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COVID-19 and Georgia’s Reopening, New DOL Guidance on the FFCRA, and Opening Trading Windows

The devastating impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) needs no introduction.  BCLP has consolidated all of its client alerts regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) as one page of resources. On that page, you can also limit by topic area, jurisdiction and areas of practice.

In this post, we have highlighted some of the client alerts that we believe may be of specific importance to our community bank clients.

Back to Work: Georgia’s Reopening Executive Order – Risks and Guidance for Businesses

On April 20, 2020, Governor Brian Kemp signed an Executive Order which initiates the process of reopening businesses within the State of Georgia on April 24, 2020, and issued a subsequent Executive Order on April 23, 2020, providing further guidance on the process for reopening (collectively the “Orders”). These Orders, which are quite limited in scope, only grant a small subset of businesses permission to reopen. They do, however, pre-empt all local and city orders that are more or less restrictive than the state-wide Orders. 

The Orders, while limited, nevertheless shed light on what the process of reopening will look like for additional business sectors going forward. All companies with locations in Georgia would be wise to invest time planning how they may implement screening, sanitation, and social distancing at their workplace to allow for a timely, safe and compliant reopening. 

This alert examines what businesses are permitted to reopen, what restrictions exist for those businesses, and advice and guidance for companies that BCLP anticipates will be affected by similar reopening orders in the future.

As the FFCRA Goes Live, the DOL Continues to Publish Revised and New Guidance for Employers

Although the federal Department of Labor (“DOL”) declared April 1 – 17 to be a temporary period of non-enforcement of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), the DOL was far from idle during that period. Importantly, the DOL provided key revised and new guidance for employers by: (1) issuing technical corrections to the temporary rule; and (2) posting additional informal questions and answers. The new guidance provides much-needed clarity on key issues, especially since the period of non-enforcement is now over. This post examines the new guidance and provides advice for employers to comply with the provisions of the FFCRA.

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COVID-19 and Business Operations/Reopening, Cybersecurity from Home, and SEC Whistleblower Activity

The devastating impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) needs no introduction.  BCLP has consolidated all of its client alerts regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) as one page of resources. On that page, you can also limit by topic area, jurisdiction and areas of practice.

In this post, we have highlighted some of the client alerts that we believe may be of specific importance to our community bank clients.

U.S. Businesses Challenge Government Orders in Attempt to Continue Operations

Shelter-in-place and social distancing have become the new normal as we try to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.  Many state governments have implemented stay-home or shelter-in-place orders to try to “flatten the curve” and protect citizens’ safety. But as time passes, businesses are also concerned.  Under many such executive orders, a business that is not deemed “essential” or “life-sustaining” may be required to stop in-person operations, and we’re starting to see an uptick in local enforcement, including cease and desist letters and revocation of occupancy permits. Some shuttered businesses have started to bring their claims to court.  This post provides a summary of the prominent claims and factual allegations featured in complaints from business plaintiffs.   

Employer Guidance for Reopening the Workplace

Over the past week, increased discussion of reopening the U.S. economy has raised numerous questions as employers prepare to return their employees to the workplace. While the exact steps to reopen the economy remain uncertain, employers should begin to consider what measures will help ensure a safe, orderly return to business, particularly since President Trump’s White House issued its Opening Up America Again three phased approach for re-opening the economy, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance about returning to work. This alert details the potential measures and related issues BCLP suggests clients consider in preparing to return to work, whether next week, next month, or this summer.

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COVID-19 and Emergency Leave Plans, Retirement Saving, and Insider Trading

The devastating impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) needs no introduction.  BCLP has consolidated all of its client alerts regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) as one page of resources. On that page, you can also limit by topic area, jurisdiction and areas of practice.

In this post, we have highlighted some of the client alerts that we believe may be of specific importance to our community bank clients.

Emergency Leave-Sharing Plans for U.S. Employers

In addition to the paid sick leave and family leave U.S. employers must provide under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, some employers are seeking additional ways to support employees affected by COVID-19. This alert reviews IRS guidance and details how employers can implement an emergency leave-sharing plan in response to the crisis.

Unraveling U.S. Retirement Savings – How a Global Pandemic Threatens to Undo Decades of Planning

With the economy in a free-fall and the U.S. government scrambling to create a financial safety net for citizens, giving access to tax-qualified retirement savings was a natural piece of Congress’ plan to loosen the grip on needed funds. Implementing a thoughtful, needs-based, COVID-19 withdrawal/loan policy could protect employees’ financial security for decades to come. This alert covers the options available to plan sponsors to combat the economic impact of COVID-19.

