Beyond Hand Washing: Coronavirus Workplace Issues
March 3, 2020 | Lizanne Foley
Quarantines, furloughs, pandemic–rarely used words now bandied about with regularity. With COVID-19 causing the first US deaths and the virus identified in more places each day, hypotheticals are becoming realities. Below is an update on common issues as of today:
Do I Have to Pay for COVID-19 related Sick Leave? That depends on your policy and your state’s law–if you are paying for sick leave already yes, this illness is no different. The Centers for Disease Control is recommending a more generous sick leave policy as an incentive to keep sick workers away from healthy ones. At this point there is no mandate however to actually revise your policy above your state law requirements on employee sick leave. As always, any changes in policy must be uniformly applied.
There are some wrinkles here–if an employee became ill during work related travel to a high risk area, she may be eligible for workers compensation. If an employee is otherwise eligible for FMLA, use of that leave will be allowed for oneself or to care for a family member under the Act. Finally, employers may be able to let workers to use other paid time (vacation, personal, etc) where no sick time is available. We expect to see this occur if the illness is as widespread as predicted.
Can I Prevent a Suspected Infected Worker from Coming to Work ? You can require an employee to stay home for the quarantine period (14 days) and require a fitness for duty note before return to work. Under this scenario the best practice is to pay for the leave time and any tests or doctors visits required for documentation. Remember to avoid identifying potentially infected workers by race or national origin, or based on a perceived or actual disability with symptoms like COVID-19. Also, maintain employee confidentiality at all times.
Should I Require Employees To Wear a Mask? If you want to train employees in proper mask usage and exempt employees with underlying medical issues who cannot wear a mask, yes. Is it worth it? Probably not. At this point the CDC is not encouraging wide spread mask use as the best deterrent. Health care facilities may be the exception.
What About Pregnant Workers? Under OSHA, all employees have a right to a safe workplace and employers must adopt neutral policies that protect everyone equally. So far, the government has not identified pregnant workers at greater risk than the general population. If that were to change and the government released guidance, employers would need to follow the government’s lead. Issues like this show why checking the CDC site regularly is so important.
More questions? Oh yes, there will be plenty. Feel free to contact us. We can help.
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