Where COVID-19 and Employment Law Intersect Part I: Workplace Safety – What Employers Need to Know
March 20, 2020
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, employers throughout Florida and the nation are faced with difficult decisions about whether to reduce their work force, temporarily close offices and/or remain open for business (if permitted by public officials and orders) while allowing employees to work from home. In this multi-part series, we will be discussing the many facets of employment law and the workplace affected by the pandemic.
For businesses that are permitted and choose to remain open that have not been ordered to close, preparing the workplace and taking measures to increase employee safety is paramount. For those that have been forced to close, once businesses are permitted to open – employers will need to address their existing policies and consider taking measures to address workplace safety in light of the current events. Employers will also need to ensure that their current sick policies align with public health guidance on COVID-19, as well as any other public health concerns.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued official guidance (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf) on preparing the workplace for coronavirus. Suggestions include:
- Developing an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
- Preparing to Implement Basic Infection Prevention Measures (such as handwashing, respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes) and not sharing workspaces)
- Developing Policies and Procedures for Prompt Identification and Isolation of Sick People, if Appropriate
- Developing, Implementing, and Communicating about Workplace Flexibilities and Protections
Click here (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf) to read the guide in its entirety.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued interim guidance (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html) for businesses and employers aimed at helping to prevent workplace exposures in non-healthcare settings. Issues employers will need to consider and address include:
- Actively encouraging sick employees to stay home. Employers should advise employees exhibiting any symptoms of illness not to report to work. In that regard, employers should ensure that their sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance.
- How to handle employees who come to work exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Coronavirus symptoms include fever, coughing and shortness of breath. If an employee reports to work with any of these symptoms, the CDC advises employers to separate the sick employee and immediately send the employee home. Employees who have been ill should not return to work until they have been symptom-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medication.
- Informing fellow employees if a sick employee tests positive for the coronavirus. If an employee is confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, the CDC has advised employers to inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to the virus. Employers must, however, maintain confidentiality of the infected employee as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It may also be prudent to inform potentially exposed clients, vendors or other building tenants.
- Performing routine cleaning of the workplace. All frequently handled spaces in the work environment, such as countertops, door handles and individual workstations, should be cleaned regularly. Employers should also consider providing employees with disposable wipes so that employees can wipe down surfaces themselves before using them.
- How to handle employees who come into close contact with potentially infected persons. If an employee has been in close contact (that is, within six feet) with a sick employee, or has advised that he or she may have otherwise been exposed to the coronavirus, it would be prudent for employers to send such an employee home to self-quarantine for 14 days.
- Making thermometers available to employees for free at the workplace. Employers may provide free thermometers for employee use as long as employers do not require employees to take their temperatures. Employers who are considering this measure must also take measures to ensure proper sanitization of these instruments to mitigate the risk of passing any possible infections between employees.
If you need assistance in reviewing or revising your business’ current workplace policies to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, consider consulting an experienced labor and employment lawyer. The AV-rated attorneys at Chane Socarras, PLLC regularly handle labor and employment matters on behalf of employers. For more information, click here to contact the business litigation firm of Chane Socarras, PLLC or call us at (561) 309-3190.
*This information is for general guidance only and is dated as of March 23, 2020. This article will not be updated regularly to reflect any changes in guidance from the CDC or OSHA as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve – so please check those websites for any updates.*