We've received a lot of questions about shelter at home, quarantine, and parenting plans. Here's what you need to know. In general, you must follow your current parenting plan during any shelter-in-place order during the COVID19/Coronavirus crisis. Period. There will always be exceptions, but here's what you need to know.
1. Your parenting plan is a Court order. This is true in Idaho and Washington, where we work, and in many other states (please consult an attorney in your state if you are unsure). That means, if you do not follow your parenting plan, you are violating a Court order. The court doesn't enforce parenting plans unless one parent comes to the court and asks for enforcement, but technically not following a parenting plan means you are in contempt of court. This is civil contempt (versus criminal). Civil contempt does have penalties, including fines and possible jail time (jail time is a severe, and rare civil penalty). Your parenting plan is a court order whether or not it came from a mediation, a trial, a hearing, or an agreement. The only non-court ordered parenting plans exist between parents who never chose to file their parenting plan in an appropriate court. Those are not enforceable, and they are never a good idea.
2. What if the other parent will not give me my child(ren) as the parenting plan requires because of COVID_19? Again, this is technically a violation of the parenting plan. Document all the communications between you and the other parent. Save emails and texts, take notes of oral communications. Do not record any phone calls in Washington state unless you have actual, spoken consent from the other parent, as it is illegal (an actual crime in a two-party consent state). But, you are unlikely to be able to enforce the agreement and make the other parent provide visitation right now because courts in Washington and Idaho are only hearing emergency motions. Emergency motions in family law are things like domestic violence. Absent that, you can file a motion with a court, but it is unlikely to be heard until May in either state. Courts will not look kindly on a motion for contempt that is based on things like slightly late drop off or pick up - quite honestly, the court will view you as a jerk for doing that. So stop doing this during this pandemic and at all other times. Unless your parenting plan has a strict rule about how long you need to wait for drop off or pick up and unless the other parent is violating that regularly (like, every drop off and pick up), you are wasting the court's time.
3. Be reasonable. Try to be flexible with the other parent with school closures, school at home, and work from home. It is always a good idea to be reasonable, even if the other side is unreasonable. Take the high road; go high when they go low. If you are able to accommodate schedule changes with the other parent for the purpose of COVID_19/Coronavirus circumstances, then do it. Always assume that any email or text message you send will be read by a judge. A judge will not take kindly to you behaving badly, calling names, or being unreasonable, even if the other parent started it. Be an adult for your child, especially now. Adults do not name call or curse at the parent of their children.
4. What parenting plan do I follow? It is super unlikely that your parenting plan has a residential/visitation/custody schedule that says what you need to do in a pandemic. Since that is so unlikely, follow the parenting plan that best fits the circumstances. If your child is in school, even if s/he is doing school online at home, follow the school year plan. If your child is not school age, follow the current plan. If there's some exception in your plan that you reasonably believe applies, follow that plan.
5. What if the other parent is not social distancing or practicing other COVID_19/Coronavirus guidelines? This is tricky. In general, you still cannot withhold visitation from the other parent because they are not taking Coronavirus seriously. There's no law in Washington or Idaho at least that would allow you to keep your child(ren) from the other parent because they are not washing their hands enough. You likely do not have much say in this barring some extraordinary provision in your parenting plan.
6. What if there is violence towards me or my child? Immediately call the police/local law enforcement. Courts are still hearing protection orders, and they will provide you protection. Contact your local county courthouse immediately if you or your children are victims of violence.
7. What about child support? Like a parenting plan, child support is a court order. So, if you must pay it, keep paying it. If you have been laid off or are working less, unfortunately you are unlikely to be able to go back to court right now for a modification of what you must pay (again, this is not one of the emergency categories in Washington & Idaho that courts are limiting hearings to for now), so pay what you can. If you make payments that are less, absent a written agreement from the other parent, you may be responsible for any back support amounts that are not paid plus interest. If your financial changes are permanent, you will be able to go back to court to modify your child support payments, but be patient until the Courts re-open. If the other parent is not paying you, you can file a motion to enforce a child support order, but again, it is not getting heard at least until May in Washington or Idaho. If back support is needed, it will be collected at a later date if you can't get a hearing date before May.
If you aren't in Washington or Idaho, contact a lawyer in your state. If you need help in Washington or Idaho, contact us. Stay safe!
Every day there's new information from your home state and the federal government during the COVID_19/Coronavirus crisis. Since it's the beginning of the month, we want to explain the current status of rent payments (and mortgage payments) and dispel any misinformation.
