Employment Law

Responding to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak: What Should Employers Be Doing?

Published by Ron Rolleri on March 11, 2020

The Coronavirus has hit home, and employers are faced with more questions than answers. Here are some guidelines to consider to keep employees and customers safe.

As many have expected, the Coronavirus has now hit home, with school closings and reports of affected individuals growing by the day. Fortunately, it appears that the vast majority of people who contract the virus will not become seriously ill. However, to a large extent, this is uncharted territory, and questions abound as to what to do. This is particularly true for employers trying to balance the needs of their business with the obligation to keep their employees and customers safe.

In response to these concerns, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) has published Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers (the “Interim Guidance”). The Interim Guidance advises employers to:

  • Encourage healthy practices, such as urging employees to clean their hands often with alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;

  • Encourage sick employees to stay home;

  • Send employees home if they appear to be sick or appear to have symptoms of respiratory illness; and

  • Perform routine environmental cleaning, and provide disposable wipes so that employees can wipe down commonly used surfaces. 

In addition, the Interim Guidance states that:

  • Employees should notify their employer if the employee’s family member is sick at home with COVID-19;

  • If an employee is confirmed to have the Coronavirus, “employers should inform fellow employees of the possible exposure to COVID-19,” while maintaining the confidentiality of health information pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act; and

  • Any employees who have had close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19 infection should remain away from work until the potential 14-day incubation period has expired.

In light of the above, employers should consider flexible working arrangements, including staggered shifts and allowing employees to work remotely. Thus, employers should think about any IT needs to support a remote workforce. For employees who cannot work from home, employers may wish to consider—based on their vacation, sick, and/or time off policies and applicable law—whether to apply such paid time or to provide pay to quarantined employees separate and apart from the employee’s accrued time off. In addition, if employees travel regularly for business reasons, employers should consider whether such travel is essential at this time.

The CDC has also published specific guidance for Health Care Professionals, as these individuals are subject to a higher level of risk, given their potential exposure to the virus.

Finally, it is crucial that employers keep their employees informed as to what is being done to address the outbreak. Employees may be worried—and rightfully so—about how all of this is going to affect their employment. Employers should keep the lines of communication open, and let employees know what is expected of them, and what they can expect from the employer.

For more information on how the Coronavirus outbreak may impact your business, including privacy considerations and wage/hour questions, contact Ron Rolleri at ron@rollerilaw.com.

Ron Rolleri

Written by Ron Rolleri

After serving as counsel for over two decades at several large, international corporations, Ron Rolleri now devotes his practice to working closely with smaller and mid-size businesses, advising on issues including employment law, business formation, regulatory compliance, contract negotiation, and business acquisition/sale.