Employers’ Best Practices for Managing Responses to the Coronavirus

Last updated March 16, 2020

The Coronavirus (“COVID-19” or “Coronavirus”), first detected in Wuhan, China in December of 2019, has rapidly spread across the globe, including to the United States. According to the World Health Organization, as of March 15, 2020, it has infected 153,517 people worldwide and resulted in 5,735 deaths, and these figures continue to escalate. Employers are obligated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to provide a workplace free of known safety and health hazards. Thus, employers should take measures to provide a safe workplace for employees and be prepared to respond to employee concerns.

Subject to where your business and employees are located and any applicable government issued mandates, below are some best practices for employers to consider implementing.

Promote a Safe and Healthy Workplace

  • Consult the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, which provides steps employers can take to help protect their workforce.
  • Practice “social distancing” such as greeting without shaking hands, having telephone or video conferences rather than in-person meetings, and permitting employees to work remotely from home where it is feasible and does not create an undue burden for the employer.
  • Encourage healthy etiquette and hygiene by all employees. Instruct employees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and to sneeze and cough into tissues or their sleeve.
  • Provide tissues and alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the workplace, and have no-touch disposal receptacles available.
  • Routinely clean and sanitize all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, doorknobs, keyboards, telephones and touchscreens.
  • Actively encourage any sick employees to stay at home. If an employee with symptoms of respiratory illness arrives at work or symptoms develop during the day, immediately send that employee home.
  • If an employee advises that they have tested positive for COVID-19 or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive, require that employee to self-quarantine at home for 14 days, the incubation period for the Coronavirus, before returning to work. You should also send home all employees who worked closely with an infected employee for a 14-day period of time to ensure the infection does not spread and have a cleaning company undertake a deep cleaning of the affected workspaces.
  • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance, and that employees are aware of these policies. Congress is currently considering the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that, if passed, will require a certain amount of paid leave be provided to deal with national health emergencies such as COVID-19.

Addressing Travel Concerns

  • Employers and employees should regularly check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notice for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which employees are expecting to travel.
  • Update internal travel approval systems so that management knows where all employees are traveling.
  • Suspend business travel to the affected countries, and do not require employees to travel internationally unless absolutely necessary. If possible and will not have a major impact on your business, consider suspending all business travel, even domestic. However, note that employers cannot prohibit employees from personal travel, even to areas known to be affected by the Coronavirus.
  • The federal government and some state and local governments have placed restrictions on entry to the United States from certain countries. For individuals returning from certain countries designated by the CDC as Level 3, employees must be quarantined for a period of 14 days. Implement and disseminate a policy requiring employees to self-quarantine at home for 14-days upon return from countries that are deemed very high risk for COVID-19, or if the employee suspects they have been exposed to the virus.
  • If an employee objects to traveling, even domestically, carefully weigh the employee’s concerns, the risk of actual exposure and the company’s business needs to determine whether to cancel the trip or provide an alternative such as video conferencing, if practicable.
  • Be prepared to be flexible.

Keep the Company and Employees Informed

  • Advise employees that the company is monitoring the Coronavirus situation and taking appropriate precautions.
  • Identify a point person, preferably someone in human resources, to whom employees should direct questions and concerns.
  • Implement and disseminate a policy requiring employees to notify the designated point person immediately if the employee, a family member or a person with whom the employee has close contact has recently traveled to any of the high risk countries or has been exposed to or contracted COVID-19 so that the company can provide them with appropriate support.
  • Assure employees that the company will maintain the confidentiality of the information employees provide with regard to COVID-19, and that such information will only be shared on a need-to-know basis or as required by law.
  • If you learn that an employee tested positive for COVID-19, inform other employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but again, be sure to maintain confidentiality as to the identity of the infected employee.
  • If an employee discloses that they have a medical condition that causes greater susceptibility to the virus or the employee has increased anxiety about the virus, engage in the interactive process to determine which accommodations are available to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Permit employees to stay home and care for a sick family member if the family member has symptoms of COVID-19. A COVID-19 diagnosis may qualify as a “serious health condition” under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act or its state law equivalent.
  • Do not retaliate against any employee who raises concerns about COVID-19. Federal and state law protect individuals from retaliation for raising safety concerns in the workplace.
  • Remind employees that company policies, including anti-discrimination and non-harassment policies, as well as communicable diseases policies, apply.

For additional information pertaining to the coronavirus outbreak, please visit CSG’s COVID-19 Resource Center.

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