The threat of the unknown and the potential for illness are perhaps two of the most unsettling ideas for employers. Unfortunately, the Coronavirus (or COVID-19/2019 the Novel Coronavirus, as it is formally known) combines both. Since its emergence in the United States a couple of weeks ago, employers have been left reeling, seeking to identify how to continue “business as usual” while protecting the health and welfare of employees and customers.
From a legal perspective, there is no “magic formula” for dealing with the Coronavirus. That being said, employers should take guidance from existing employment laws in formulating their overall action plan and response to specific-employee inquiries. Consider the following tips:
- Eligible employees should be given Family Medical Leave (FML) and/or local paid leave for their personal illness or that of their family. Coronavirus likely constitutes a “qualifying event” and therefore employees should not be penalized for requesting extended time off. Employers can request supporting medical documentation so long as such requests are consistent with FML regulations.
- All employees and managers should be treated equally. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), treating one group of potentially-disabled individuals differently than another is potential grounds for a discrimination claim. Whether a particular employee’s Coronavirus-diagnosis constitutes a disability is a fact-intensive legal analysis. Employers should err on the side of caution and make any benefits (i.e. telework) available to certain employees, available to all similarly-situated employees – assuming the employee can still perform the essential functions of their job.
- Keep in mind that workers’ compensation and OSHA-regulations similarly govern a potential outbreak of illness in the workplace. Be sure that your organization’s regulations relating to on-the-job illness and injury are up to date. That way, employees and managers know what to do if they suspect infection at a worksite.
Overall, employers should be attentive to the directives of the federal government and its agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention given the Coronavirus’ dynamic nature. Feel free to reach out to me to discuss your organization’s response.
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Theodora Stringham assists individuals, businesses, and organizations with growing successfully while minimizing liability. Focusing on real estate and personnel needs, Ms. Stringham executes sustainable plans for real estate development and employee matters. She provides comprehensive representation for everyday growth issues, including, but not limited to, re-zonings, site plan approvals, eminent domain/valuation concerns, employment discrimination, and disciplinary issues. Ms. Stringham’s scope of representation ranges from identifying potential liability and providing counseling/trainings, all the way through representation at trial.
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