We have received many requests from clients on how to handle the various issues in the workplace stemming from the COVID-19 (the “Coronavirus”), including how and what to communicate to employees.  In response to the many requests, we have developed the following points you should be prepared to address with your employees.

While the situation is rapidly evolving, you should be prepared to discuss:

  1.  you have been closely following the developments of the pandemic, including any declarations of a state of emergency by the President, the Governor and the World Health Organization,
  2.  you are monitoring school closures,
  3. your primary goal is the health and safety of your employees, and
  4. you are planning for potential disruptions to your business, including any contingency plans such as employees working from home for temporary or extended periods.

Policies and Specific Measures

In addition, you should be prepared to discuss any policies and specific additional measures your company is implementing to respond to the pandemic.  Below is a summary of the common issues that employers are dealing with.

Sick Employees

You should encourage all employees who are feeling sick to stay home.  Employees should not report to work if they are experiencing a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills and/or fatigue.  You should inform your employees that anyone who reports to work with these symptoms will promptly be sent home.  Further, employees who have or may have been exposed to the virus or live with someone who has or may has been exposed to the virus, should be encouraged to stay home for at least 14 days.  Employees should be encouraged to use their reasonable judgment and rely on the advice of medical professionals in determining whether they have been exposed.

Meetings

In-person meetings of 10 or more people should be strongly discouraged.  If you have the technological capability, employees should be encouraged to use company video conferencing software and/or video conference rooms to conduct meetings.  If you allow non-employees to use your premises or conference space, you should consider disallowing this practice.  You should also strongly consider postponing or cancelling all nonessential activities until a later date.

Travel

All nonessentials travel such as conferences and other forms of traveling regularly done for your business outside the state or country should be avoided, if possible.  Anyone who travels to an affected area, particularly a Level 3 area under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), should not be allowed to return to work until he or she has quarantined for at least 14 days.  The date of quarantine should begin on the first day that the employee returns from the affected area.  You should consider additional quarantines depending on the circumstances of travel or exposure, on a case-by-case basis.  You should request that visitors fill out a form disclosing recent travel and potential exposure.

Sanitizing the Workplace

We recommend that you place hand soaps and antibacterial sanitizers in common areas.  Following a report of employee exposure, you should have your business premises cleaned thoroughly to prevent possible transmission.

Working From Home

One of the most pressing concerns is the possibility of temporary or extended closures and the necessity of employees working from home.  Below are some key measures to consider regarding attendance and expectations for hours worked:

  1. Unless otherwise notified, normal attendance and leave policies should remain in place.
  2. Hourly non-exempt employees who are permitted to work from home should be advised to keep accurate records of all hours worked and reminded that they will be paid only for hours worked.
  3. Exempt employees who are permitted to work from home should be paid their full salary if they are working. If there are days that the employee cannot work, you should apply your leave policies and require exempt employees to use available leave time.

If capable, employees should be given the necessary equipment to work from home such as computers, iPads, tablets, etc.  Remind your employees to protect this equipment and to keep it sanitary to prevent possible transmission upon return.  You should also make available IT services so your employees can continue to work without interruption.

School Closures

The rapid spread of the Coronavirus has led to school closings at every level of education.  Employees may want to take time off as a result.  Employees should be advised that the attendance and leave policies remain in place and that they are required to use applicable leave if they are not working.  Exceptions to your leave policies should be made on a case-by-case basis considering all of the circumstances.

Unemployment

Employees are eligible for unemployment in certain circumstances.  Specifically, employees are eligible if they are asymptomatic for Coronavirus, but you require them to be quarantined and the employee is not working from home and also if they are temporarily laid off.  Employees are currently unable (absent a legislative change to the unemployment compensation system) to collect if they voluntarily decide to stay home (e.g., for fear, childcare, etc.)

Conclusion

We are continuing to monitor the developments associated with the pandemic and will continue to provide updates on best practices, as necessary.  Employers are encouraged to continue to exercise caution in maintaining a healthy and safe workplace.  If you have any questions, please contact one of the Labor and Employment Team members below.

If you have any questions, please contact any member of the Carmody Labor and Employment Practice Group for more information:

D. Charles Stohler
(203) 575-2626; [email protected]

Giovanna T. Weller
(203) 575-2651; [email protected]

Domenico Zaino, Jr.
(203) 578-4270; [email protected]

Alan H. Bowie
(203) 784-3117; [email protected]

Stephanie E. Cummings
(203) 575-2649; [email protected]

Vincent Farisello
(203) 578-4284; [email protected]

Sarah S. Healey
(203) 578-4225; [email protected]

Lauren M. Hopwood
(203) 784-3104; [email protected]dylaw.com

Howard K. Levine
(203) 784-3102; [email protected]

Mark F. Williams
(203) 575-2618; [email protected]

Holly G. Wheeler
(203) 784-3158; [email protected]