As COVID-19 fears escalate worldwide, employers and employees across the country find themselves asking how they can protect themselves in this uncertain time.
First and foremost, do not panic. As an employer, you want your employees to feel reassured by your measured, appropriate responses to protect their health and safety. As an employee, you want to show your employer that you are taking the appropriate steps to avoid contracting and spreading the virus around the workplace. And the last thing either wants to do is spread fear and panic to colleagues.
Advice/Do’s and Don’t’s for Employers
- Do provide hand sanitizer and soap across the office, not just in the restrooms, and encourage employees to use both frequently and properly by posting signs and sending reminder e-mails.
- Do disinfect workspaces and public areas routinely and properly.
- Do limit your employees’ non-essential business trips, whether international or domestic, particularly where they are required to use public transportation, such as air travel.
- Do postpone non-essential meetings, retreats, conferences, or other large gatherings.
- Do encourage working from home to the extent feasible, and mandate it if someone is sick with any kind of bug.
- Do mandate that employees work from home for 10-15 calendar days after returning from a vacation or trip where COVID-19 has been detected, such as China, Italy, South Korea, and other parts of the world and United States.
- Do honor requests for employees to work from home if they are concerned about contracting the virus. It is appropriate and reasonable to ensure they are working and not simply using the time as an excuse for free time off.
- Don’t ask employees what health problems they have, for example, whether they have COVID-19.
- Don’t demand that an employee with cold or flu symptoms get tested for COVID-19. You can and should, however, require a sick employee to stay home and encourage (but not force) them to seek medical attention.
- Don’t put out catered lunches or snacks that could be contaminated.
- Don’t assume that individuals of a certain race or national origin are carriers of the virus, and do not allow your employees to harass coworkers or treat them differently based on such irrational fears and prejudices.
Advice/Do’s and Don’t’s for Employees:
- Do stay home if you are sick with any communicable illness, whether it be a cold, flu, or COVID-19. Provide a doctor’s note to your employer, if necessary.
- Do ask your employer to approve a self-quarantine/work-from-home option for 10-15 days if you have been exposed or may have been exposed to the virus, for example, due to travel abroad or to areas with a high incidence of the virus.
- Do follow appropriate health advice from governmental authorities and your doctor, such as practicing frequent handwashing, using hand sanitizers, coughing away from others, into your shoulder, etc.
- Do alert your employer if you have tested positive or been around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, so that it can determine whether it needs to take any action to protect you and other workers.
- Don’t assume colleagues who have cold/flu symptoms are carriers of COVID-19, but it is okay to keep your distance and ask the coworker to do the same. If the coworker continues to come to work despite being visibly ill, report this to your manager or HR for them to determine what action to take.
- Don’t assume that individuals of a certain race or national origin are carriers of the virus, and do not harass coworkers or treat them differently based on such irrational fears and prejudices.
- Don’t ask to work from home and then use it as an opportunity for free time off, unless you truly are ill and need rest. Employers will likely monitor your productivity.
In addition to the above, numerous federal and state laws, including laws relating to disabilities, workplace safety, reasonable accommodations, sick leave, and wage-and-hour obligations may come into play when dealing with a workplace situation involving COVID-19 (or any other communicable illness). The attorneys at Dhillon Law Group are happy to assist both employers and employees in navigating these complicated statutory schemes and legal obligations.
John Paul S. Deol is Senior Counsel with Dhillon Law Group Inc., and handles employment litigation and counseling.