Questions & Answers: Your Guide to Civil Legal Issues During COVID-19

As we continue to watch the spread of COVID-19, our community will see many changes in our day-to-day lives. If you’re worried about a civil legal problem, or are wondering how changes in the courts, etc. may impact you, check out our question and answer series below.*

 

General & Misc.

 

Question: If I’m a current GLS client, what can I expect?

Answer: GLS staff assigned to your case will continue to keep you posted on how your case is progressing. While many of the courts are rescheduling certain hearings, work can still be done. Instead of conducting in person updates, your assigned staff member will call you or email you to inform you of any changes or updates.

 

Q: If I am not a current client but have a civil legal need and am seeking assistance, what are my options?

A: First start by filling out the online GLS application for assistance. A paralegal will review your information and contact you if you are eligible for services (remember that all services for clients at GLS are provided for free). If you have a disability or are unable to fill out an application electronically, please call the correct extension listed on our homepage. GLS will work with you to ensure we have all the forms we need to move forward.

 

Q: What kinds of cases are the courts seeing in-person right now?

A: Most courts are only seeing mission-critical hearings in person right now such as injunctions for protection. Other case hearings have either been postponed or are being done via phone.**

 

Q: What, if any, changes are being made to Medicaid?

A: Medicaid changes are being documented on the Agency for Healthcare Administration.

 

Q: Will I get any relief from bills for services that are now essential?

A: Each provider is different. Check their websites for information. Some companies, such as Duke Energy, have suspended disconnections, as many customers are facing hardships.

 

Q: What about deportations and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? How are they responding to the pandemic?

A: ICE will be focusing its efforts on “public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.” For all others, ICE will exercise discretion in delaying enforcement actions until after the pandemic.

 “During the COVID-19 crisis, ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.”

 

Q: What about my Parent Education and Family Stabilization classes? How will I take those now?

A: Effective March 23, 2020 through April 30, 2020, the 12th Judicial Circuit will temporarily allow parties to attend parenting classes online or via video conferencing without court approval. A list of approved courses is here.

 

Q: I’m elderly and worried about creating end of life documents. How can I do this?

A: GLS can provide assistance to any seniors (age 60+) for free, however we prioritize those with the highest need. For information and assistance creating life-planning documents, call extension 232.

 

Housing

 

Q: I heard that foreclosures and evictions are being suspended. Is that true?

A: In Pinellas, Manatee, and Sarasota, county clerks are not issuing any writs of possession at this time. Eviction cases can proceed and a final order may be entered – however, the clerks will not be issuing writs, meaning the procedure for removing tenants from their homes is stopped.

 

Q: What if I have an eviction notice already? Is there anything I can do to protect myself in the meantime?

A: Tenants should follow the precautions below:

  • If you are currently in eviction proceedings, continue to pay all rent into Court Registry – and utilize this time to look for availability elsewhere if possible.
  • If you get served an eviction, or writ of possession due to an ongoing eviction action, you can contact our housing paralegal, Arleen at ext. 273 to see if GLS may be able to assist.

 

PLEASE NOTE: Housing issues are rapidly changing. GLS will do our best to keep up to date. 

Taxes

 

Question: What actions have the IRS taken to help taxpayers meet their 2019 tax obligations?

Answer: On March 21, 2020, the Department of Treasury and the IRS announced that the federal income tax filing date has been automatically extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020.

 

Q: Does the tax extension apply to all taxpayers including individuals, companies, and independent contractors?

A: This deferment applies to all taxpayers, including individuals, trusts and estates, corporations and other non-corporate tax filers as well as independent contractors.

 

Q: Will I be charged interest or penalties during the extension time?

A: No interest or penalties will be applied, regardless of the amount owed, as long as 2019 taxes are filed and paid by the July 15, 2020 filing extension.

 

Q: Do I need to file any additional forms or call the IRS to qualify for this automatic federal tax filing and payment relief extension?

A: No, it is automatic, you do not need to do anything. Just file and pay your 2019 taxes by July 15, 2020, in order to avoid any penalties and added interest.