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COVID-19 and Mortgage Lenders and Services, MAC Clauses in Loan Agreements, Fair Credit Reporting Act Changes, and Employee Benefit Considerations

The devastating impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) needs no introduction.  Community banks across the country are feeling the impact, both as small business themselves, and as providers of credit to so many other small businesses. The impacts of COVID-19 and the legislative responses to COVID-19 are increasingly broad, and affecting almost every aspect of American life. The lawyers of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) are working to address those issues for companies of all sizes and industries, throughout the word.

As we collectively respond to the developing COVID-19 outbreak, the well-being of our clients and colleagues remains our paramount concern. We continue to closely monitor governmental, CDC, and WHO guidelines on travel, exposure and preventative measures and our firm has instituted a number of internal measures to ensure that BCLP is able to continue to consistently serve our clients’ business needs.  You can read more about the steps we have taken here.

In addition, BCLP has consolidated all of its client alerts regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) as one page of resources. On that page, you can also limit by topic area, jurisdiction and areas of practice.

In this post, which is the first of many, we have highlighted some of the client alerts that we believe may be of specific importance to our community bank clients.

COVID-19: The New Frontier for Mortgage Lenders and Servicers in the U.S.

Most mortgage lenders and servicers already have business continuity plans in place, but those plans may not fully address the dynamics of the COVID-19 crisis.  Typical contingency plans ensure operational effectiveness following events like natural disasters, cyberattacks, and the like.  They do not, in many respects, account for widespread quarantines, extended business closures, and mass job borrower job loss and income disruption, among other things.  Beyond business continuity, lenders and servicers must grapple with evolving regulatory requirements, the risk of downstream regulatory and litigation scrutiny for actions taken today, and management of reputational risk.  This alert details the key regulatory developments, issues and risk mitigation strategies lenders and servicers should consider.

Enforcement of MAC Clauses in Loan Agreements in Light Of COVID-19 and Related Business Disruption

Material adverse change clauses in loan agreements present important issues that borrowers and lenders alike need to consider carefully in this environment.  There are very few published decisions on enforcement of MAC clauses in the lending context and no published cases addressing a pandemic-type situation like the one we are currently facing. A lender that invokes a MAC clause may seek to declare a default under the loan as a prelude to an enforcement action or to avoid funding, or further funding, its loan to the borrower.  Lenders are often confronted with extreme time pressure when a funding request is involved, which makes these situations even more challenging. This alert addresses whether COVID-19 and the resulting business disruption may be reasonably considered a MAC in a typical commercial loan. 

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Has Your Georgia Non-Compete been Rendered Invalid?

Can Inclusion Of A Boilerplate Duty Of Loyalty Provision
Invalidate Your Covenant Not To Compete?

The Early v. MiMedx Decision

On February 10, 2015, the Georgia Court of Appeals held in Early v. MiMedx Grp, Inc., that a provision in a consulting agreement requiring an employee to devote her full working time to the performance of her duties for the employer was not a loyalty clause but, instead, constituted an illegal restraint on trade. In and of itself, the decision in Early is interesting and will undoubtedly affect how employers draft their duty of loyalty provisions. Perhaps a less obvious consequence of this decision, however, is that by reading a loyalty clause as a restrictive covenant, the Court has now placed employers in jeopardy of having their
otherwise valid, and properly tailored, restrictive covenants invalidated if they are contained in an agreement signed prior to May 11, 2011.

Sometime in January 2011, MiMedx Group, Inc. (“MiMedx”), a developer and manufacturer of patent protected bio-material based production, began discussing a potential business relationship with Ms.
Ryanne Early.  As part of these discussions the parties entered into a Mutual Confidentiality and Nondisclosure Agreement (the “Nondisclosure Agreement”) which “prohibit[ed] Early from disclosing trade secrets and confidential information, which might be revealed to her during negotiations with MiMedx.” Shortly thereafter MiMidex and Ms. Early entered into a Consulting Agreement, whereby Ms. Early’s company ISE Professional Testing and Consulting Services (“ISE”) agreed to provide certain consulting services to MiMidex (the “Consulting Agreement”).

