The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), providing important information for non-healthcare employers to help prevent workplace exposures to COVID-19. The Guidance includes the following recommendations; however, consideration should be given that the recommendations may be impacted by employer legal requirements as noted below:
- Employers are advised to “actively encourage” sick employees to stay home. The CDC recommends that employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). The Guidance also recommends that employers speak with any third party companies that provide contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home. In accordance with the CDC guidance, employers may actively encourage employees with symptoms to voluntarily stay home; however, it is recommended that employers have a written policy–which is drafted and applied in a non-discriminatory manner and distributed to employees–to assure compliance with applicable non-discrimination laws. Consultation with counsel is recommended before requiring any individual employee to leave work or remain away from the workplace (particularly without pay) or before implementing any policy to that effect. (See Sick Leave and Pay, ADA and FMLA discussion below).
- Employees who may be traveling (regardless of location and whether for business or personal travel) should be advised to check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest recommendations for each country to which they will travel. Employees should also be advised to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness (including fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing) before starting travel and to notify the appropriate company representative (see below) and stay home if they display symptoms or otherwise feel sick either during or following travel. Employers may wish to place restrictions on domestic or international travel during the outbreak.
- In the event that an employee is confirmed to have the coronavirus, employers are advised to inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to 2019-nCoV in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In the event of a confirmed case of the coronavirus, employers should seek further legal guidance regarding their obligations and response to assure legal compliance and management of employee communications.
- Employees who themselves have not been diagnosed with the coronavirus but who have a family or household member who has been diagnosed should be advised to notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. Employers should advise employees who are diagnosed with the coronavirus or who have a household member with the virus to notify the designated company contact of such diagnosis (see below), in order to maintain confidentiality of medical information to the greatest extent possible).
Regarding the Company’s plan for managing operations during the coronavirus outbreak, the CDC Guidance further provides suggestions for developing a response plan which addresses essential operations, including the following:
- identify specific potential work-related exposure and health risks to employees
- identify essential business functions and roles required to maintain business operations
- identify critical supply chain issues where applicable (including suppliers, subcontractors, and logistics) required to maintain business operations
- assure company policies as implemented are consistent with both public health recommendations and applicable employment laws
- prepare for a possible increase in employee absences due to personal or family member illness, as well as child care concerns that may arise should schools, day cares, or similar programs be temporarily closed due to illness or high levels of absenteeism
- monitor local outbreak information through state and local health departments and establish a process to communicate information to employees on the Coronavirus (or other infectious diseases), with the aim to reduce employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation.