As concerns over the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) heightens in the U.S., many employers are left wondering how it will affect their business. How can you help to protect yourself and your employees? Are employees entitled to certain benefits and protections if they contract the virus? How can you maintain productivity if your employees fall ill?
Unfortunately, many employees show up for work even when they do not feel well. Financial obligations and the pressure of work responsibilities make it difficult for many to stay home. We all have been there, but the coronavirus is particularly dangerous and potentially fatal to people with preexisting medical conditions and the elderly. For that reason, we all need to take extra precautions to avoid contracting and spreading the virus.
Beyond avoiding exposure to the virus, the following steps should be taken to protect your workplace:
- Encourage employees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid handshakes
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Tell your employees to stay home if they are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
If an employee contracts the coronavirus they may be entitled to certain benefits and protections by law. This is the time for employers to review their sick-leave policies and make adjustments or implement remote work practices to maintain productivity if employees need to stay home.
Here are some questions employers may have regarding coronavirus and business policies and laws.
Does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) apply to employees or immediate family members who contract coronavirus?
Yes. If FMLA applies to the employer, coronavirus would qualify as a “serious health condition” under FMLA, allowing an employee to take FMLA leave if either the employee or an immediate family member contracts the disease. The employee would be entitled to job reinstatement as well. State law may provide additional leave benefits.
Would I need to pay workers’ compensation for employees who contract coronavirus?
Yes. If an employee contracts the disease in the course of their employment they would be entitled to workers compensation benefits. Employers should seek the advice of a competent infectious disease medical professional to determine whether the disease is work-related.
Would I need to pay my employee’s disability benefits if they contract the coronavirus?
Yes. If such payments are provided in an employer’s benefit plan, the employee would be entitled to disability benefits.
Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) restrict how I interact with my employees due to the coronavirus?
The ADA protects qualified employees with disabilities from discrimination. A disability may be a chronic physical condition, such as difficulty breathing. Employees who have contracted the virus must be treated the same as non-infected employees if the infected employees can perform their essential job functions. But when it comes to a global health crisis like the coronavirus, if there’s a possibility an employee poses a health or safety threat to the workforce, the employer may place the employee on leave or require them to be medically examined before returning to work.
Would I need to pay employees who go on leave during a quarantine period or because they have contracted coronavirus?
Maybe. Hourly employees work at-will and are not guaranteed wages or hours and do not need to be paid. Exempt employees do not have to be paid if they are sent home for an entire workweek. However, if exempt workers work for part of the workweek, they will have to be paid for the entire week.
Is there an obligation to accommodate employees who do not want to work in public-facing positions due to the risk of infection?
If the employer can establish that there is no basis for any exposure to the disease, the employee does not have to be paid during the time period the employee refuses to work.
The foregoing information is provided based on currently known information. The progress of this disease is constantly evolving and subject to change. If you have any questions about this topic or any other HR related questions, we are happy to help. Click the link below to schedule your free consultation.