Wyatt Employment Law Report

Employers and the Coronavirus Disease

By Thomas E. Travis and Mitzi D. Wyrick

With continued breaking headlines from news outlets regarding the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) throughout the world, and its capacity for disruption to the international economy, employers are questioning what, if any, specific actions they should consider in forming their own response plan.  Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offer valuable tips for employers in responding to employee concerns.

The CDC interim guidance for businesses and employers and how to respond to the coronavirus is available here:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fguidance-business-response.html

According to the CDC, employers should consider these tips in their interactions with employees.

  • Encourage sick employees to stay home.
  • Check the CDC’s Traveler’ Health Notices for employees who may be traveling for the latest recommendations and to determine whether travel should be limited or cancelled.
  • If an employee is found to have the coronavirus, employers should inform individuals who have possibly been exposed, but should maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA).
  • Consider whether the business should have an infectious disease outbreak response plan that addresses: (i) possible work-related exposure and health risks to employees; (ii) essential business functions and roles, including possible alternatives and logistics to maintain business operations; and (iii) a process to communicate information to employees on the coronavirus.
  • Cross-train employees on essential functions and prepare for employees to work remotely in case of an increase in employee absences due to personal or family member illness or school closures.
  • Consult state and local health departments to monitor local outbreak information and determine appropriate methods of communication to employees.

The EEOC has pointed employers to its guidance on Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace in response to questions raised by employers.  It is available here:  https://www.eeoc.gov/facts/pandemic_flu.html

The EEOC’s guidance addresses issues including:

  • how an employer can conduct an ADA-compliant survey to anticipate possible absenteeism;
  • whether employees displaying symptoms could be sent home;
  • whether infection-control practices can be mandated;
  • and whether an employer may require fitness for return to work certifications after an employee’s absence.

OSHA has published a guide on preparing workplaces for COVID-19.  It is available here:  https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf.  The guide provides information on limiting employee exposure and maintaining a safe workplace for employees.  OSHA advises employers to classify their employees according to risk of exposure and undertake precautions accordingly.  Following these guidelines can alleviate employees’ anxiety about coming to work during the coronavirus outbreak.

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