paid leave during the taxable year under the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (see section (2) of Division E highlights above).
      2. Coverage. There shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed by subtitle A of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for any taxable year an amount equal to 100% of the qualified sick leave equivalent amount with respect to the individual.
  • (There are more details in the self-employment provisions that I can dig into should our clients prefer. I am not sure is this section is particularly relevant to our clients.)

Paid Family Leave.

    1. 100% Tax Credit. The employer shall be allowed as a credit against the tax imposed under Section 3111(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for each calendar quarter an amount equal to 100% of the qualified family leave wages paid by the employer with respect to such calendar quarter.
    2. Wages Limit. The amount of qualified family leave wages taken into account with respect to any individual shall not exceed:
      1. $200 for any day for which the individual is paid qualified family leave wages; and
      2. In the aggregate with respect to all calendar quarters, $10,000.

Credit Limit. The credit allowed under this subsection with respect to any calendar quarter, shall not exceed the tax imposed under Section 3111(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 for each calendar quarter on the wages paid with respect to the employment of all employees of the employer.

Election of Applicability. This section shall not apply with respect to any employer for any calendar quarter if such employer elects not to have this section apply.

Tax on Employers.

  • Not Wages. Any wages required to be paid by reason of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act shall not be considered wages for the purposes of Section 3111(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.

A more sweeping tax bill is still pending at this time related to income tax and insurance tax implications. For more specifics on the current law, as well as pending legislation, we encourage you to consult one of the experienced tax lawyers at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP.

Oregon Employers Face New Limitations on Using Credit History

Senate Bill 1045, which will take effect on July 1, 2010, prohibits Oregon employers from using the credit history of an applicant or employee in making employment-related decisions. The law does, however, provide some exceptions to the ban on an employer’s use of an employee’s credit history. First, the law is not applicable to employers who are financial institutions, law enforcement agencies, or public safety agencies. Second, the law does not apply to employers who are required by state or federal law to use an employee’s credit history for employment purposes. Finally, and most relevant to private employers, an employer may obtain and use an employee’s credit history if such information is “substantially job-related.”

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (“BOLI”) has recently issued administrative regulations that clarify the provisions set forth in SB 1045. The regulations significantly limit the definition of “substantially job-related” to certain positions. The first position identified is one that requires access to financial information beyond that which is customarily provided in retail transactions that are neither loans nor extensions of credit. The regulations define “financial information customarily provided in retail transactions” as information related to the exchange of cash, checks, and credit or debit card numbers. That means that employers cannot justify the need for a credit history solely based on an employee’s access to cash or run of the mill consumer transactions – as of July 1, 2010, the bar is set much higher for an employer to justify the use of a credit history. The other position provided for in the regulations is less controversial – one in which the employer is required to obtain credit history as a condition of obtaining insurance or a surety or fidelity bond.

If an employer determines that a position qualifies for a credit history check under the “substantially job-related” exception, the regulations impose a disclosure requirement. Specifically, an employer must provide, in writing, the reasons for the investigation of an applicant or employee’s credit history. The regulations do not set out what information an employer should provide.

Thus, in the event that an employer desires to perform a credit history check on an applicant or employee, they must use the “substantially job-related” exception cautiously. Additionally, the employer should prepare a standard notice form, and provide that form to any applicant where the credit history is “substantially job-related”. The form should provide an area where the employer can describe its justification for the credit check. Employers should also be aware of their obligations under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, which requires disclosures in advance of obtaining a consumer report; and also require certain notifications to an applicant or employee in the event the employer uses a consumer report to make a hiring or promotion decision.

What is apparent is that the Oregon legislature and governor have chosen to cut back the ability of employers in Oregon to use credit history in employment decision-making. Employers should make sure that they have a very good reason (that is – one that complies with the law) for wanting a credit history, and proceed cautiously in order to comply with Oregon and federal law regulating this subject.