 

Q: What if I am due a refund?

A: The IRS is urging taxpayers who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. Most refunds are still being issued within 21 days.

 

Q: What if I can’t meet the July 15, 2020 deadline?

A: Taxpayers needing additional time to file beyond the July 15 deadline, should request a filing extension by filing Form 4868 through a tax professional, tax software, or by using the Free File link on www.IRS.gov. Businesses who need additional time must file Form 7004.

 

Q: Where can I go to file my 2019 taxes?

A: You can explore free options to file your own taxes at www.IRS.gov/freefile.

 

Q: What if I need Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) to file my 2019 taxes?

A: The majority of VITA sites have been closed until further notice, however, some sites are still operating remotely. Go to www.IRS.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ for a list of VITA sites nearest you. Make sure to follow up with the VITA site to confirm whether they are providing services and for more information on how to proceed.

 

Q: Can I still receive services/assistance from my local IRS office?

A: No, not at this time. All Taxpayer Assistant Centers are closed and have discontinued face-to-face service throughout the country until further notice.

 

Q: Will the IRS continue to levy my account and issue collections notices?

A: No, until further notice, the IRS will stop all manual and systemic levies and notices except for LP 68 notices informing taxpayers that their notice of levy was released.

 

Q: What additional COVID-19 tax relief efforts are available?

A: COVID-19 tax relief legislation is in the works. Nothing has been set in stone at this time, but we anticipate on seeing additional tax credits for eligible individuals on their 2020 returns.

 

Employment Law

 

Q: May an employer send home an employee involuntarily who has or is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?

A: Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is following the 2009 pandemic H1N1 flu guidance states that advising workers to go home either (a) is not a disability-related action if the illness is akin to seasonal influenza or (b) is permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the illness is serious enough to pose a direct threat to the employee or coworkers. This also applies to asymptomatic employees who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, or who is returning from travel to an area with “widespread sustained” transmission. This can further be employed as a preventative measure so long as an employee’s duties allow telework.

 

Q: When may an employee who was sent home for exhibiting symptoms (subjective or measured fever, cough, difficulty breathing) return to work?

A: The Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that an employee may return to work after 24 hours of no longer having or exhibiting any of the symptoms—without the aid of fever-reducing, or other symptom-masking medicines (cough suppressants).

 

Q: May an employer require an employee with COVID-19 to use his/her vacation time and/or other paid time off for their absence?

A: Generally, yes. This also applies to employees not exhibiting symptoms, but who have been in close contact with and individual with COVID-19 or is returning from an at-risk area.

 

Q: Does Florida law provide for paid sick days?

A: No, nothing in Florida state law requires private business to give employees paid sick leave. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does allow an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period if they need time off to deal with a “serious health condition” or care for an ill family member or new child (an asymptomatic employee may not qualify for FMLA). Under FMLA, although this leave time is unpaid, the employee’s job and benefits are protected during that time off. Note: FMLA only covers private employers with 50 or more employees, public agencies, and public or private elementary or secondary schools.

 

 Q: Must an employer pay a non-exempt (hourly) employee during closures due to COVID-19?

A: According to the Department of Labor (DOL), employers are only required to pay non-exempt employees for hours worked. As such, if a business closes temporarily due to COVID-19, it is not required to pay non-exempt employees, even if they may have been scheduled to work. However, these employees may be entitled to unemployment compensation or other state benefits during these closures due to COVID-19.

 

Q: When should I file for unemployment benefits if my employer has closed due to COVID-19?

A: Immediately. Due to the unpredictability for businesses surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is anticipated that the number of applications for unemployment benefits will increase dramatically. This will have a high likelihood of delaying the approval and distribution for the benefits themselves, and may even restrict approval of benefits to the hardest hit as a result of the high number of applicants and limited funds available.

 

*Please note that the CDC is continuously updating its information in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and as such, answers to these questions may change in response. We will do our best to update them as changes arise. 

**For up to date information on Circuit Court priorities, please check their websites directly.

DONATE NOW
ArabicEnglishRussianSpanish