1. Do I have to pay rent during Coronavirus? The short answer is yes. This is in every state. Unless your landlord has told you you can skip a month(s), you have to pay your rent. The same is true for your mortgage. Unless you've been granted a forbearance of deferment for your rent or mortgage, or if your landlord has offered rent forgiveness, you must pay.
2. But, what if you can't afford it? Pay what you can. Most states, including Washington and Idaho, have put a moratorium on eviction (renting) and foreclosure (mortgages). That means you can't be removed from your rental home or the house you own during the current shelter-in-place rules if you cannot pay because of the Coronavirus and your finances. It does not mean you cannot get kicked out for rules violations of other varieties. For example, Idaho has made clear that if you are using illegal drugs (including recreational marijuana), you can still be evicted. But, to be as clear as possible, it does not mean that you will not owe the rent or mortgage amounts you did not pay during the COVID_19 crisis. Those payments will be due at some point, and as of right now, there's no clarity if they will all be due immediately upon people being able to return to work and/or a lifting of any shelter-in-place/stay at home orders.
3. So, what should I do? If you can pay your rent or mortgage, pay it. If you can't or don't think you can pay it in full, pay as much as you can, as it may be due later.
4. If there is a rent or mortgage forgiveness order made by your state or the federal government, we will update this post. But, neither Washington nor Idaho nor the federal government have made any rule or law about rent or mortgage forgiveness.
If you have more questions, contact us (for WA & ID). Stay safe!
Late last week, a bipartisan stimulus package was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law. Here's what you need to know from the 800+ pages of the bill's actual text:
1. Are we getting paid by the federal government? Every American with an income below $75,000 (or $150,000 for a couple) will receive a one-time payment of $1,200 ($2,400 for married couples). If your income is above $75,000 and below $99,000 (up to $198,000 for a couple), you will still receive a payment, but it will be less. Above $99,000 ($198,000 couple), you will not receive a check. Parents will also get $500 per child under 17.
2. How does the government know my income for the payment? It is based on your 2018 or 2019 tax return. If you have not yet filed, file asap. If you can file by eFile, your return will get processed sooner. If you need help filing, contact an accountant or tax professional. The IRS may be providing a streamlined filing option for 2018 & 2019 returns in the near future.
3. How do I get paid? If you have received a tax refund in 2018 or 2019, and you used direct deposit for your refund, your refund will be paid to that account. If you did not get a refund or use direct deposit, you may get a paper check. The IRS is considering creating an online portal to provide your direct deposit information, but that is not up and running yet.
4. When will I get paid? That is a good question. Those who received a refund in 2018 or 2019 and received a direct deposit should get paid in the next few weeks. Those who did not receive a refund or use direct deposit may need to wait longer.
5. How many times will I get paid? Once for now. This bill passed only provides for a one-time payment.
6. What about unemployment? I heard the bill provided changes. It did in a number of ways. Unemployment compensation is offered from state run programs, but the new bill will provide $600 extra dollars per week for up to four (4) weeks from the federal government.
7. How do I get unemployment? You need to apply with your state agency. In Washington, that is the Employment Security Department (ESD). Apply here: ttps://esd.wa.gov/unemployment. For Idaho, unemployment is handled by the Department of Labor. Apply here: https:.//www2.labor.idaho.gov/ClaimantPortal/Login.
8. What if I am a gig worker, a part-time employee, or self-employed and my business has been shut or I can't work ? Can I get unemployment? In the past, the answer to that is no. But, the new bill passed federally has a pandemic provision that will expand unemployment benefits during the crisis to those people traditionally excluded from unemployment. However, each state needs to update its structure and programs already in place to handle these newly-expanded claims. In Washington and Idaho where claims are handled electronically, this should be quicker, but be prepared to wait.
9. If I am a small business owner, is it true I will get loan forgiveness for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan? It depends on a couple of factors. First, you must have employees and you must be paying your employees during this crisis. If that is true, then you may be able to get forgiveness for loan monies used for payroll, mortgage, rent and utilities. Your business must have existed as of February 15, 2020 and forgiveness will run for provable coronavirus-based losses through June 2020.
10. How do I get an SBA loan for my small business? You still must qualify and apply through an SBA-approved lender. There are a number of exceptions to your ability to obtain a loan. More information can be found here: https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/top-priorities/cares-act/assistance-for-small-businesses.
Need more help for your business or personal employment/job situation? Contact us for a consult.
