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COVID-19: Communicating with Employees

Communicating with Employees

Consistent and regular communications with employees regarding the status of the outbreak, the company’s response and answering employee questions regarding their risk, responsibilities and protections, is key to providing relevant information while avoiding rumors, panic or uncertainty among employees. The following information and guidelines may be helpful in communicating with employees:

  • If an employee has been diagnosed with Coronavirus, the federal, state, and/or local public health agencies will take responsibility for informing anyone who may be at risk. Still, information about the employee’s health should be kept confidential, as required by the ADA, outlined above. This includes a general prohibition against sharing an employee’s health condition with managers, supervisors, and other employees.
  • However, if an employee is on a Coronavirus-related leave of absence, employers may inform managers, supervisors, and others that the employee is on a leave of absence for non-disciplinary purposes.
  • It may become necessary to share information with employees who may have had contact with an employee with a confirmed case of Coronavirus. Employers should not inform the potentially affected employees of the name of the Coronavirus-stricken employee, but may inform the potentially affected employees that an employee of the company has tested positive for Coronavirus and that the company believes that the potentially affected employees may have come into contact with the stricken employee. The company may suggest to such potentially affected employees that they may wish to consult with their medical provider or otherwise monitor their possible development of symptoms, being mindful not cause fear or panic relating to the risk of infection.
  • If the health department in the city and/or state where the employer is located requires notification of any cases of Coronavirus, employers do not need to maintain confidentiality with respect to informing these governmental agencies of the identity of the stricken employee.

Designated Response Coordinator

  • To ensure consistent messaging both inside and outside an organization, ideally a single person should be appointed as the “point person” on all Coronavirus-related questions and concerns, preferably a human resources professional, in consultation with legal and health professionals.
  • This point person should be involved in all personnel decisions related to Coronavirus (e.g., whether medical testing is appropriate, whether an individual should be barred from the worksite, what happens if an employee refuses to come into the workplace or go on a business trip, what types of business travel may be prohibited), and should appropriately direct issues within the company according to the company’s response plan.

Additionally, an appropriate person should be designated for inquiries by members of the public (i.e. customers) regarding the organization’s policies or response.

Summary of Action Items:

  • Review workplace policies and consider what measures may be necessary to protect employees from the Coronavirus such as allowing teleworking or providing protective equipment and what measures should be taken in the event of suspected or confirmed Coronavirus exposure with any employee.
  • Consider alternatives to work-related travel and consult with counsel regarding other potential measures to implement around business and personal travel.
  • Communicate with employees about measures being taken to keep the workplace safe. Avoid alarmist or speculative language, and stick to providing factual information based on official guidance from the CDC, WHO, and state and local health agencies.
  • Designate a point of contact for employee questions or concerns about the Coronavirus, preferably Human Resources, in consultation with legal and health professionals.
  • Continue to monitor the latest information being provided by the CDC, state and local health authorities and provide regular updates to employees regarding the status of the outbreak, the company’s response and any significant changes to company policies or practices.
  • Reaffirm with employees that they should contact the designated contact person with any questions or concerns.
Picture of Allison McKeel

Allison McKeel

I'm an employment lawyer who has worked with hundreds of startup and established businesses and love to help dynamic companies get started and grow. Follow my blog for the latest legal news--designed to keep you legally compliant and up-to-date on innovative workplace practices.

This article is for general information only and is not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of qualified legal counsel for specific legal questions. 

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