Given the current uncertainty of the reach of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), employers need to take steps now to protect the workplace. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not put forth specific standards covering COVID-19, employers need to consider their general duty under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to provide a safe and healthy workplace.
COVID-19: Workplace Considerations
At the state and federal levels, our public health officials are working to contain the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 causes mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Current scientific opinion is that COVID-19 is spread by contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person's nose and mouth. These droplets are emitted when an infected person exhales, coughs, or sneezes. Direct contact with these droplets transmits COVID-19. COVID-19 may also spread through contact with objects and surfaces contaminated with such droplets.
The situation is rapidly evolving and no one knows how severe the outbreak will be. Those working in the healthcare and travel sectors have elevated risks of exposure. Businesses are being encouraged to take immediate steps to conduct risk assessments and prepare for business disruptions.
Steps Employers Should Take Now
1. Minimize Risk of Transmission
The spread of COVID-19 may be prevented through the same steps taken to prevent the spread of the seasonal flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends employers:
- actively encourage sick employees to stay home;
- have sick leave policies that are flexible and consistent with public health guidance;
- separate employees with symptoms from other employees and send them home from work immediately;
- stress respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees, including use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable;
- routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace; and
- provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.
Further detail of the CDC's recommended strategies for minimizing the risk of transmission can be found at:
2. Monitor Public Health Guidance
Employers should stay informed by monitoring public health guidance from the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), and state-specific public health websites:
As the situation unfolds, employers should alter their strategies to minimize the risk of transmission.
3. Prepare for Application of Employer Policies to a COVID-19 Outbreak
COVID-19 has already resulted in many employers restricting work travel and modifying travel policies. A COVID-19 outbreak will necessarily bring into play policies relating to attendance, leaves, remote work, benefits, and payment practices.
The issues faced by employers could involve the legal requirements of such statutes as the FMLA, ADA, HIPAA, and FLSA. For example, if an employee needs to be quarantined due to the illness of a family member, the employer will need to assess whether the absence from work is covered by the FMLA or other leave laws. Any number of similar scenarios will arise, and employers should consider how they will address them in advance.
We Can Help
Please contact Maslon's Labor & Employment Group if you have questions or would like assistance reviewing your policies.