3 Critical Considerations for Employers in a COVID-19 Climate

As everyone is aware, COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) is presenting both employers and employees with unprecedented challenges, inside and outside the workplace. One of the many challenges presented is the speed at which the situation is changing. Less than one week ago, many employers just began grappling with the essential employment law issues anticipated from the coronavirus. Yesterday, the conversation shifted to shutdowns and layoffs after Connecticut (together with New York and New Jersey) mandated the closure of restaurants, gyms, movie theatres and other gathering places. In the coming days, employers can expect nothing if not more change. As this situation rapidly evolves, employers should take a communicative, flexible and safety-oriented approach to its core strategy in dealing with coronavirus.

Communication

The first step for an employer is to start a dialogue with its employees with respect to the prevailing issues that the coronavirus presents. Presumably many employers have initiated a formal conversation with employees, however it is not too late to begin this effort. Employers should aim to provide health and safety information and related policies. Employees should be provided with preventative measures (especially those provided by the Centers for Disease Control) including instructions regarding washing of hands; disinfecting surfaces; and covering coughs and sneezes. Employers must answer the question of how leave related to coronavirus will be handled, an issue of great importance to employees. Polices must be created to deal with sick employees, employees who care for sick household members, and employees who are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Quarantine and travel policies should be enacted. Social distancing must be stressed and observed. Communication is required from employees as well. Sick employees must be willing to inform the employer of their symptoms or the symptoms of their household members. Similarly, employee travel, even personal in nature, must be shared with employers to assess risk and determine if a quarantine is required.

Flexibility

Unlike most personnel policies, policies dealing with coronavirus cannot be distributed and quickly forgotten. An employer’s job has only just begun upon releasing its policies to cover the coronavirus. Employers should continually reevaluate its policies in light of the changing threat. Flexibility in the work site is a simple yet effective measure for many employees; telecommuting or “Work from Home” policies, should be adopted and utilized whenever possible. Employers must monitor developments at the local, state and federal levels, particularly for businesses which serve the public and whose operations may be restricted in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. All businesses must contemplate having to shutdown for a period. Leave laws are also subject to change. Case in point, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was recently passed by the House of Representatives. It would require small and midsize companies to provide two weeks of paid sick leave and up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for employees affected by the coronavirus who have worked at the company for at least a month. The legislation, in some form, is expected to pass through the Senate and be enacted by the President.

Safety

Employers must adopt a safety-first policy and impart that policy onto its employees. In some respects, such a policy may run counter to the employer’s existing culture. For example, while coming into the office while sick might have been seen by some as a badge of honor in the past, it now must be strictly prohibited. Those who come to work while sick must be sent home. Employers must enforce its policy to indicate a shift in culture. Many observers have said that an overreaction is necessary to contain the coronavirus and the same lesson applies to employers. It is better to have done too much than too little.

Employers must set the tone of being communicative, flexible and safety-oriented in dealing with the coronavirus in the workplace. In the spirit of cooperation, employees must do the same. For more information, please contact Daniel B. Fitzgerald (dfitzgerald@brodywilk.com) or another BW attorney.

 

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