Planning for the Coronavirus in the Workplace
With the recent news that there are now Coronavirus cases coast to coast, how to avoid getting infected is undoubtedly on everyone’s mind. Employers and employees alike are battling how to deal with the Coronavirus in the workplace, from how to avoid infection, to how to handle absences from quarantined or infected employees. Here are a few tips on how to handle these questions:
- Know the symptoms. Make sure your workforce is educated on the symptoms, so they know when to stay home or see a doctor. Information can be found on the World Health Organization’s website, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019, as well as the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html. Also, it is important to let employees know that they can stay home if they are exhibiting symptoms without receiving disciplinary action against them.
- Take Precautionary Measures. Educate your workforce on how to take precautionary measures. Here are a few, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:
- Wash hands, use disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer (employers can make this available throughout the office);
- Don’t shake hands;
- Open and close doors using closed fists or hips, if possible;
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue;
- For employees more susceptible to infection (i.e. health care industry or heavy foot traffic) – use latex or nitrile disposable latex gloves when dealing with a lot of people or areas where they may come in contact with contaminated areas.
- A remote workforce? Are there any employees who can work remotely? If not currently, are there easy ways to make this possible? While it may not be possible for all employees, allowing some employees to work from home may (1) relieve fears, and (2) reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading. If things escalate, it may be a good idea to have an emergency work from home policy in place, to the extent possible.
- Limit Unnecessary Travel. Limiting exposure to public places like airports may help reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Consider limiting business travel to events that are “necessary.” Can in-person meetings be done over the phone or video-conference? Or can meetings be postponed? This may be particularly relevant if the travel involves cities or counties with current cases.
- Know the law and adapt your policies. The Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California Family Rights Act (CFRA) require employers of 50 or more employees to provide leave to employees with serious health conditions, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) also require employers with 15 or more, and 5 or more employees, respectively, to accommodate employees with disabilities or perceived disabilities. It is unclear whether an employee infected, or under quarantine, would fall under the protections of the ADA and FEHA, but employers should nevertheless consider offering these accommodations, to the extent possible. It is better to have an employee who may be infected stay home and know that his or her job is secure, than go to work infected for fear of losing his or her job.
This is not intended to instill panic; this is a developing issue, and the above is a non-exhaustive list of ideas to help businesses prevent disruption and plan for a more widespread outbreak of the Coronavirus or similar communicable diseases. If you have any concerns about how to handle issues surrounding the Coronavirus in the workplace, feel free to contact us.