March 05, 2020

Coronavirus - A Recommended Employer Response

In recent weeks, we have been tasked with learning about and preparing an appropriate response for the Coronavirus –COVID-19.  According to the CDC, Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in humans and many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading from person-to-person in China and some limited person-to-person transmission has been reported in countries outside China, including the United States. The Employment Law Group of Cipriani & Werner, P.C. has convened a meeting to review the various applications of the potential outbreak of the virus to our employer clients.  Over the course of the next several days and weeks, we will be disseminating updated information, suggestions and protocols to our clients in an effort to both educate them about the condition and steps they can take to protect their employees, clients, customers and businesses from the harmful impact of this condition.

We encourage questions, proactively, as they arise or if you are specifically confronted with the Coronavirus in the work setting, please contact us at 1-888-488-2638 immediately, and one of our Employment Law attorneys will help navigate your rights and responsibilities as an employer. 

All employers should immediately devise a plan to address the Coronavirus:

  • Employers should encourage sick employees to stay home.  Utilizing the guidelines established by the CDC, employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants).
  • Employers should evaluate and ensure flexibility of sick and PTO policies.  Confirm the need for communication.  Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick. Employers should permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees might need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual and plan accordingly.
  • Employers should develop a policy and protocol to address the hazards of the Coronavirus.  Common sense and good hygiene should be asserted as part of a positive work culture. Employers should consider providing tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.  Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.  If not done so already, employer might provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace.

The Coronavirus will impact employers differently depending upon variables such as size of employment body, scope of work and industry.  Every employer should take steps to identify potential points of vulnerability and devise a plan to address.  For example, if employees must travel for business domestically or oversees, a policy defining protocol for safe travel, report of symptoms or illness and terms for return to work should be proactively established.  Please note that policies for address of these concerns will vary from industry to industry.  Employers and employees in the healthcare, long-term care or education communities may have heightened rights and responsibilities as compared to more traditional employers in manufacturing and light industry.  It is these variables that we intend to identify and address through policy and protocol recommendations for our employer clients in the coming days. 

For now, we recommend employers consider integrating a culture of heightened hygiene and safety.  Review policies and protocols for possible modification and flexibility. Identify specific positions, departments and areas of vulnerability.  Evaluate the need for implementation of updated policy and protocol to address leave concerns.  In addition, please refrain from making determinations of risk based on race or country of origin or any other protected class.  Do not make decisions on what you think you know about the virus, symptoms or conditions without proper verification.  Note that social media is not the best source of reliable information particularly as it pertains to this type of topic matter.  Be sure to maintain confidentiality of any collected medical data of employees. 

We will be back in touch with you shortly with more guidance on related topics.  If there is a particular concern or need for immediate review please contact us at 1-888-488-2638 immediately