The COVID-19 pandemic has swept across our country, affecting almost every industry sector. Businesses are facing legal and practical employment challenges as they implement measures to prevent the spread of this infectious disease within their job sites.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the threat to the public’s health by COVID-19 is exceptionally high within the United States as well as globally. When this disease is declared a ‘direct threat’ to our workplaces, it shifts the compliance landscape for employers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as with OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Act.)
As an employer it is critical to understand and recognize the evolving situations arising from COVID-19 to help prevent any hysteria among your employees. You should be monitoring CDC updates and continue your risk assessments that are appropriate for your business environment, along with your employee relations.
COVID-19 is a highly communicable disease and is rising potential employment law compliance issues related to:
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
- Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Hour and Wage Laws
- Equivalent State Laws
- ADA and other local equivalents
- Municipal and local paid sick leave laws.
As an employer, you must consider essential practicalities of continuing your business operations through your company policies, contracts, and practices, as well as your collective bargaining agreements.
Checklist to Ensure You are Following Current Guidelines Regarding Employment Law
Current guidelines from leading health organizations apply to all geographic regions where there is a business presence. The guidelines you should be following come from the:
- OSHA- COVID-19 Overview and Resources for Preventing Workplace Exposure
- WHO (World Health Organization) Update on COVID-19 Outbreak
- CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers; Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the ADA
Your checklist to ensure compliance should include:
Circulate Up-to-Date Resources and Information to Your Workforce
As an employer, it is your obligation to give your employees a healthy and safe workplace. You should be communicating with employees to underscore their commitment during this crisis. If they need more information on the disease, you should direct them to the CDC Coronavirus Website, where they can find answers to most questions regarding COVID-19, which are fact-based and will stop the spread of rumors.
The media has shown us that by the spread of misinformation, certain ethnic groups are being discriminated against for the false belief that they caused the outbreak. As an employer, you should be avoiding any form of discrimination in your workplace or harassment based on, among other things, any cultural or ethnic biases. You should also ensure you are handling all medical information received about an individual under strict confidence.
Promote Preventive Workplace Behaviors
As an employer, you should require your employees not to come into work if they are sick, or have knowingly been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 for at least fourteen days. You should also emphasize proper handwashing techniques and coughing etiquette. The CDC has posters available for you to display in your workplace regarding these health issues.
Determine if Telework is Appropriate for Employees
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended telework as being the most effective approach to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Employers are being asked to grant requests for extended telework liberally and are establishing compliance and security protocols for these employees. When you send employees home to perform their work duties, you will need to develop security and compliance protocols for, among other things:
- Expense reimbursements
- Protection of trade secrets
When telework is implemented, you will want to adopt new telework policies and agreements to outline the responsibilities of both you and your employees under this arrangement.
Create Accomodation Guidelines for Leaves
If your business does not allow for telework and you have an employee with a medical condition that places them at a high health risk during the COVID-19 outbreak, they could potentially be entitled to job-protected leave. As an employer, you will need to determine whether you are legally obligated to provide job protection to those not able to report to the workplace.