Worldwide people are talking about Coronavirus, formally referred to as COVID-19. Whenever a novel virus or illness surfaces, anxiety among employees in the workplace is bound to increase, as was experienced when H1N1, Zika, and MERS dominated the headlines. While many U.S. employers may have dealt with similar concerns, with the outbreak of Coronavirus it is important to be certain about what steps should be taken.
Statistically, in the United States, the influenza virus remains a bigger threat in the workplace when compared to coronavirus. There are fortunately many behaviors that reduce the risk of viruses spreading and now is the perfect time for employers to review their policies and create contingency plans.
What if an employee is ill?
- If you have an employee that is sick, it is important to encourage them to stay home. It is important to remember that many of the COVID-19 symptoms mirror symptoms of influenza and the common cold.
- During a season where illness may require that you keep employees from the office, it will be helpful to remind employees of the sick time available to them either by law or by company policies.
- Employers who are not covered by a state law and do not have a policy should provide unpaid time off.
- Consider allowing sick employees to work remotely until they are 24 hours symptom-free.
What if an employee comes to work sick?
- If you think there is any possibility of Coronavirus or an infectious disease, then you should immediately send the employee home.
- In most situations where there is reasonable belief that an employee has Coronavirus or an infectious disease, the employer can require a “fitness for duty note” before allowing an employee to return to the workplace. It is recommended to narrowly tailor the requirement for a fitness for duty note specifically to the Corona Virus.
- If the CDC or a state health agency notifies the employer that an employee has Corona Virus or needs to be quarantined, provide that employee with the time off needed to recover. Whether or not it is paid time off will depend on your company policy and the local law. If there is work being performed during the quarantine or recovery period, the employee will need to be paid in accordance with the law.
- In some situations, Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) paperwork may need to be sent if the employer is covered by law. In situations of hospitalization and/or missing work for more than a few days, it is recommended that paperwork is sent.
Caring For Family Members
It is important to remember that many local and state earned sick time laws include provisions that time may be used to care for a family member who is ill or in need of diagnosis. In addition, this earned sick time can cover public health emergencies and school childcare provider closings by order of a public official. In addition, FMLA might be triggered.
As always, employers must be mindful of maintaining confidentiality regarding employee illnesses and/or disabilities.
Employers, including their management staff, must be sure not to discriminate against individuals due to their (actual or perceived) race, national origin or disability.
Wage and Hour
Employers must comply with wage and hour law. If the employee is working from home, they must be paid. If an employee is out of the office or otherwise unpaid, they should not be performing work without pay.
Occupational Safety and Health
Employers should have an internal designee who keeps abreast of CDC guidance and is involved in all decisions regarding actions taken due to Coronavirus. This will promote consistent and clear communications within and outside the organization.
For updates on the virus and advice for the public:
For business-specific guidance:
Place posters such as the following in common areas in the workplace:
- Slow the Spread of Germs: https://www.cdc.gov/nonpharmaceutical-interventions/pdf/slow-spread-germs-item1.pdf
- Do Not Spread Germs: https://www.cdc.gov/nonpharmaceutical-interventions/pdf/dont-spread-germs-work-item3.pdf
- Handwashing : https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/posters.html