COVID-19 UPDATE from Bellas & Wachowski

Chicago Business Lawyer

The Dangers of Payroll Tax Deferment

As part of a series of executive actions rolled out in early August, President Trump ordered Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to allow the deferral of the 6.2% payroll tax on employees from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31 for workers making less than about $104,000 on an annualized basis.  The plan was brought forth by the White House after it became clear that Congress did not plan to play ball with the President and pass an actual payroll tax cut.

After a hard look at the plan, it is obvious that small business owners should not be tempted by President Trump’s offer to defer paying some employee payroll taxes until next year.    Established through a non-binding Presidential Memorandum, this offer does *not* constitute a tax cut. 

Chicago Small Business Lawyer

The Key to Surviving as a Small Business

How can your business – and you – survive the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s a tall order.   But small business owners have means of surviving.   The corollary shutdowns have impacted 20% of small businesses, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and restrictions have affected a far greater number. A study by the University of Illinois, University of Chicago and Harvard University and its business school estimates more than 100,000 small businesses are permanently shuttered. Not a surprise since many small firms don’t generally have more than a few months’ cash reserve.

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Entrepreneurial Business Concepts 

Companies like GE, Disney and HP got their start during the Great Depression, while Airbnb, Uber, Slack and Venmo launched in cyberspace during the Great Recession.   Taboola’s analysis of more than 8 billion page views, along with data from the aggregated readership among 1,000 of its publisher partners, collected in March and April, shows several promising growth markets, as Singolda noted in an article published on CNBC.com.

Creating the next great videoconferencing platform is an idea that’s probably already taken, but the Taboola analysis of search engine terms revealed others:

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Cyber Security Insurance

UPDATED AUGUST 23, 2020 –  A federal judge in Kansas has ruled that three Missouri restaurants can proceed with their claims against Cincinnati Insurance Company alleging that the policies also covered “physical loss,” which the insurers failed to define in the policies.  The insurance company’s argument is that the policies provide coverage “only for income losses tied to physical damages to property, not to economic loss caused by governmental or other efforts to protect the public from disease.” In other words, they cover direct physical damages or losses from events like storms or fires.  This argument was rejected by the federal district court judge.

August 10, 2020 –  The sudden expansion of remote work arrangements in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis has created a buffet of opportunities for would-be cyber criminals. And the newly reconfigured, decentralized satellite workplaces in people’s homes look to be with us for some time.   In addition to protecting themselves from the network vulnerabilities created by these off-site offices, businesses need to undertake a thorough review of their cyber insurance policies to ensure that if a malicious actor causes them harm, they are protected on the fiscal front.

downloadThe Supreme Court decided two years ago in Carpenter v. United States that the Fourth Amendment requires police to obtain a warrant, in most circumstances, to access GPS location information spanning seven days or more from a cell phone user.   Prior to that decision, the court had held that voluntarily providing this information to third parties like technology companies did not have Fourth Amendment protections and thus litigants did not have any reasonable expectation of privacy.

Although the court majority labeled the decision “narrow,” it nonetheless led to questions about where else Fourth Amendment protections might be applied in future decisions related to various forms of technology. Dissenting Justice Samuel Alito predicted the decision “guarantees a blizzard of litigation.”

While Justice Alito was correct that some new cases have come forward, but for the most part lower courts have followed the contours of the Carpenter decision when asked whether users can be granted Fourth Amendment protection for such non-content data as financial and billing records, IP addresses, subscriber records, and lists of devices that accessed a wireless network.   Most recently, in June, the First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling granting Fourth Amendment protection to eight months’ worth of video feed recorded by a pole camera, labeling this a “conventional surveillance technique” and thus not analogous to collection of cell-site location data.

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Tenant Evictions

Updated August 24

Chicago landlords have extra hurdles in front of them if they want to evict tenants between now and September 25 as stipulated by the COVID-19 Eviction Protection Ordinance that passed City Council, and all Illinois landlords face a different terrain under Rules 120 and 139 promulgated by the Illinois Supreme Court, both of which occurred last month.

George Bellas Chicago Business Lawyer George Bellas answers questions for business owners.

Workman’s Comp for Essential Workers

An emergency rule promulgated in April by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission gave certain classes of “essential” workers the ability to claim COVID-19 as an occupational disease vis-à-vis the ability to collect workers compensation.  This is a change that every Illinois business should be aware of.

The commission withdrew the rule after a court challenge, but last month Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation amending the Illinois Workers’ Occupational Diseases Act (820 ILCS 310, codified as Public Act 0633) to say that a “COVID-19 first responder or front-line worker” has the rebuttable presumption of having contracted the disease due to hazards and exposures in the workplace.

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Evictions Due to Pandemic Issues

The moratorium is scheduled to end on July 31, 2020, it may very well be extended again. Once the moratorium period ends, Illinois landlords can file eviction suits due to the non-payment of rent.

NOTICE TO LANDLORDS:  Chicago residential tenants, who have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, can respond to their landlords within five days of receiving an eviction notice under a Chicago Ordinance.  The notice must be in writing, whether in the form of a letter, email or text message. The notice can be as simple as, “I have been unable to pay rent because I have been financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.” For a more formal template, go to: www.chicago.gov/eviction

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Health and Safety Regulations

On June 24, Virginia became the first state in the country to implement workplace health and safety rules to protect workers from coronavirus infections. Could Illinois be next?   Whatever happens, these actions should serve as an example of what every  business should do.   

Virginia’s health and safety board agreed to create finalized rules after the state’s Department of Labor and Industry drafted an emergency temporary standard in late May. The office of Governor Ralph Northam said the idea arose because the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has received more than 4,000 complaints related to coronavirus but only issued one citation, according to the Washington Post.

Chicago Business Lawyer George Bellas answers questions for business owners.
Updated August 9.

The Chicago area and Illinois business owners are facing a number of challenges and the CoronaVirus pandemic is threatening the continued viability of their business.   Here are some of the more frequently questions asked by business owners.

  • Paycheck Protection Program Forgiveness