Since there is a lot of confusion for the business owners and employers on what steps they should take in these times of uncertainty, we’ve tried to create a comprehensive guidelines based on what the CDC has presented.
To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, use only the guidance described below to determine risk of COVID-19. Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin, and be sure to maintain confidentiality of people with confirmed COVID-19. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features of COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing.
Recommended strategies for employers to use now:
Actively encourage sick employees to stay at home
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to 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)
- Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies
- Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
- Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
- Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
Separate sick employees:
CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees:
- Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
Perform routine environmental cleaning:
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps:
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found at on the CDC website.
- Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
- If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.
Set expectations in advance
Now is a good time to recirculate paid and unpaid leave policies for employees. Depending upon the size and nature of an outbreak, along with the type of workforce, employers could also consider providing additional paid leave and/or more flexible work-from-home arrangements to incentivize employees to stay at home.
Encourage employees to take advantage of paid leave
Employers should encourage employees to use available paid leave benefits and investigate whether benefit plans (such as Short Term Disability) extend to absences for long-term quarantine or isolation orders. Additionally, employers should be mindful of any limitations set forth by a statutory paid sick leave law. For example, some paid sick leave laws prevent employers from soliciting private health information from employees, requesting doctors’ notes before an employee is absent for more than three consecutive days, or mandating the use of paid leave.
Don't forget about unpaid leave entitlements and disability accommodations
An illness like COVID-19 may, in certain circumstances, qualify as a serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or a disability under a state or federal disability discrimination law. Further, some states have specific laws protecting employees who return to work after taking leave due to a quarantine or isolation order.
Keep OSHA in mind
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) requires employers to provide a safe and healthy workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” If OSHA determines that employees are reasonably likely to be exposed to COVID-19 or other contagious illness exposure, then the employer should develop a plan outlining the steps to protect employees. It is also important to note that a covered employer is required to record any cases of employees infected on the job by COVID-19 with OSHA.
What about face masks against the Coronavirus?
Employers may receive requests from employees who wish to wear a medical mask or respirator to prevent contracting COVID-19. In certain settings, such as retail or restaurants, these requests might cause increased anxiety and panic among other employees or customers. Under OSHA’s respiratory protection standard, which covers the use of safety masks in the workplace, an employer may prohibit an employee from wearing a safety mask or respirator if there is no known safety or health hazard. Based on current CDC guidance (March 2, 2020), face masks are only necessary for individuals who are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or who are treating or caring for an infected person, or for individuals to prevent the spread to others. Therefore, and consistent with OSHA guidelines, an employer may prohibit healthy employees from wearing a medical mask or respirator, if the employee’s sole purpose is to avoid contracting COVID-19. Please note that this analysis may be different for employees with a disability or physical condition, or in occupations where employees work directly with individuals impacted by a contagious illness.
Additional Measures in Response to Currently Occurring Sporadic Importations of the COVID-19:
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.