As part of the Consulting Agreement, Ms. Early was required to “devote her full working time (not less than forty (40) hours per week) to [the] performance of Consultant’s duties . . .” (the “full working time provision”). The Consulting Agreement was subsequently terminated and MiMidex filed a complaint against Ms. Early and her company seeking damages and specific performance under the Consulting Agreement and the Nondisclosure Agreement. Ms. Early filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings “contending . . . among other things that the full-time working provision of the Consulting Agreement was void and unenforceable as either a general or partial restraint of trade.”  The primary issue considered on appeal involved the enforceability of the full-working-time provision.

In assessing the issue, the Georgia Court of Appeals determined that the full-time-working provision required that “Early would devote any working time to MiMedx’s business, whether or not that working time was related in any way to the type of enterprise in which MiMedx is engaged.” In fact, the parties agreed that Early would be prohibited from even doing jobs such as babysitting on the weekends or working at a bookstore.  Looking to its earlier decision in Atlanta Bread Co. Intl., Inc. v. Lupton–Smith, the Court held that a provision that requires an employee to spend all her working time on the employer’s business, regardless of the type of job, is a “partial restraint of trade designed to lessen competition. ”  Accordingly, the Georgia Court of Appeals deemed the full-working-time provision “a restraint of trade, rather than a loyalty provision.”  The Court went on to find the provision unenforceable as it was not limited in time, territory or scope.

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October 2011 Client Alerts

NLRB Postpones Effective Date of “Employee Rights” Posting Requirement

The National Labor Relations Board announced on October 5, 2011, the decision to postpone until January 31, 2012 the effective date of its recently published rule requiring employers to post notices informing employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.  The NLRB finalized its new notice-posting requirement in August and at that time announced that the rule would take effect on November 14, 2011.  However, federal lawsuits were filed challenging the rule and prompting many questions and uncertainty from employers across the nation.  To learn more about the rule, please click here to read the Alert published by the Labor & Employment Client Service Group on October 6, 2011.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) — The Benefits of a Computer Use Policy That Restricts Employee Access

Employers that provide employees unfettered access to company computer systems may unwittingly forfeit a valuable statutory remedy against the misappropriation of electronic data.   Such employers should ensure that they have a computer use policy in place that explicitly distinguishes between authorized and unauthorized use.  To learn more about the Act and the  federal avenue it provides to pursue employees who have misappropriated electronic information, please click here to read the Alert published by the Labor & Employment Client Service Group on October 27, 2011.

Qualified Retirement Plan Limits for Calendar Year 2012

 The IRS has announced its 2012 cost-of-living adjustments for retirement plans.   To access a chart reflecting the qualified plan limits for calendar years 2009-2012, please click here for the Alert published by the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Client Service Group on October 24, 2011.

FINCEN Issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Requiring Cross-Border Report for Prepaid Cards

The Financial Crimes Enforcement bureau has released a proposed rulemaking that would require consumers holding prepaid cards aggregating more than $10,000 in value to report the cards when crossing into or out of the U.S., in the same way that they report cash, travelers checks and other monetary instruments.  Please click here to read the Alert published by the Financial Institutions Client Service Group on October 18, 2011.

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September 2011 Client Alerts

Social Media and the National Labor Relations Act:  A Trap for Unwary Employers

The use of social media has become one of the most rapidly-changing areas in employment law today.  What most employers do not realize is that the National Labor Relations Board has become very active in policing both the substance of social media policies and the actions of employers in addressing social media concerns.  Please click here to read an overview of NLRB activity in the area of employee use of social media published by the Labor & Employment and Internet & New Media Client Service Groups on September 23, 2011.

Check It Out and Check It Off:  2012 Group Health Plan Checklist

While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended (“PPACA”), required significant design changes for group health plans in 2010 or 2011, some additional requirements must be implemented for 2012.  Please click here to read the Alert published by the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Client Service Group on September 7, 2011. 

IRS Establishes a Voluntary Classification Settlement Program

The IRS recently announced a new settlement program for employers with misclassified workers.  Under the new program, employers can get a significant reduction in their federal employment tax liability associated with past nonemployment treatment by agreeing to properly classify their workers for future tax period.  The announcement came on the heels of recent announcements that the IRS, Department of Labor and various state agencies are collaborating on examining worker misclassification issues.  To learn more about the new program, please click here to read the Alert published by the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Client Service Group on September 30, 2011.

Department of Labor Issues Final Rule Requiring Follow-On Contractors to Hire Their Predecessor’s Employees

The Department of Labor issued a final rule just before Labor Day that, in effect, will given certain employees now performing under Federal government service contracts employment for life or at least for as long as the government continues to contract for those services.  Although the rule does not take effect until the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council issues its complementary regulations, matters are sufficiently final that contractors should begin planning for how they are going to comply.  To learn more about this new regulation, click here to read the Alert published by the Government Contracts Team on September 8, 2011.

