covid-19 legal advice

Businesses Must Do What They Can To Avoid Legal Jeopardy During COVID-19 Crisis

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Recommended Strategies to Help Curtail the Spread of COVID-19

By Robert G. Brody and Mark J. Taglia

The following strategies are for employers to help curtail the spread of COVID-19 and are based on recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) with an extra dose of practicality.

Actively Encourage Employees Who Might be Sick to Stay Home.

  • Make sure employees are aware of your sick leave policies and that your policies are consistent with current public health guidelines.
  • Expand sick leave to cover employees who are not sick but might be.
  • Employees who were sick should stay home until they are symptom free (including fever) for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever reducing medication.
  • Maintain flexible work policies to allow employees to stay home to care for sick family members.

Protecting Employees Who are at Work.

  • Send sick employees home once they begin to display acute respiratory symptoms (i.e. cough or shortness of breath). This should not be an option.
  • Encourage hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette (i.e. covering one’s mouth when they cough).
  • Provide tissues, alcohol based hand rubs, soap and water and remind employees where these facilities are located if you have provided new locations with hand cleaning supplies and the like. .
  • Display posters near the entrance to your offices and in break rooms encouraging hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and staying home when employees are sick.

Perform Routine Cleaning.

  • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in your offices.
  • Provide disposable wipes for employees to use to clean frequently used items they come into contact with throughout the day.
  • Arrange for regular deep cleaning if possible.

International Travel.

  • Check with the CDC’s Traveler Health Notices before any international travel. Avoid travel if at all possible.
  • Encourage employees to check themselves for any acute respiratory symptoms before traveling.
  • Have any employee who becomes sick while traveling seek healthcare assistance and notify their supervisor.
  • If any employee becomes sick oversees, the U.S. Consular Office can help locate healthcare services.

Additional Considerations.

  • Employees with sick housemates should notify their supervisor and refer to current CDC guidelines on how to conduct a self-risk assessment.
  • Lastly, if you do have an employee who tests positive for COVID-19, you must inform fellow employees of any possible exposure. However, you must maintain the confidentiality of the infected employee as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”).

Planning for the Pandemic

Based on current forecasts, the full impact of the pandemic has yet to hit the U.S.  It is important as a prudent employer to plan ahead.  The following are some items to keep in mind when planning:

  • Consider how to prevent and limit spread within your office while maintaining business operations (remote operations are best).
  • Plan for potential high absenteeism due to illness of employees and their family members.
  • Prepare for school closures and how that will impact your business.
  • Inform employees that some individuals are at greater risk than others for contracting the disease (including older employees and those with chronic medical conditions).
  • Identify essential job functions within your organization and cross train personnel to perform those functions.
  • For businesses with multiple locations, assess the similarities and differences of each office to determine how to best utilize the resources you have should some of your operations be closed.
  • Ensure your response plan is flexible and involve your employees in its design process to limit any gaps. Remember, inclusion will give extra comfort to your team as they will see firsthand you are planning to protect everyone and the business.
  • Share your plan in advance with your employees.
  • Consider sharing your plan with other businesses and organizations in your area who may not have planned ahead.

Final Recommendations

Now is a good time to review your HR policies and Employee Handbooks to make sure your policies are consistent with current public health recommendations, state and federal laws.

The CDC, Department of Labor, and Equal Opportunity Commission are excellent resources for employers to use to stay up to date with the latest on the Coronavirus and its impact on businesses.

Next week, in part two of our series, we will be looking at specific laws employers should know when dealing with employees during the coronavirus pandemic.

Robert G. Brody is Founder and Managing Member and Mark J. Taglia is Counsel at the law firm Brody and Associates, LLC. and or phone (203) 454-0560.