COVID-19: What Employers Need to Know

COVID-19: What Employers Need to Know

You can’t turn on the radio or television, or open a web browser without getting some update on the ever-encroaching coronavirus. With confirmed cases in Oregon, concern for your personal health and wellbeing is a natural reaction, but what do you do as an employer? How do you make the safety of your employees a top priority while ensuring business needs are met?

Many of our clients and colleagues have reached out asking questions pertaining to what they can/cannot do in light of a pandemic. Can you ask an employee questions about their health? Can you send an employee home or require an employee(s) to work from home?

The EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) recently released guidelines on how to mitigate potential health concerns while maintaining compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) and Rehabilitation Act. Essentially, the ADA and Rehab Act rules continue to apply when dealing with employees who are or may be ill; however, these acts do not interfere with or prevent employers from following guidelines and steps outlined by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) regarding managing coronavirus in the workplace. These steps include:

  • Encourage sick employees to stay home – If employees exhibit any cold or flu-like symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (e.g., respiratory issues or a fever), they should stay home. Ensure sick leave policies are flexible, and do not require a doctor’s note for employees who are sick with these symptoms. In accordance with the EEOC and CDC, an employer MAY ask employees if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms as these inquiries are not disability-related. If a pandemic becomes severe, these inquiries, even if disability-related, are justified by a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that the severe form of pandemic influenza poses a direct threat.
  • Separate sick employees – Employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms upon their arrival to work or who become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately. Advising an employee to go/stay home if they are experiencing influenza-like symptoms is not a disability-related action, and such an action would be permitted under the ADA if the illness were serious enough to pose a direct threat.
  • Emphasize staying home while sick, respiratory etiquette, and hand washing – Cover sneezes and coughs with your elbow, provide tissues and no-touch trash receptacles, instruct employees to wash their hands frequently and provide education (e.g., posters) on appropriate hand washing practices, and provide soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizers/rubs.
  • Perform routine cleaning – Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces (e.g., doorknobs, work surfaces, countertops, etc.) and provide disposable wipes for employees to wipe down commonly used and touched surfaces between use.
  • Advise employees prior to traveling – Monitor the CDC’s health notices for the latest guidelines regarding travel and ensure that employees who become ill while traveling promptly notify their supervisor and health care provider if necessary.

As a precautionary measure, or in the event of a community spread, many employers are considering permitting more employees to telecommute or work remotely. For those positions in which this is a feasible option, there are a few steps you need to have in place to ensure this arrangement works for both the employee and the organization.

Follow along in our next post when we delve deeper into the specifics of telecommuting, including revamping or implementing policies based on recent health concerns.

For questions regarding flexible sick leave policies, or if you need any policies updated or implemented to ensure compliance and flexibility during this ongoing concern, feel free to contact us for advice and guidance.