We have been fielding many calls this week from employers who are concerned about coronavirus.  In this newsletter, we aim to provide an overview of our recommended practices for our clients.

1.   Encourage Healthy Habits 

The CDC recommends the following healthy habits to limit the spread of coronavirus:

  • Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and after coughing or sneezing;
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available;
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces (keyboards, desks, doorknobs, printers, etc.);
  • Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throwing the tissue into the trash;
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Employers should circulate these recommendations to reinforce healthy behaviors in the workplace.  We also encourage our clients to stock up on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies for office surfaces and to make those supplies readily available to employees. 

2.    Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home

Actively encourage employees to stay home if they are sick.  In today’s work culture, many employees go to work even if they are sick because they fear that they will be penalized for taking time off.  To counteract this tendency, work with supervisors and managers to encourage all employees to stay home if they are sick.  If an employee shows up to work sick, they should be sent home.  Do not penalize employees – formally or informally – for missing work due to illness.

3.    Consider Increasing Sick Leave Above State Requirements

Depending on the state/locality, the legal requirement for sick leave ranges from zero to 40-72 hours per year.  Insufficient sick leave is a major reason why employees come to work even if they are sick.  In addition, the CDC is recommending that workers who have been exposed to coronavirus stay home for at least 14 days.  Employers should consider increasing their sick leave/paid time off allotments to ensure that employees stay home for the duration of their illness.

Employers should also consider granting employees their full allotment of sick leave up front or allowing employees to borrow against their annual sick leave accrual for 2020.

4.   Set Up Remote Work Options

If possible, all employees whose jobs allow it should be equipped to work remotely.  Employees who need to be quarantined due to international travel can work remotely without using PTO.  Other employees may need to work remotely due to a sick child or family member.  And if an outbreak does occur, it may be necessary to close offices, making remote work even more critical.

5.   Waive Doctor’s Note Requirements

Employers should consider waiving any doctor’s note requirements for sick leave.  Employees may have to pay out of pocket for a doctor’s visit and may be reluctant to miss work if they know they will need to pay for a doctor’s note.  In addition, the CDC anticipates that hospitals and medical providers will be overwhelmed with patients and not able to provide notes.  We recommend waiving this requirement for now.

6.    Eliminate Unnecessary Business Travel

At this time, the CDC recommends eliminating any unnecessary travel to China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy, with precautions for individuals traveling to Japan or Hong Kong.  This list is being continually updated at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/

Beyond travel to these affected countries, companies should consider eliminating any unnecessary business travel, including within the domestic United States.

7.    Employees Who Return From Travel to Affected Countries

News about the coronavirus is rapidly evolving.  As of March 3, the countries most affected by coronavirus are China, South Korea, Italy, and Japan.  However, new cases are being confirmed across the world every day, including within the United States.  We recommend that employers follow the CDC’s recommendations on which countries are most affected:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html

Employers can require employees who have traveled to heavily impacted countries to work from home for 14 days.  If employees cannot work remotely, they can be placed on administrative leave.

8.   What Not to Do

Employers should ensure that these policies are applied uniformly across their workforce, without treating individuals differently based on race, nationality, age, or other protected classes.  While it is true that the coronavirus outbreak is heavily impacting mainland China, employers should watch out for any workplace behaviors that discriminate against individuals of Chinese or Asian heritage.

Employers should also be careful not to share employee health information.

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As always, please reach out if you have specific questions or if you need help with a policy or communication to employees about coronavirus.  This situation is rapidly evolving and we will do our best to keep our clients appraised of any changes.