U.S. House Panel Hears Divergent Opinions on SRO Oversight of Investment Advisers

Fund managers and other investment advisers should be aware that Congress is now considering legislation that would significantly alter regulation of the nation’s registered investment advisers.  A key House subcommittee has heard widely divergent views on the proposed legislation entitled the “Investment Adviser Oversight Act of 2011.”  To learn more about the draft legislation, click here to read the Alert published by the White Collar Defense and Investigations Securities Litigation and Enforcement Client Service Groups on September 20, 2011.

New Patent Reform Bill Poised to Significantly Change U.S. Patent Law

On September 8, 2011, Congress approved the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act of 2011.  The Act materially alters a long history of patent law in the United States.   Among the provisions addressed by the Act are who is entitled to a patent (“first to file” versus “first to invent”) and who may file a “false marking” lawsuit.  To read more about how the Act alters patent law, please click here to read the Bulletin published by the Intellectual Property Client Service Group on September 12, 2011. 

FinCEN Issues Final Rule on Prepaid Access; Extends Compliance Date for Many Aspects of the Final Rule

New anti-money laundering regulations that directly impact retail business that issue or sell gift cards or other prepaid cards were issued by the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN),  The regulations require the collection and verification of customer information when certain prepaid cards are sold or reloaded.  To read an overview of the Final Rule, please click here for the Alert published by the Financial Institutions Client Service Group on September 6, 2011. The Final Rule was set to go into effect on September 27, but FinCEN announced that it has extended the compliance date for most aspects of the regulations.  For information on how the compliance dates changed, please click here to read the Alert published on September 12, 2011.

New Dual/Third Country National Rule Continues to Present Challenges

A new rule took effect in August which amended the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) to include a new license exemption for the transfer of defense articles to dual/third country national employees of approved non-U.S. licensees under ITAR agreements.  To read about the new rule, please click here for International Regulatory Bulletin published September 28, 2011.

DDTC Updates its “Guidelines for Preparing Electronic Agreements” to Implement New Dual/Third Country National Rule

In August, DDTC updated its “Guidelines for Preparing Electronic Agreements” (the “Guidelines”) to reflect implementation of the new rule and provide guidance to exporters preparing ITAR agreements.  To learn more, please click here to read the International Regulatory Bulletin published September 28, 2011.

 Electronic Payment of Registration Fees

The Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) issued an amendment to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) that requires a change in the method of payment for registration fees.  Effective September 26, 2011, all registration fees must be paid electronically via Automated Clearing House.  To read about the amendment, please click here for the International Regulatory Bulletin published September 15, 2011.

French Working Time for Executives:  Lump-Sum Remuneration Agreements Based on a Fixed Number of Working Days Per Year (so-called Forfaits-Jours)

The legal duration of work for employees in France is 35 hours per week, meaning that any hours required to be worked above this limit would normally be considered overtime.  Executives are, however, most often not subject to this limit.  For an outline of how the French Labor Code distinguishes between three types of executives, please click here to read the September 2011 Briefing published by the Paris Labor & Employment Client Service Group.

 The Agency Workers Regulations 2010

UK’s new Agency Workers Regulations come into force on 1 October 2011.  The regulations are intended to give agency workers the same basic employment rights and conditions as permanent staff employed directly by the relevant company.  To learn about the new regulations, please click here for the September 2011 Briefing published by the London Labour and Employment Client Service Group.

China Announces Legal Changes That May Broaden Power to Investigate Bribery

In August the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China released the draft Criminal Procedure Law Amendment to the public for comment.  If passed, the amendment is expected to provide additional protection to the civil rights of accused parties.  However, critics say that the amendment would also provide authorities legal cover to utilize secret locations to detain subjects suspected of engaging in acts involving national security, terrorism, or other serious crimes which may include serious bribery.  To read about the amendment, please click here for the International Regulatory Bulletin published September 27, 2011.

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July 2011 Client Alerts

Updated Claim Procedure Requirements for Non-Grandfathered Health Plans

The Internal Revenue Service, Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Labor have revised the interim final regulations governing internal claims and appeals and external reviews for non-grandfathered group health plans under the 2010 health reform law.  The have also revised the forms for adverse benefit determinations and updated the list of state consumer assistance programs.  Many of the changes ease the burden of plan administration.  To learn more, please click here to read the Alert published by the Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Client Service Group on July 1, 2011. 

