Coronavirus: 13 Things Employers Should Do to Protect Employees, Customers

With the number of Coronavirus cases increasing daily, many employers wonder what steps can and should be taken to protect their employees and customers, while still complying with California and Federal labor laws.  Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA‘S) guidelines, we’ve compiled the following suggestions to assist employers:

1. Encourage sick employees to stay home. Encourage employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness to stay home until they are fever free for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medicines. This will help control the spread of illness and hopefully assist in the speedy recovery of ill employees.  

2. Consider leave with pay for employees who are asked to stay home.  Non-exempt employees who show signs of illness may not want to go home for fear of losing pay.  If there are concerns about non-exempt employees who appear ill, have a sustained cough, or have shortness of breath, consider sending employees home, with pay. This may also apply for non-exempt employees who return from countries with a CDC warning (e.g., South Korea, Iran, Italy, etc.), but were not currently ordered to remain in quarantine on return (unlike China travelers – who are required to remain in quarantine.) Exempt employees who are ready and willing to work, but are asked by the employer to remain home, must be paid for their time-off, whether or not they perform any work during the day.    

3. Ensure your sick leave policies are flexible.  California and local jurisdictions permit employers to prevent new hires from using paid sick leave until employees have worked for the company for 90 days. With concerns about the Coronavirus, consider eliminating this restriction so employees can stay home without losing pay.  Another option is advancing paid sick leave, if needed.

4. Consider remote working arrangements. If feasible, consider asking employees to work from home to keep them safe and prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. A number of employers have started doing this, like Twitter which asked its entire workforce of 5,000 employees to work from home.  This practice may also help accommodate parents that may have to stay at home with their children in the event of a school shutdown.

5. Do not require a doctor’s note.  California paid sick leave law permits employees to give notice of sick leave either verbally or in writing. This has been interpreted to mean that employers may not condition paid sick leave on an employee providing medical certification. The CDC also cautions employers not to require medical certification confirming the employee is no longer contagious.  Per the CDC, healthcare provider offices and medical facilities will be extremely busy these days and may not be able to provide documentation in a timely manner. 

6. Educate employees about respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene. The CDC has developed educational materials and posters. Employers should educate employees about hand hygiene and coughing and sneezing etiquette.  The CDC also recommends instructing employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol and/or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  

7. Limit physical contact.  You may also consider advising employees that it is ok to avoid hand shaking or high-fives.

8. Provide employees with hand sanitizer and cleaning products. To assist with good hygiene, consider handing out hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes to your employees. 

9. Perform routine environmental cleaning.  The CDC recommends that you routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs.

10. Educate your employees and supervisors.  Communication is key. Clearly advise your employees about policy changes, if any (e.g., permitting employees to work from home, no restrictions on sick leave use, etc.) and educate your supervisors on how to handle employee absences due to Coronavirus, other illness, or school closures. 

11. Limit Travel. If employees travel for work, consider cancelling or postponing non-essential travel. The CDC also provides guidance and recommendations  on travel.

12. Provide SDI information when applicable. Although it is unclear whether California would approve State Disability Insurance (SDI) claims for quarantined employees, employers should provide the SDI pamphlet to quarantined employees, concerning SDI claim process.

13. Do not terminate quarantined employees. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales announced new legislation (AB 3123) that aims to protect quarantined employees from termination. Note that having the Coronavirus (or being suspected of having the Coronavirus) may be considered a disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  Employers are advised not to discriminate, retaliate, or terminate employees who are quarantined due to a diagnosis of Coronavirus or suspected of having Coronavirus.

Sue M. Bendavid, Nicholas Kanter and Tal Burnovski Yeyni exclusively represent employers and management.

This information provides an overview of a specific developing situation. It is not intended to be, and should not be construed as, legal advice for any particular fact or situation.

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