Disclaimer: This document is intended to provide you with information about COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus. It does not constitute legal advice. As the situation is currently evolving, we recommend checking with your legal team and keeping up to date through reputable, trusted sources.
As the spread of COVID-19 becomes more prominent in the U.S and is now a global pandemic and national emergency, HR leaders and administrators have looming concerns over what to do with their workforce and how to keep their businesses afloat. We understand that during this concerning time, employers are facing very difficult questions regarding how to handle leave and accommodation, immigration, health and safety, and other employment issues. We have gathered a few resources for you and tried to answer some of the questions you may have. We also encourage you to consult with your legal team as well as relevant sources put forth by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), your local governmental entities, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
First, let’s start by covering what the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 are:
COVID-19 is a new respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The novel coronavirus is part of the coronavirus family, which cause illnesses and respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, like SARs. The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a new strain and was first detected in Wuhan, China, having now spread to over 146 different countries around the globe. At the present time, there is no vaccine or treatment.
Based on a handful of COVID-19 studies, the R0 or r-naught value – the metric that predicts how many people one infected individual with a disease will likely infect – is between 1.4 - 3.8. This means that if you have COVID-19, you can expect to infect at least 1 person and up to 3 or 4. When compared to other infectious diseases, measles has an R0 of 12 – 18, which is considered really high, and SARS, another coronavirus, has an R0 of 3.
Since COVID-19 is a new disease, professionals handling this virus are still learning how it spreads and are not entirely sure; however, early studies indicate that it is mainly spread from person to person amongst those in close contact with each other (within 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is also possible that the virus can be spread through fomites – surfaces or objects that carry the virus. People can become infected by touching these surfaces or objects and then proceeding to touch their face, mouth, or eyes. Another preliminary study found that it may be plausible that the virus is an airborne aerosol, meaning that particles of the virus can remain suspended in the air for up to 3 hours, potentially infecting anyone that comes into contact with it. Furthermore, COVID-19 can be spread by someone with only a mild cough and may be spread by individuals showing no symptoms at all.
After contracting COVID-19, the incubation period for signs and symptoms to develop is 2 – 14 days after exposure. Signs and symptoms can range from non-existent or mild to severe and life-threatening, and some infected people don’t feel unwell at all. For those that do, the most common signs and symptoms are similar to those of the common cold or flu, but the most crucial ones to watch out for are a fever, a dry cough, and shortness of breath; COVID-19 rarely causes a runny nose. Most people – about 80% – recover from the disease without requiring special treatment.
As an employer, you’re likely seeking answers on how to prevent infection in the workplace to protect your clients, your employees, and all of their families. According to the CDC’s Interim Guidance page, employers should do the following:
The CDC recommends employers encourage employees to stay home and not report to work until they are free of fever and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours. Additionally, the CDC recommend the following:
If an employee starts showing acute respiratory illness symptoms upon arrival to the workplace, they should be separated from other employees and sent home. The same applies if any employees become sick during the day.
Encourage employees to practice cough and sneeze etiquette and proper hand hygiene. You can be proactive by putting posters up throughout your workplace encouraging employees to practice this proper etiquette and hygiene and to stay home if sick. Additionally, provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer and hand soap and ensure these items are stocked and replenished.
Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and countertops. Additionally, make disposable wipes available so employees can wipe down doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, and desks before each use.
Knowing the preventions, the question remains……
Overall, OSHA recommends all businesses have a safety program and emergency action plan that includes infectious disease protocols and is compliant with all laws and regulations.
As COVID-19 is still a developing disease and changes from hour to hour, follow CDC, federal, and state regulations. Overall, below includes what you can do to remain compliant:
As of March 16, 2020, the U.S government has imposed a travel ban. This ban is in addition to restrictions on all DOD military and civilian personnel and their families traveling to, from, or through areas which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for. That being said, an employer may restrict any business travel to areas with a Level 3 warning and should exercise caution on Level 2 areas. Employers should continue to consult the CDC’s website, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Travel,” for up-to-date travel notices concerning risk.
What If an Employee Decides to Travel for Their Own Pleasure or Personal Reasons? In this situation, an employer cannot stop an employee traveling for their own pleasure. An employer can advise the employee about the risks of travel and consequences, like quarantine time. Additionally, an employer may deny time off for an employee’s personal travel as long as the employer can prove that it was based on the danger of the destination, such as CDC Level 3 and Level 2 areas, business costs of a resulting quarantine, or other legitimate, business-driven reasons and not because of the national origin of the employee, which would violate the ADA Title VII.
Employers should be aware of Title VII of the Civils Right Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, and other protected classifications. As always, employers should be careful to not exclude any person from work or work-related activities based on their race or national origin. Additionally, employers should make sure that when making their safety and emergency plans, their policies do not violate anti-discrimination laws, not only based on race, color, age, pregnancy, or national origin, but also on disability or other prohibited bases. When it comes to COVID-19 and how to handle this situation in the workplace, the CDC has advised in this context: “To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, use only the guidance described below [provided by the CDC] to determine risk of COVID-19. Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin, and be sure to maintain confidentiality of people with confirmed COVID-19” (CDC, Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)).
Additionally, employers should make sure they have the right procedures to maintain confidentiality and to prevent harassment and discrimination of individuals suspected of having COVID-19.
Any time you have to temporarily shut down your business and force your employees to go home, your employees are entitled to unemployment insurance.
The federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) to help out employees who are unable to work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The act expands FMLA provisions and allows for paid FMLA leave for employees who can’t work or telework if they are caring for a son or daughter under the age of 18 whose school or childcare facility has been closed. After 10 days of unpaid leave, a period of paid lead will follow.
Employees who get sick from COVID-19 or have to care for someone who is sick due to COVID-19 may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave under the FFCRA. This part of the law provides employees with 80 hours of paid sick leave to care for themselves or another. To learn more about the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act, register for our webinar, Complying With the Families First Coronavirus Emergency Relief Act.
It all depends on where your employee contracted the virus. Was the employee exposed during work hours and due to their work labor? A great example is a health care worker who is on the front lines and dealing with the disease. In that case, as an employer, you’re potentially responsible for providing workers’ compensation and for covering the costs related to medical care and disability benefits. On the other hand, if your employee caught the disease during their personal time or accidentally contracted it from a coworker, then you most likely will not be responsible for workers’ compensation.
As the world and the U.S. take action on stopping the spread of the virus, many regulations and bills will be passed, like the Families First Coronavirus Response Act – which was signed by President Trump on March 18, 2020. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act will provide free screening, paid leave, and enhanced unemployment insurance benefits for people affected by COVID-19. Since the situation is changing rapidly, we have gathered a few resources below so you can stay up to date.
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