Posted on Mar 13, 2020

As the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases increases in the United States, employers are faced with growing concerns about how to manage the impact on employees and on operations. According to OSHA, while the risk of infection is small for American workers, some workers are at higher risk, such as those who travel to areas where the virus is spreading or interact with potentially infected travelers from abroad, and those involved in healthcare, airline operations, laboratories, border protection, solid waste and wastewater management.

It’s a good idea for employers to convene a response team and designate someone, such as a member of Human Resources or Employee Safety, who will manage communications about the virus and serve as the point person for employee questions and concerns. The response team should also take proactive steps to plan for possible business interruptions and keep abreast of information about the virus from credible sources. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued interim guidelines for businesses and provides updated information on a regular basis. Strategies recommended for employers to use now include the following:

  • Encourage sick employees to stay home. Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies. Employees who arrive to work with respiratory symptoms or become sick while at work should be sent home.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning and ensure there are adequate supplies for hand-washing and sanitizing.
  • Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps. Current travel information is posted on the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices. Encourage employees who travel to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before travel and stay home if they are sick. Employees who become sick while traveling should notify their supervisor and contact a healthcare provider for advice is needed.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, inform employees of their possible exposure but maintain confidentiality as required by the ADA. Employers must balance the obligation to ensure a safe work environment with state and federal privacy and anti-discrimination laws.

Employers should also anticipate the possible need to cancel company events and limit travel to avoid employee exposure. Other steps include reviewing telecommuting options and time off policies for employees who become sick, who are in quarantine due to possible exposure, or who have childcare issues if schools are closed due to the virus. Employer obligations under union contracts, FMLA regulations, and OSHA requirements must also be considered.

 

This material is provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended as authoritative guidance, legal advice, or assurance of compliance with state and federal regulations. 

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