Returning to the workplace in the face of COVID-19
COVID-19 EMPLOYER UPDATE
UPDATED April 15, 2020Local, State, and Federal officials are discussing plans to begin lifting social distancing restrictions over the coming weeks. Businesses shut down by such restrictions are already making plans to reopen. But it will not be business as usual when operations resume. Employers should start thinking through new employment complications that are likely to accompany employees’ return to work and should make a plan for protecting employees from the virus while at work. Screening Employees for COVID-19 Symptoms The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) has provided some helpful guidance for employers navigating the challenges that COVID-19 poses for the workplace. COVID-19 has been declared an “international pandemic” by the World Health Organization, and because of the concern of community spread transmission, employers are encouraged to take additional precautions to prevent the spread of the virus. Currently, employers may ask employees who report feeling ill or call in sick if they have any of the symptoms of COVID-19. Employees exhibiting symptoms of the virus should leave the workplace. Fever is one of several symptoms that an infected person may exhibit, and for that reason, the EEOC is permitting employers to take their employees’ temperatures. If an employer chooses to perform temperature checks, these checks should be performed consistently amongst all employees so as not to discriminate on the basis of specific characteristics. Employers may also ask employees about any travel and follow CDC advice before allowing traveling employees to return to work. Employers may also require employees who have been out of the office because of potential infection to provide medical documentation certifying fitness for duty before permitting them to return to work. Any information gathered by employers regarding employees’ medical status or condition must be kept confidential and maintained separately from the employees’ personnel files. OSHA/CDC Cleaning Protocol The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has identified risk levels based on workplace settings.
- Very High and High Exposure Risk:
- Healthcare workers performing aerosol-generating procedures, healthcare or laboratory personnel collecting or handling specimens of known or suspected COVID-19 patients; healthcare delivery, medical transport workers, and support staff exposed to known or suspected COVID-19 patients.
- Morgue workers performing autopsies on the bodies of people who are known to have or are suspected of having COVID-19 at the time of their death.
- Medium Exposure Risk:
- Workers who require frequent and/or close contact (i.e., within 6 feet) with people who may be infected with COVID-19, but who are not known or suspected COVID-19 patients.
- Lower Exposure Risk:
- Workers who do not require contact with people known to be, or suspected of being, infected with COVID-19 or frequent close contact (i.e., within 6 feet) with the general public. Workers in this category have minimal occupational contact with the public and other coworkers.
- Closing off areas visited by the ill persons and opening outside doors and windows to ventilate the area for 24 hours before beginning to clean/disinfect.
- Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment (e.g., touch screens, keyboards, remote controls) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
These materials are made available by Stibbs & Co., P.C. for informational purposes only, do not constitute legal or tax advice, and are not a substitute for legal advice from qualified counsel. The laws of other states and nations may be entirely different from what is described. Your use of these materials does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Stibbs & Co., P.C. The facts and results of each case will vary, and no particular result can be guaranteed. The facts and results of each case will vary, and no particular result can be guaranteed. Employers should consult their tax advisors concerning the application of tax laws to their particular situation. Employers are also encouraged to seek legal counsel prior to taking actions to avoid violations of federal or state employment laws including, but not limited to, the Family Medical Leave Act and its expansion under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Texas Payday Law, Texas small employer health insurance laws, new hire reporting laws, the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, various EEO laws covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, EEO-1 reporting requirements, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”), the National Labor Relations Act, the Worker Adjustment Retaining Notification Act, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.