Since a major pandemic of this scope has never happened before, there is broadscale confusion for businesses and employees during the quarantine. The CDC has issued guidelines as temporary closure orders remain at the discretion of individual states and counties. These guidelines, if they are not followed, can become lawsuits later on, so businesses will need to remain vigilant during the crisis to ensure the safety of their customers and employees while the United States is still under lockdown.
Preparing Your Business for the Spread of COVID-19
As of right now, several states have issued directives to close all non-essential businesses. What is considered an essential business will differ from state to state. Businesses that remain open, such as grocery stores, gas stations, and even liquor stores are expected to keep their premises in a condition that is safe for employees and customers.
The CDC has issued guidelines on what sorts of measures businesses should take to navigate these unfamiliar waters. OSHA has stated that employees in essential businesses risk low to moderate risk of exposure. But some areas are being hit worse than others right now, so places in which there were very few COVID-19 cases could see a spike in the number of cases soon. This spike would likely coincide with more severe restrictions on businesses including which businesses are allowed to remain open.
Reducing Transmission Among Employees
The CDC and state officials are advising anyone with symptoms of the virus to report the issue to their supervisor and stay at home until they are medically cleared to return to work. Notable symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
Employees who are not showing symptoms but have someone at home who is are advised to speak to their supervisor and follow CDC recommended guidelines to prevent the transmission of the virus to other employees and customers.
Employees who come to work while showing some of the milder symptoms of the virus should be kept separate from other employees. Employers are expected to tell their employees if any employee has been infected with the virus.
Meanwhile, Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act which will offer much-needed relief to those who are not working due to the quarantine.
Educating Employees on Preventing the Spread of COVID-19
Employers should have an action plan in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Employees in essential services are at the front lines and their continued work ensures that supply chains are not broken and goods and services can make their way to Americans.
Employers should tell employees to:
- Stay home if sick
- Report a sick family member in their household
- Wash their hands for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
- Cover their nose and mouth with their elbow when they sneeze or cough
- Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are often touched
- Continue to practice social distancing by remaining 6ft away from each other
Paid Sick Leave
Provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act include a requirement to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave to eligible employees. Eligibility requirements include:
- The employee is ordered to isolate or self-quarantine by the government
- The employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine
- The employee has symptoms of COVID-19
- The employee is caring for someone who is quarantined
- The employee is caring for a child who is home from school
Paid sick leave benefits are being offered to any employee who must care for someone else at this time, be it an older relative or a child who is ordered home from school.
Employers May Not…
In addition to certain requirements imposed by the federal government, employers may not:
- Require an employee to use their own paid sick leave before using paid leave provided under the new legislation
- Require that an employee finds their own replacement if they cannot cover their scheduled hours
- Retaliate against an employee who uses the legislation-mandated sick leave
- Retaliate against an employee who files a legitimate complaint under the act
- Discriminate based on the ethnicity of any employee amid coronavirus fears
Exemptions from the Act
Employers with greater than 500 employees are exempt from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act while companies with fewer than 50 employers can file hardship exemptions if paid sick leave would jeopardize the viability of their business. Petitions must be filed with the secretary of labor.
Adapting to Changing Circumstances
Employers may need to scale back their operations during the virus quarantine. Employers should be prepared to make any arrangements that help slow the spread of the virus. This will mean identifying essential functions during the outbreak and reducing operations to those only. Any work that can be done from home, should be done from home.
Employers are encouraged to offer sick leave policies that are consistent with public efforts to contain the virus. Employers are not being asked to require a firm diagnosis of the virus before allowing employees to take time off.
Call an Employment Law Attorney Today
If you’re worried about keeping apprised of this evolving situation, the attorneys at Sodowsky Law Firm can advise you on best practices. Call today to learn more about how we can help.