It's a scary time, but we are here to help. This post contains resources for Washington State residents needing financial relief with closures of schools and businesses. We will continue to update this post as we receive new information. Below are some options:
1. Washington State Paid Sick Leave. This has been mandatory for employers since January 2018. As an employee, you earn one hour of paid leave for each 40 hour period you work. This kicks in after your 90th day of employment. Your employer cannot penalize you or threaten your job if you take or use paid leave. We have blogged about this before, so here's what you need to know specifically about sick leave and Coronavirus.
If your place of business has been closed by a government official you can use Washington State Paid Sick Leave. So, if Gov. Inslee, for example, closed your employer's business, you can use paid sick leave if you are not being paid during this time.
If your child's school or day care has been closed for Coronavirus, you can use paid sick leave to stay home and provide care to your child.
An employer cannot require you to work from home if you've requested to use your paid sick leave. But, if you choose to work from home, you cannot use paid leave.
An employer that voluntarily chooses to close its business does not have to, but can offer, paid leave.
An employer cannot force you to use paid sick leave if you do not want to do so, but an employer can send you home if you exhibit symptoms of Coronavirus
If you have Coronavirus or any other illness, you can use paid sick leave.
Your employer may offer broader paid time off or sick leave beyond the Washington state program. Check with your employer for more details. Paid sick leave is run by the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). More info is here: https://lni.wa.gov/workers-rights/leave/paid-sick-leave/index.
2. Paid Family & Medical Leave. This is a companion to the L&I program that is run by the Employment Security Department. You may know this agency as unemployment. This leave is available for Washington employees who have worked 820 hours during the past year in Washington. Self-employed people can opt-in to the program. but do not receive it automatically. Generally you can receive 12 paid weeks, but may be eligible for up to 18 weeks paid.
You can use it if you or a family member have a serious illness. You must apply: https://paidleave.wa.gov/.
3. Unemployment. This is always offered through ESD/Unemployment Office. You must have worked at least 680 hours (during the last 12-18 months) with part of those hours in Washington to receive unemployment in Washington State. If you have been laid off by your employer during this Coronavirus outbreak, you are likely eligible for paid, weekly benefits. You have to be an employee (not an independent contractor or self-employed person), but you can happily here: https://secure.esd.wa.gov/home/. Note that unemployment is not for people who are sick - it is for people who are mentally and physically able to work but currently cannot and cannot find a job at this time.
4. Other Paid Leave Programs. Your employer may offer options and some counties like King offer additional paid leave programs. Info for King County is here: https://www.kingcounty.gov/audience/employees/pay-benefits/WA-paid-family-medical-leave.aspx.
Remember, these options apply to employees only. How do you know if you are an employee? One quick way is to look at your paycheck. Do you have taxes deducted and does your employer give you a W-2 each year? You're an employee. If you are self-employed, you may have opted in to the Paid Family & Medical Leave program. Some options for you:
5. Food Stamps or Basic Food. Food stamps are called Basic Food in Washington State. Benefits are based on family size and family income. You need to apply. More information here: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/community-services-offices/basic-food.
6. Welfare or TANF. Washington state operates a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF provides temporary, supplemental income for families in need. You have to apply, and you must be eligible. Eligibilty includes having family resources of less than $6,000. The amount you receive depends on the size of your family, the income you earn, and any other benefits you are already receiving (like unemployment). Apply here: https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/community-services-offices/tanf-and-support-services.
It's the time of year again in Washington State. The state legislature passed a number of bills that Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into law that went into effect on July 1, 2019. Here's what you need to know about some of the new laws:
1. TRAFFIC: For those of you in Western Washington, HOV or carpool lane violations have higher fines. For the simple offender, the ticket goes up an extra $50 for a first-time violation. For those of you who try to be sneaky using stuffed animals, mannequins, and other faux-passengers, the violation is $200 more.
2. Health: The personal or philosophical exception to vaccinating children against measles, mumps, or rubella (the MMR vaccine) is no more. That means that parents must vaccinate their children before sending them to school or licensed day cares. The religious exemption still exists.
3. Employment. A big win for back-to-work moms - employers now have to either provide a private place that is not a bathroom stall or work with the employee to allow her to breast feed and/or pump breast milk in a private setting.
