Is Coronavirus a hoax or a sure sign that the apocalypse is near? Who knows!!! Certainly not this lawyer. I went to law school for a reason … there was no chance I’d ever make it as a doctor. I pass out at the sight (or even thought) of blood. Seriously. Just ask my wife. I’m sure she would be happy to tell you the story. Be prepared for a good laugh.
The most popular question our employment attorneys received this week has been: “How should we address the Coronavirus at work?” (Ironically, no one has asked about the flu!) Our approach to dealing with this is similar to our approach with the practice of law … practical. The answer varies by client. A small company with only local employees who do not travel needs a different approach than a national or international company with employees who travel across the world. Most companies fall somewhere in the middle. Regardless of which category your company fits, the best advice we can offer is “Keep it simple. Be practical.”
Unless you’ve lost all internet and TV access for the last week, you’ve already seen the CDC’s recommendations, (Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Don’t share a drink with someone who has Coronavirus.) Every law firm across the country has issued a “high alert” newsletter essentially regurgitating the CDC’s suggestions. We’re not jumping on that bandwagon. As you might expect, Graydon’s approach is more … practical. Here are a few tips that you might actually use that go beyond good hygiene:
- If your employees are scheduled to travel to China, Japan, Italy or any other country with high outbreak rates, probably best to postpone that trip.
- What if the travel is to a “conference” in Vegas? No problem.
- What if your employees don’t want to go to Vegas because they’re afraid of getting sick? Be practical. If the conference is essential to your business, OK to require them to go. If not essential, consider giving them a pass on this one.
- If your employee recently returned from a cruise in China, Italy or Japan, or has been around infected individuals, consider requiring that they work from home for a couple weeks to ensure that they’re not spreading germs across the office.
- Consider restricting access to your facility if the visitor has been to a restricted country or has been near people infected with the Coronavirus.
- Consider allowing temporary flexibility for sick employees. While Coronavirus has not hit our region, the flu is running rampant right now. Would you rather a sick employee stay home or come to work and infect the office?
- Consider allowing employees to work from home during times of a breakout.
- Non-Exempt employees are generally not entitled to pay if they do not work (although some states may have paid leave laws that create exceptions).
- Exempt employees may (or may not) be entitled to pay, depending upon the circumstances. Check with legal counsel before denying pay to an exempt employee.
- If the employee has sick/PTO/vacation time available, let them use it.
Do We Need a “Coronavirus” Policy?
- It would be impossible for businesses to have a policy to address individual illnesses. However, smart businesses have procedures in place to address situations where seasonal illnesses impact company operations. Be flexible. What worked last year might not work this year.
ADA / FMLA Issues
- Whenever dealing with absent employees, consider whether the absence may be related to a disability or FMLA-qualifying event. While the typical flu (and Coronavirus) is likely not a disability or serious health condition, it is possible that the illness could evolve into a covered condition.
When in Doubt …
- Use common sense.
- Reach out to your employment attorney with any illness-related legal questions. We’re here to help!
- And don’t forget … keep plenty of lime wedges in the fridge in case you get quarantined.