As we are all aware, COVID-19 has affected each and every one of us. Employers are particularly impacted, with serious concerns not only for the health and well-being of themselves, their families and workers but also for their businesses. Some common questions arising for employers are: What do I do if an employee becomes sick with the coronavirus? What do I do when employees who are either working remotely or are laid off are allowed to return to work but some are or have been sick? What advice can I give employees regarding how to cope during these unprecedented times?
Overall, the best and most efficient tactic for protecting your business during the crisis is to consult an employment lawyer who can help wade through these and other issues facing employers.
In terms of handling sick employees, workplace anti-discrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) have rules and regulations for dealing with employees who fall ill, employees who need a workplace accommodation, what an employer can and cannot ask an employee regarding a potential illness, etc. While the situation is fluid and can change from day to day, one place to find guidance is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) publication, “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act,” which was written during the H1N1 outbreak but has relevant information for dealing with COVID-19. The publication “identifies established ADA principles that are relevant to questions frequently asked about workplace pandemic planning” and was recently updated to address COVID-19 as well. A knowledgeable employment attorney can walk you through the publication and the recommendations there as well as other federal, state and local guidelines that could apply to you and your business.
In addition to the legal and physical health issues impacting employees due to COVID-19, employers should also be concerned with the mental health and wellness of their employees during this time. Many employers offer wellness and psychological counseling to their employees and teams should be reminded of these avenues for support. Employers should also check with their business’s insurance broker as insurance companies are offering new products during the pandemic, such as policies that cover a doctor-ordered quarantine as a disability, setting up employers with telemedicine, increasing coverage for employers with insufficient or no medical coverage for employees, and/or adding a quarantine benefit rider to existing policies.
It goes without saying that these are challenging and rapidly changing times. Employers and employees have a myriad of questions and consultation with a knowledgeable employment lawyer can go a long way to answering these questions and providing peace of mind.