As the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) develops, here is what employers need to know about this upper respiratory infection that has spread internationally from Wuhan, China to the United States and other countries.
Maintain a Safer Workplace
Employers can increase workplace safety by following the coronavirus guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and the influenza pandemic guidelines published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”).
For example, according to the CDC and OSHA guidelines, employers should take precautions like encouraging sick employees to stay home, including by modifying policies to liberalize leave. As another example, employers should provide resources to employees, including keeping hand soap and sanitizer stocked and available.
Avoid Discrimination Claims and Workplace Leave Law Violations
Employees may have a need to know if someone in the workplace has been diagnosed with coronavirus. The identity of a person diagnosed with coronavirus however should be kept confidential under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Employers covered by the ADA (and state or local disability protections) should be careful to avoid discrimination claims by ensuring confidentiality for an employee who contracts the disease.
In addition, eligible employees of covered employers should be granted available leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, if they or family members contract coronavirus. Leave may also be available under state and local laws. For example, the New York Paid Family Leave Benefits Law would apply if an employee’s family member contracted coronavirus.
Curtail Non-Essential Employee Travel
As a corollary to maintaining a safer workplace, employers should curtail non-essential travel to reduce the potential of employee exposure to the coronavirus while traveling for work. The CDC has issued travel notices discouraging non-essential travel to China and certain other countries abroad in Asia and Europe.
Employers should remain informed. To begin with, employers should review the CDC coronavirus guidelines, entitled “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), February 2020,” which are available online (linked here). Employers should also review the OSHA influenza pandemic guidelines, entitled “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic,” available online (linked here).