None of us want to contemplate that the COVID-19 virus will spread to the extent that we experience quarantines, school closings, or work places being shut down. But what if it does? As an employer, are you prepared? What are your legal obligations?
First and foremost, you can be proactive now.
- Tell your employees that if they have been exposed to people with symptoms, or have flu-like symptoms themselves, stay home. Under Arizona law, most employers are required to provide paid sick time. Make sure employees know that they should use it. Consider being generous and let employees borrow from future paid sick time accruals. An ounce of prevention….
- Urge everyone in the workplace to wash their hands – often. Soap and water are fine. Consider providing hand-sanitizer with a high alcohol content – at least 60%.
- If schools are closed due to the health risk, that entitles an employee to use paid sick time.
- Ask employees to keep you informed about travel to China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, and other hot spots as they develop. Strongly consider requiring workers who have traveled to such locations, or that have close family that have done so, to work from home for at least two weeks, which is the current consensus incubation period.
- Require a clearance from a medical provider before allowing an infected worker, or a worker who has been exposed to COVID-19, to return to work. There are now, or soon will be, sufficient supplies of coronavirus test kits, so requiring a test should not be a problem.
- While you cannot normally require employees to undergo medical exams, the EEOC has issued a guidance that provides that in the case of a global health emergency, an employer can require an employee to be examined if the employer reasonably believes that the employee poses a direct threat due to possible infection from the coronavirus. The World Health Organization has declared such an emergency.
- Persons who contract COVID-19, or have family members who do, are entitled to FMLA leave, if they otherwise qualify.
- Unless your workforce involves healthcare workers, you may direct them not to wear face masks or respirators. The CDC has determined that only workers dealing with coronavirus patients need to wear face masks or respirators.
- Consider possible work from home options. If you are already set up for that, great. And obviously, some jobs do not have a work from home option – think baristas at Starbucks, retail furniture salespeople, etcetera. However, if your employees could work from home in an emergency, think through what they need to take home with them each day in order to be productive. The office might have to close tomorrow. Consider adding remote computer access if you don’t already have it. For hourly employees, how are you going to take care of recording hours worked? Thinking through these potential issues before there is an emergency is part of being prepared.