The Minnesota Department of Commerce on Friday issued regulatory guidance extending its safe harbor for collection agencies that have debt collectors working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, collectors must work from a licensed location or branch office and are not allowed to work from home. The Department of Commerce, following a state of emergency that was declared in Minnesota in mid-March, implemented the guidance allowing debt collectors to work from home to stay safe during the pandemic. As long as the following criteria are met, any licensed collection agency can have registered collectors work from home as a precautionary measure:
- The activity is conducted from the home location of an individual working on behalf of a Minnesota licensee;
- The individual is working from home due to a reason relating to the COVID-19 outbreak and has informed the licensee of such reason.
- None of the activity will be conducted in person with members of the public from the home location; and
- The licensee shall, at all times, exercise supervision of the activity being performed at the home office and ensure that appropriate safeguards and controls are in place to protect consumer information and data.
The guidance will stay in place “through any extension of the Stay At Home Order” that was enacted on March 25 by Gov. Tim Walz.
A number of states have been actively issuing regulations, guidance, and emergency orders aimed at restricting what collectors can do during the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically related to the CARES Act payments, California, Oregon, Indiana, Illinois, Washington, Vermont, and Ohio have issued orders prohibiting that money from being seized by garnishment orders.
A number of states have taken action to protect consumers from the economic impact that the coronavirus has had on individuals. Wisconsin and Illinois have issued guidance aimed at providing advice to collectors about how they should be operating during the crisis. Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., have enacted emergency regulations that dramatically restrict how individuals can be contacted about their debts. A bill in South Carolina called for a moratorium on medical debt collection. In Ohio, a bill was introduced that would halt all debt collection activities for the duration of the pandemic. The New Jersey legislature is also considering bills aimed at prohibiting certain types of debt collection activities.
As well, a group of states have also come together and worked out a deal with a number of private student loan servicers to offer relief, including collection-related activities, during the coronavirus pandemic.