Starting in January 2020, an outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) started in China and began to spread worldwide, creating business disruptions that hit at every part of American workplaces. As a result, several agencies of the U.S. government have advised employers on how to respond to the threat. This document summarizes advice on three key fronts:
- Employee Health and Safety, pages 1–5 (from the CDC)
- Medical and ADA Issues, pages 6-7 (from the EEOC)
- Wages, Hours and Leave Issues, pages 8-16 (from the DOL)
- Your Leave Requirements under the New Families First Coronavirus Response Act (pages 8-9)
- Wage-and-Hour Law: Coronavirus and the Fair Labor Standards Act (pages 10-12)
- Coronavirus and the Family and Medical Leave Act (pages 13-15)
Employee Health and Safety (advice from the CDC)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers this advice to employers for keeping employees healthy and preventing the spread of the virus (updated as of March 30, 2020):
Businesses and employers can prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19. Employers should plan to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of disease transmission in the community and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed. for more information about job risk classifications). Businesses are strongly encouraged to coordinate with state and local health officials so timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses.
Reduce Transmission Among Employees
Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:
- Employees who have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) should notify their supervisor and stay home.
- Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and follow CDC recommended precautions.
Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work:
- See OSHA COVID-19 webpage for more information on how to protect workers from potential exposures and guidance for employers, including steps to take for jobs according to exposure risk.
- Be aware that some employees may be at higher risk for serious illness, such as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions. Consider minimizing face-to-face contact between these employees or assign work tasks that allow them to maintain a distance of six feet from other workers, customers and visitors, or to telework if possible.
Separate sick employees:
- Employees who appear to have symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath) upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers, and visitors and sent home.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection, 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). The fellow employees should then self-monitor for symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath).
Educate employees about how they can reduce the spread of COVID-19:
- Employees can take steps to protect themselves at work and at home. Older people and people with serious chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for complications.
- Follow the policies and procedures of your employer related to illness, cleaning and disinfecting, and work meetings and travel.
- Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care. Learn what to do if you are sick.
- Inform your supervisor if you have a sick family member at home with COVID-19. Learn what to do if someone in your house is sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow. Throw used tissues in the trash and immediately wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Learn more about coughing and sneezing etiquette on the CDC website.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, and doorknobs. Dirty surfaces can be cleaned with soap and water prior to disinfection. To disinfect, use products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19, and are appropriate for the surface.
- Avoid using other employees’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible. If necessary, clean and disinfect them before and after use.
- Practice social distancing by avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.