The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that they are in “uncharted territory” with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. U.S. Employers might feel that they, too, are in uncharted territory. Don’t panic! This simple guide can help employers navigate coronavirus-related issues, and to focus attention on what you can actually control.
How Can I Protect My Employees?
- Rethink upcoming business trips you have planned, especially to China, as both the CDC and the State Department have issued advisories against travel to the area. As an employer, you have a duty to ensure a safe work environment, so it is a good idea to limit travel to affected areas and, instead, consider telecommuting or video conferences. Additionally, you should be prepared to manage employees’ requests not to travel. To comply with the ADA, you should be open to requests for accommodations by employees for whom travel poses an increased risk of infection, such as those with conditions that compromise their immune systems.
- If your employees come to you with questions, feel free to provide them with information on the coronavirus. To avoid misinformation and fearmongering, stick to official sources, like the CDC (CDC coronavirus guidance) and the WHO (https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus).
- Take common-sense measures. Ensure that your workplace is well stocked with soap, tissues, sanitizer, and cleaning supplies. The CDC discourages the use of face masks, as they generally aren’t necessary and only serve to stir up fear.
- If employees are ill–especially if they have fever and respiratory symptoms, they should seek medical attention and NOT come to work where they would put others at risk.
- Update your employee handbook and forms so employees understand your sick leave policy.
- This new coronavirus has caused a rise of anti-Asian discrimination. While some might find an off-color meme funny, others might find it racist and such “humor” can create a hostile work environment. Under no circumstances should an employee be discriminated against based on their race or national origin. Employers should not tolerate employees making racist jokes or comments–real, underlying fears or concerns about contracting coronavirus are NOT a defense to discrimination.
- The ADA prohibits employers from asking employees disability-related questions or subjecting them to medical examinations, unless they are job related and the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee poses a direct threat to the health of their co-workers. However, this does not prevent employers from asking employees non-disability related questions about their potential exposure to coronavirus (e.g. “Have you been in close contact with someone who is infected?”)
What If One of My Employees Contracts Coronavirus?
- If an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus, you should immediately contact your local health department.
- Although you must maintain the confidentiality of your infected employee’s medical information, your other employees still have the right to know that they may have been exposed–both you and they should conduct a risk assessment.
- Under the FMLA, eligible employees may take leave for a “serious health condition.” If an eligible employee or their immediate family member contracts coronavirus, they are entitled to up to 12 weeks unpaid leave and reinstatement upon recovery/return.