Preparing Your Workplace for the Coronavirus

The recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around the world has been in the news often the last few months, especially more recently since multiple people in the United States have now been diagnosed with the virus.  As an employer, there are a few things that you can do to protect your workforce and help prevent the spread of the virus in the event your employees are diagnosed, or exposed to someone who has been diagnosed, with the virus:

  • Encourage employees to stay home when they are ill. This gives employees a chance to rest and prevents the spread of viruses in the workplace. If an employee has a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit they should not return to work until at least 24 hours after the fever breaks.
  • Allow employees to work remotely when possible. Be sure that proper technology and communication tools are available so that employees working from home can continue their regular work from outside of the office.
  • Cancel travel plans to areas impacted by the virus (for example, China, South Korea, Italy).
  • For workers that return home after traveling to an area impacted by the virus, it may be a good idea to have the employee work from home for a period of time to be sure that no symptoms of the virus present after arriving home.
  • Consider canceling or postponing meetings or conferences that would bring large groups of individuals together.
  • Have common areas, like break rooms and restrooms, cleaned more frequently with disinfectant to prevent the spread of germs.

You should familiarize yourself with local or state leave laws that require paid leave in the event your employee or a covered relative (such as spouse or child) becomes ill or in the event of potential school closings.

Many employers have policies in place stating that a physician’s note is required for employee absences of three or more days. At this time the CDC is recommending that employers do not require employees to provide a letter from a physician to excuse their absences since medical providers are likely to be overwhelmed with requests if the virus does spread.

Costs associated with the testing and treatment of the virus are in flux. Only New York has made it mandatory for health insurance companies to cover treatment for the coronavirus at no cost to the insured.  Testing for COVID-19 at public health laboratories also has no charge to individuals. For more information on the cost of coronavirus, read this article by the Wall Street Journal: Coronavirus Costs: Who’s Paying for All This?

If one of your employees is diagnosed with COVID-19, there are additional considerations and steps that should be taken:

  • Employee privacy needs to be protected based on the rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Generally only employees who “need to know” about another employee’s condition should be given that information. However, with the current public health issue, you may have an obligation to let others in your workplace know that a colleague has tested positive for the virus.
  • Require the employee to not return to work for the duration of their illness while they are still contagious. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers take reasonable precautions to keep their employees and their workplace safe from situations, like COVID-19, that could potentially cause serious physical harm or death.
  • Employers are advised to follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which are currently being updated daily, in the event an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

For more information for businesses, the CDC has provided some online resources such as its Guidance for Businesses and Employers and Risk Assessment page. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also recently published “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19” which provides additional helpful information for employers.