by Stephanie West
Are you one of those people that washes your hands every chance you get in order to ward off Coronavirus? And, are you well-stocked at home and ready to be quarantined for a month if necessary?
Are you someone who thinks this Coronavirus scare is a bunch of brouhaha about nothing?
Whichever type of person you are, Coronavirus (COVID-19) will Impact you whether you are freaked out or not. In many stores, medicines, bleach and even popular canned goods can’t be had. Travel is affected. Conferences are being cancelled right and left. Offices and schools are closing…new rules everywhere you look and they change day by day. (Today, it was the NBA, March Madness and Broadway!)
What is COVID-19 anyway? It is believed that COVID-19 is a virus that was originally contracted from an animal and then transmitted from human to human. Its symptoms range from mild to severe respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the virus has led to pneumonia and kidney failure and has resulted in an increasing number of deaths. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) believes at this time, that symptoms may appear within two to fourteen days after exposure. However, some infected individuals have shown little to no symptoms at all.
What is there to be done in the workplace? What if we get quarantined? As business owners, we must find a way not only to have our employees work from home (the easy part for some) but to have the infrastructure work off-site as well. Employees are worried and want to know we have a plan. So, show them you do.
Following are some guidelines and suggestions from the CDC:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness should stay home and not come back to work until they are free of fever (100.4 or greater using a thermometer) and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines, like cough suppressants.
- Your sick leave policies should be flexible and consistent with public health guidance and make sure that your employees are aware of them.
- Companies that provide contract employees to your firm should be both aware of your policies and follow them.
- Don’t require a note from a healthcare provider for an employee to return to work during this time. Health providers are too busy to provide these notes and they might not be able to provide them in a timely fashion.
- Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Be aware that this might be a more frequent occurrence during these times.
- Separate sick employees
- The CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms, like a cough, shortness of breath, etc. upon arrival to work or become sick during the day, should be separated from other employees and should be sent home immediately.
- Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or use an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is readily available).
- Respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees:
- Provide tissues and no touch disposal receptacles for your employees.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-base hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- 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.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning:
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs.
- No addition disinfection is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (doorknobs, keyboards, desks, remotes) can be wiped before each use.
- Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps:
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html)for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel.
- Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
- If outside the US, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or consult a healthcare provide or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A US consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, US embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private US citizens overseas.
- Additional Measures in Response to Currently Occurring Sporadic Importations of the COVID-19:
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19, should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of the possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplaces but maintain confidentiality as to the identity of the person, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
Speaking of the ADA, what are the special requirements under the ADA during a pandemic? Even though seemingly innocent questions asked about an employee’s health for protection purposes might seem alright to you, it’s not alright according to the ADA. Following are some things to watch out for:
- Employees with disabilities should be included in planning discussions and employer communications concerning pandemic preparedness. Those communications should be accessible to disabled employees.
- You may not ask any disability-related questions specifically, when figuring which employees might not be available during a pandemic. You may ask questions that are not disability-related such as: who may have issues with transportation or child-care or simple yes or no answers where a detailed description of which item is the problem is not stated specifically.
The basic rule here is to treat the disabled person the same as you would treat any other employee, unless they ask for a special accommodation. Then you must assess whether the accommodation is reasonable in the situation. For example, if the employee asks to work at home, the job can be done at home, and the workplace could be a hazard to them, that is a reasonable accommodation to the employee.
As this pandemic ebbs and flows, winds and grows and hopefully dies out soon, be prepared with a plan that works for your company. Use the CDC as a guide. Clearly, these suggested steps won’t work for all companies. Get a team together (if you haven’t already done so) and make decisions about how you will handle situations as they arise.
At DiMuroGinsberg, we stand ready to provide advice and assistance should it prove necessary as you make steps to combat the Coronavirus We can help you make sure your work place is a safe environment within which your employees will be working during these uncertain times. Please feel free to contact one of our attorneys about matters that may arise.
Good luck and keep washing your hands!