As the coronavirus pandemic (as officially declared by the World Health Organization) occupies our daily news feed, many business owners, non-profits and corporations are scrambling to figure out exactly what to do. In the case of small businesses or non-profits they may not have the luxury of telling their employees to work remotely for the next three weeks. On the other hand, they know that the health and safety of their employees is a top priority.
This blog is a summary of steps you may need to take to stay in compliance with employment law, protect your employees, and protect your business. This is an evolving situation, so we suggest checking the official websites we list below to stay informed of any recent updates.
Stay informed and educate employees
- Refer to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), World Health Organization and OSHA for the latest information and guidance about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Certain county and states have taken additional steps to secure public safety. Please check your local health department websites for specific regional information.
- Educate employees on what is known about the virus and how to prevent the spread of illness.
- Implement a communicable illness policy and response plan that may allow for flexible work and telecommuting, minimizing exposure between employees and with the public, and postponing or canceling large meetings or events.
- Follow the CDC guidance on dealing with COVID-19 by actively encouraging sick employees to stay home. If an employee has acute respiratory illness symptoms, send them home immediately. It’s also important to provide information and training to employees on: cough and sneeze etiquette; proper hand hygiene (wash for at least 20 seconds); avoiding close contact with sick people; keeping hands away from their face; not sharing personal items with coworkers; using a tissue to open doors; and sanitizing workspaces. Also, provide hand sanitizer.
Review your sick leave policy especially if your business is either located in California or has employees working remotely in California
- Allow employees to use paid sick leave for COVID-19 related illnesses. However, under California law and in other jurisdictions, you cannot require quarantined workers to exhaust their paid sick leave.
- Do not punish employees for using paid sick leave or for taking time off to care for a sick family member.
- Make other paid leave available if sick leave is exhausted.
- Consult local paid-sick-leave laws that may be more generous than the statewide law.
Inform employees of additional leave/benefits that may be available
Employees with serious conditions stemming from COVID-19 might be covered by The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In California it’s important to keep in mind the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). It’s important to consult your employment counsel as to whether any of these apply to an employee’s situation.
Employees who are unable to work due to COVID-19 exposure may be able to file a disability insurance claim with the EDD (Employment Development Department). In CA, the EDD website has timely and important information on how employees can apply for unemployment insurance or disability coverage. Here’s the link to the CA EDD website: https://www.edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019.htm
Bear in mind that although the EDD requires a physician’s certification, in the current environment medical professionals may be overwhelmed and unable to provide that certification in a timely manner. Allow some flexibility in the turnaround time for those certifications. Workers may also be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if their work hours have been reduced by their employer or the company has temporarily shut down.
Along with health, safety and compliance issues, if you decide to offer telecommuting or require employees to work at a location other than their typical work situation, please be sure to review your company policies before making the change. Also, be sure to keep in mind that you may have to consider wage and hour issues for non-exempt employees as it relates to reporting pay, travel pay and reporting time.
Most of all, remember that employers are responsible for maintaining a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.
This topic is top of mind for many individuals. I suggest being proactive and letting employees know that as a company you are aware of the issues and you have a plan. If you need assistance, please reach out to me.