COVID-19 and the Increased Demand for Lawyers’ Expertise

By Mathew J. Levy, Esq. & Zoila Sanchez, J.D., M.P.H.

In response to the public health crisis, Federal and State laws are rapidly changing to meet urgent needs. Attorneys knowledgeable in, for example, health care, business, bankruptcy and privacy laws are working nonstop to guide their clients in these highly regulated areas. A recent article published by the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) entitled, “Despite Crisis, Demand Soars for Many Lawyers’ Expertise” highlights examples of the wide-ranging legal needs confronting health care workers and entities, mortgage borrowers and servicers, bar and restaurant owners, and employers in this ever-changing climate.

Health Care

As the article points out, health care providers and entities including hospitals, nursing homes and home care agencies are seeking legal guidance with respect to “privacy issues, the quality of care, their responsibility in ensuring health care workers have the proper protective equipment when visiting clients in their homes, and the inevitable ethical issues that will emerge if patient demand for equipment exceeds supply.”

For Healthcare providers and entities offering telehealth services, they must be aware of and understand the significant changes announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights, some of which are discussed here: “OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency.”

Additionally, the challenges of health care workers, medical residents, and students with practice and liability concerns can be found here: “Licensure & Liability Concerns for Physicians, Other Healthcare Professionals, Medical Residents, and Students During the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic.

Business

Restaurant and bar owners experiencing a decline in sales are in need of legal assistance to navigate the renegotiation of rental payments with landlords and loans with lenders. Down the road, business bankruptcy legal experts are anticipated to assist small businesses under the Business Reorganization Act of 2019, “an effort to expedite and reduce the cost of bankruptcy for smallbusiness debtors to reorganize their debts and save their businesses.”In addition, while not stated in the article—pending its final enactment, the Omnibus CARES Act enables the the Small Business Administration to provide federally-backed loans to eligible entities for financial assistance with essential business expenses, including a provision for debt forgiveness under certain circumstances. The CARES Act is discussed here: “CARES Act Promises Access to SBA Loans and Future Loan Forgiveness for Small Businesses (Including Physician and Professional Practices) Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Banking: Mortgage Relief

The NYSBA article also highlights how Emergency Regulations such as New York State’s 90-days of mortgage relief has generated questions from financial institutions that are now required to provide this emergency relief to mortgage borrowers facing economic hardship. Specifically, the new directive by the NYS Department of Financial Service to state mortgage servicers requires “[w]aiving mortgage payments based on financial hardship; [n]o negative reporting to credit bureaus; [g]race period for loan modification; [n]o late payment fees or online payment fees; and [p] ostponing or suspending foreclosures.” See Governor Cuomo announcement and Executive Order.

Employment

The NYSBA article provides examples of employers’ unique legal needs with respect to employee temporary layoffs, wages and hours, sick leave, reduced hours, and handling privacy concerns associated with notifying employees of confirmed coronavirus cases in the workplace. Employer handbooks need to be revised to include these new requirements. Workplace posters need to be updated, as well. Layoffs need to be handled carefully to avoid discrimination claims.

The recently enacted NYS law requiring 100 percent of workers in non-essential businesses to stay home and work remotely (if possible) and two federal laws effective in April—the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act are discussed in: “COVID-19 and Small Businesses.” Additionally, unemployment benefits are scheduled to increase under the stimulus bills discussed here: “Massive Federal Stimulus Negotiated.”

It is clear that the legal implications across various sectors is significant and lawyers must stay on top of the changes, so they are well-positioned to provide accurate and timely advice. The American Bar Association and local bar associations are playing an important role by hosting webinar updates on these very topics to help lawyers serve the needs of clients and prospective clients.

Weiss Zarett Brofman Sonnenklar & Levy, P.C. is a Long Island law firm providing a wide array of legal services to the members of the health care industry, including corporate and transactional matters, civil and administrative litigation, healthcare regulatory issues, labor and employment bankruptcy and creditors’ rights, and commercial real estate transactions.

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