Created March 13, 2020
Disclaimer: This information is intended to provide general human resource advice related to COVID-19. However, the information available changes on a daily basis. For answers to your specific questions or to seek legal advice, please seek the latest information from the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), the United States Department of Health and Human Services the World Health Organization (WHO), or contact your employment lawyer.
Where should an employer go to get up-to-date information on how to handle employee inquiries?
One great source is the EEOC. This EEOC guidance dated October 9, 2009, provides information about the ADA and pandemic planning in the workplace. The guidance focuses on implementing preparedness strategies in the event of a pandemic. It also provides answers about questions asked in the workplace during Coronavirus-like events such as:
- How much information may an employer request from an employee who calls in sick, in order to protect the rest of its workforce during a Coronavirus-like event?
- When may an ADA-covered employer take the body temperature of employees during a Coronavirus-like event?
- Does the ADA allow employers to require employees to stay home if they have symptoms?
- When employees return to work, does the ADA allow employers to require doctors' notes certifying their fitness for duty?
A second great source is the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers.
May an employer encourage or require employees to telecommute?
Yes. Telework is recognized as an effective infection-control strategy. However, employers need to be cognizant that all aspects of the Fair Labor Standards Act and state workers’ compensation laws continue to apply. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a telework policy that clearly outlines the expectations of the employer, and to define whether the telework is expected only during a specific time period or on an ongoing basis. Further, an employer’s information technology specialists need to be involved to ensure the security of any company data. If you are in the medical field, you need to ensure compliance with any industry-specific laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
May an employer require employees to use hygiene and infection-control practices?
Yes. In fact, there are many industries where these practices are commonplace and required as part of a daily job. The CDC has hand hygiene standards for the healthcare setting, as well as guidelines for hand hygiene in all other types of industries.
As an employer, how involved should I be in ensuring the cleanliness of my office?
For the health of all employees and visitors to your office, it is a good idea for you to understand how and when the office space is cleaned and what products are used. The CDC has detailed guidelines on cleaning and disinfection for all sorts of infection-control practices. For example, there is a guideline to prevent Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and another for coronavirus. There are also guidelines for employers in the healthcare industry. If you contract cleaning responsibilities to a third-party vendor, it is a good idea to reach out to that vendor for assurance that they are following the CDC’s guidelines.
My employee has a long-scheduled vacation to an affected area or to take a cruise. May I require that they skip the vacation?
Rather than requiring that they skip the vacation, a better practice would be to tell employees the consequence of choosing to take such a vacation or cruise. You do have the right to tell the employee before he or she leaves that he or she will be required to stay out of the office for 14 fever-free days after the last day of the vacation or cruise to prevent the possible spread of infection and whether he or she will be permitted to telework during that period. Providing that information ahead of time gives the employee the ability to make an educated choice.
Six employees are scheduled to attend a conference which is already paid for. May I require that the employees attend the conference?
Not only would this create a morale problem, taking any action which is likely to put your employees in harm’s way can create legal problems. It would be a better idea to delay the conference. If you require an employee to travel, and the employee becomes ill, depending on your state’s workers’ compensation laws, you may be required to pay medical and indemnity benefits for that illness.