Coronavirus in the workplace: What employers need to know
The global coronavirus death toll has risen to 4,000. Over 729 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the United States, with 27 fatalities thus far. Fears have spread to the workplace, with many companies canceling meetings, work trips, and encouraging employees to stay home if they are ill.
Rob Wilson, employment expert and President of Employco USA says, “As the number of reported cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise, employers are increasingly confronted with the possibility of an outbreak in the workplace. Employers are obligated to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their employees, but are also subject to a number of legal requirements protecting workers.”
So, what should employers do to help keep their workplaces as safe as possible from both coronavirus and legal concerns?
“If an employee is showing applicable symptoms including a fever, you have the option to ask the employee to stay home and seek medical treatment,” says Wilson. “However, in most cases, you cannot require employees to take their temperature. Since it’s considered a “medical examination” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers can only take an employee’s temperature if it’s job-related, consistent with business necessity, or the employer believes that the employee poses a direct threat to the organization.
If your employee has tested positive for COVID-19, Wilson advises employers to ask the employee to list everyone who he/she has worked closely with over the past 2 weeks.
“The employee with COVID-19 and the employees who worked closely with the infected person should be sent home for at least 14 days to ensure the person is healthy and the illness is no longer contagious,” says Wilson. “There is no requirement to report the information to the CDC – the person’s healthcare provider is responsible for this. However, you should consider hiring a vendor to perform a comprehensive cleaning of your workplace.”
As for compensating sick employees who aren’t able to come to work, Wilson says your obligations depend on your workplace.
“You may need to continue paying employees if required under a collective bargaining agreement, state law, or an exempt employee rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act (e.g., if an exempt / salaried employee leaves work after 1 hour, he/she must be paid for the full day),” says Wilson.
Wilson also says that working from home might be a beneficial option for some employees.
“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has indicated that work-from-home programs are an “effective infection-control strategy that is also familiar to ADA-covered employers as a reasonable accommodation. In addition, employees with disabilities that put them at high risk for complications of pandemic influenza may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce their chances of infection during a pandemic,” says Wilson.
Lastly, Wilson advises employers to be judicial about ensuring they are not showing any discrimination in regards to employees’ race, class, or religion.
“For example, an employee of Chinese national origin with flu-like symptoms should be treated the same as any other employee,” says Wilson. “However, if you learn that a sick employee was recently in China (regardless of their national origin), you have the option to require the person to stay home.”
Source: Employco USA