The coronavirus presents some unique challenges for employers. To help you remain compliant and ensure you have access to some of the best resources on the coronavirus, Melita has prepared the following FAQs.
Question: Are there any resources we can use for planning for potential coronavirus issues in the workplace?
Answer: Yes, there are several resources you can access to ensure you have accurate, up-to-date information about the coronavirus. These are:
- The CDCs’ Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease
- The CDC’s regularly updated Public Health Response to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak report
Question: Are there resources we can reference to determine whether regulatory agencies have weighed in on handling potential employee exposure to the coronavirus?
Answer: Yes, several agencies have released information. For example:
- CAL/OSHA issued Interim Guidance for Protecting Health Care Workers from Exposure to Coronavirus
- The EEOC has issued guidance for employers during pandemic situations
Question: What if one of my employees is sick with the coronavirus?
Answer: Grab your employee handbooks, particularly your sick leave FMLA or other similar state leave of absence policies, and familiarize yourself with the policies. Having the coronavirus may be considered a serious health condition and depending on the employer’s location and size, employees may be eligible for leave for their own serious health condition or caring for the serious health condition of one of their family members (ex. child, spouse, parent). The CDC recommends employers be flexible with their policies and that policies are and consistent with any public health recommended guidance as well as any applicable state, federal, or local laws or regulations.
You may also want to consider the CDCs recommendation to perform regular cleaning around workspaces to keep employees safe.
Question: Can I encourage ill workers to stay home?
Answer: Yes. In fact, the CDC encourages employers to request employees with coronavirus symptoms to stay home to avoid spreading the coronavirus further during what is believed to be the most contagious stage. Specifically, the CDC recommends employees to stay home until they are free of a fever without the use of fever-reducing or symptom-altering medications.
Question: Can I send ill workers home?
Answer: Yes. For the same reasons listed in the previous question, if you have an employee who is displaying symptoms of the coronavirus, the CDC recommends you separate the employee from other employees and immediately send them home.
In this situation, the CDC encourages employers to take measures to deep clean surfaces to prevent the spread.
Question: What are symptoms of the coronavirus?
Answer: According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms are similar to those of influenza and include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Question: Can I ask whether an employee has recently traveled to a county listed on the CDCs Traveler’s Health Notices or restrict travel to certain areas?
Answer: It depends. There are federal, state, and local laws to consider here, including the ADA, confidentiality, and anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC’s guidance in instances of a pandemic (which has not been declared for coronavirus as of the date these questions were published), can be instructive; however, the EEOC’s guidance is limited to federal law. You still have to consider any additional state or local law requirements. Generally, if the travel is business travel, the employer may have more leeway and can restrict non-essential business travel to high-risk areas (as determined by the CDC) and can even require employees who have returned from business trips to a high-risk area to work remotely or stay home for a period of time. When the travel is personal, you should proceed with caution or seek the advice of legal counsel.
Question: Can I have employees work remotely?
Answer: Yes. This is also something the CDC encourages. If there is a risk of exposure to your workforce, then consider whether your employees can perform their jobs at home. Remember, nonexempt employees would have to be paid for all hours worked and exempt employees would have to be paid according to applicable law.
Question: What if I have employees who are not sick, don’t have a disability, and refuse to come to work because they are afraid of exposure?
Answer: Some employers are taking a more flexible approach with allowing employees to take paid time off, which the CDC encourages. However, whether the employer is required to pay an employee depends on several factors. If an employee is nonexempt, then an employer may require the employee to use any accrued, available PTO or sick leave time while they are absent. If the employee does not have accrued PTO or sick leave time, then the employer may require the
time off to be unpaid.
If an employee is exempt it will depend on whether the exempt employee has performed any work during the week. If the exempt employee performs any work during the week, then they are required to be paid for the week; however, if they have not performed any work for the week, then the employer may require the employee to use accrued, available PTO or sick leave time while absent. If no time is available, then the time would be unpaid.