4. Voting. All ballots in Washington will include prepaid postage for all elections to reduce barriers to voting.
5. Residential Tenants: Renters made two big wins. First, a tenant must give 14-days notice for an eviction due to non-payment of rent. This is 11 days more than under prior laws. Second, a landlord must provide sixty (60) days written notice to increase rent. Per usual, a landlord cannot increase rent while a lease is still valid. That means if you signed a year-long residential lease, you get the stated amount of rent during that year - no changes can occur to the amount of monthly rent.
This is just a portion of the new Washington laws. Remember, your city or county may have additional new laws, especially if you're in King County. As always, for our Idaho clients, we're happy to give you a rundown of your rights' in Idaho, as they often vary greatly from those in Washington. We're here to help.
On Sunday, July 23, Washington's new distracted driving law goes into effect. What do you need to know?
1. You are forbidden virtually all use of phones, tablets laptops, and gaming devices while driving. This includes at a stop sign or stopped.
2. You can still have a phone in a dashboard cradle for navigation, but no watching last night's "Daily Show" or any other video.
3. Hands free systems in your car are still fine.
4. The initial fine is $136. The second citation is $235.
5. Distracted driving tickets will get reported to your insurance company.
6. Grooming (makeup, hairbrushing, beard brushing) and eating are "secondary offenses," so if you are pulled over for another reason, you can be cited an extra $30 for that kind of distraction.
Keep you hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road, and text when parked. Brush your teeth before you leave the house and eat your fries when you get home.
Last week, we talked about at-will employment. In general, in Washington, your employer can terminate your employment for any reason or no reason, if you are an at-will employee.
But, what if you think the reason you were terminated was wrong? What exactly is wrongful termination. In Washington, wrongful termination will generally fall under the following categories: (1) employment discrimination; (2) retaliation for filing a complaint; and (3) permissible leave or time off. The following is a short summary of what these categories mean:
1. Employment Discrimination. State and federal law prohibit adverse employment actions (not hiring someone, firing someone, or not promoting someone, for example) based on discrimination. In Washington, employers cannot discriminate based on the following categories: age (over 40), race, gender, sexual orientation, sexual or gender identity, pregnancy, veterans status, religion, ethnicity, and marital status. If your membership in one of these groups is the reason for your adverse employment action, you may have a legal claim for damages.
2. Retaliation for Complaints. A variety of Washington state and federal laws protect employees from being fired for reporting wage or hour claims or for reporting violations of codes or laws (like reporting an employer for not following required environmental policies when disposing of chemicals). It is not retaliation to be terminated for challenging an employer's policies that are lawful, but you do not like.
3. Permitted Leave or Time Off. Employers in Washington are required to provide unpaid leave for sick employees and family members under the FMLA. Some counties require employers to allow employees paid leave for illness or domestic violence situations (including Spokane County). Employees in the military are permitted leave or time off for required military duty. Employers are also required to provide unpaid leave for jury duty and pregnancy.
Wrongful termination is not: being fired for being late or violating employer policy or being fired for disagreeing with your boss.
These are only general categories, and we'll delve further into the above categories in future Employment Law 101 posts. If you suspect you've been wrongfully terminated, you should contact an attorney because you have varied timelines to pursue an action.
Up next: Wrongful Termination (Idaho)
In employment settings, you often hear the term "at will" or "at will employee," but what does that really mean? It means that your employer can fire you for any reason or no reason at any time without any notice, so long as the real reason for firing you as the employee is not unlawful in some way. Almost every state has some iteration of at will employment laws. At will employment also means that the employee can leave when she or he wants as well.
Exceptions to at will employment include:
1. Employees with employment contracts (this is rare in Washington and Idaho)
2. Union employees bound by a collective bargaining or union agreement
3. Independent Contractors
If you are an at will employee, you are usually notified of that upon hiring, in an employee handbook, and in employer-led trainings. You should assume that if you are an employee in Washington or Idaho, and you don't fit one of the above-three exceptions, you are at will. Your termination is only unlawful (or, wrongful termination): (1) if you've been unlawfully discriminated against as a member of a protected class (veterans, women, persons of color, religion, sexual orientation); (2) if you've reported a violation of a local, state, or federal violation of a law or regulation; or (3) if your employer failed to follow its handbook procedures in terminating you (such as failure to follow progressive discipline policies that are in writing). We'll talk more about unlawful termination in our next Employment 101 post.
In the meantime, if you are an employee or employer with questions about being terminated or terminating, GIANTlegal is happy to help.
All blog posts are written by members of the GIANTlegal team, unless otherwise indicated. Information contained in our blog does not constitute legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.