IRS Issues Guidance on Health Plan Excise Tax Returns, Code Section 162(m)

On June 24, 2011, the IRS finalized rules on automatic extensions for Form 8928 Excise Tax Returns for employer-sponsored health plans and also released guidance on performance-based compensation plans of public companies.  For highlights of the rules, please click here to read the Alert published by the Employee Benefit & Executive Compensation Client Service Group on July 7, 2011.

FTC Suit Signals Increased Scrutiny of Advertising Endorsements

In May, the FTC brought suit against a company that sold a promissory note business system based upon the allegation that the company used consumer testimonials that could not be substantively substantiated, and that the company did not adequately disclose the typical performance that consumers were likely to achieve.  This marks the thirteenth case this year in which the Commission has alleged that a company has deceptively used testimonials and endorsements.  To read more, please click here for the Bulletin published by the Consumer Protection Group on July 5, 2011.

EPA Issues The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule To Reduce Power Plant Emissions In the Eastern United States

In July the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (Cross-State Rule), requiring power plants in 27 states to reduce their emissions of nitrogen oxides and power plants in 23 of these states to also reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide.    The purpose of the rulemaking is to ratchet down power plant emissions that contribute to elevated concentrations of ozone in downwind states.  For a summary of the relevant provisions of the Clean Air Act and the new Cross-State Rule, please click here to see the Bulletin published by the Environmental Client Service Group on July 22, 2011.

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June 2011 Client Alerts

The Implications for FCPA Enforcement of the SEC’s New Whistleblower Rules

The SEC’s recent adoption of rules to implement the whistleblower program mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act has particular significance for enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  For a discussion of the overall SEC enforcement context for the new whistleblower rules, a summary of the rules,  and a discussion of the key issues for FCPA enforcement, including recommendations that companies should take now, please click here to read the Alert published by the Global Anti-Corruption Team of the Securities Litigation and Enforcement  and International Trade Groups on June 22, 2011.

Supreme Court De-Certifies Largest Employment Discrimination Class Action In History

In Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision to certify a nationwide class pursuing employment discrimination claims against the nation’s largest employer.  A 5-4 majority of the Court concluded that the class of 1.5 million current and former female employees could not satisfy the commonality requirement.  For a discussion of the decision, please click here to read the Alert published by the Class and Derivative Actions section of the Labor & Employment Client Service Group on June 21, 2011.

Supreme Court Draws Bright Line Barring Securities Fraud Claims Against Advisers to Companies Who Do Not “Make” Statements At Issue

In June the U.S. Supreme Court issued a significant decision restricting the ability of plaintiffs to bring securities fraud actions against adviser defendants who play a role in preparing statements actually made by companies they are advising.  In Janus Group, et al. v. First Derivative Traders, the court held that an investment adviser to a mutual fund could not be sued in a private securities fraud action for false statements made in mutual fund prospectuses.  To read more, please click here for the Alert published by the Securities Litigation and Enforcement practice group on June 16, 2011.

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A New Era for Georgia Non-Compete Agreements

On May 11, 2011, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed House Bill 30 into law, ushering in a new era for non-competition agreements (non-competes), non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and non-solicitation covenants under Georgia law.  Historically, Georgia courts have not been friendly to such agreements and have made enforceability unclear.  The new statute clarifies and strengthens the ability of parties to restrict conduct during and after employment or a deal.  Perhaps most importantly, the law expressly authorizes courts to cure or “blue pencil” such agreements signed on or after May 11, 2011.  Under the previous regime, one faulty provision generally invalidated an entire restrictive covenant in Georgia.  In addition, the new law makes clear that NDAs need not specify a time limit on a requirement to maintain information as confidential so long as the information otherwise remains confidential.

In Georgia, new consideration is not required to execute new non-competes, so employers are in a good position to strengthen their competitive protections under the revised statute, but action is required as only new agreements will enjoy the benefits of the new law.  The new law also governs restrictive covenants between distributors and manufacturers, lessors and lessees, partnerships and partners, franchisors and franchisees, sellers and purchasers of a business or a commercial enterprise, and two or more employers.

In-Term Covenants Generally

The bill codifies many aspects of the law in this area that had developed in the Georgia courts.  This includes the presumption that any restriction within an agreement that operates during the term of the underlying employment or business relationship is not unreasonable because it lacks any specific limitation on the scope of activity, duration, or geographic area as long as it promotes or protects the purpose of the agreement or deters any potential conflict of interest.

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