Community//

Responding to Coronavirus in the Workplace: Acting Respectfully and Responsibly

The recent news of the Coronavirus outbreak has caused a sizeable amount of fear and panic around the globe.  Addressing this novel virus requires that organizations plan but not panic.  Planning to take the proper precautions is essential as information about the virus develops.  Coronavirus presents a possible a pandemic, which is a global epidemic.  […]

The recent news of the Coronavirus outbreak has caused a sizeable amount of fear and panic around the globe.  Addressing this novel virus requires that organizations plan but not panic.  Planning to take the proper precautions is essential as information about the virus develops. 

Coronavirus presents a possible a pandemic, which is a global epidemic.  With cases on the rise in the United States, American companies should review their sick leave policies and freshen up on their employment law obligations regarding what they can and cannot do when handling potential cases of Coronavirus in the workplace.   

Employers are legally responsible for keeping their workplaces safe for customers and employees.  Employers are equally responsible for complying with laws that protect the civil rights of their employees.  Below is information that will help American employers strike this careful balance.

  • Can I ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms of Coronavirus?

Yes, employers are permitted to make inquiries that are not related to a disability.  To be clear, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers can ask employees about an illness if it is not likely to elicit information about a disability.  As the coronavirus is not considered a disability, employers are permitted to ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

Furthermore, even if Coronavirus was considered a disability, under the ADA, if an employee’s illness or disability posed a direct threat to the workforce, an employer would be allowed to ask about the condition, assuming that the condition affected the employee’s ability to perform an essential job function. 

  • What measures should be in place to help my company prepare for a coronavirus outbreak in our workplace?

If your organization does experience an outbreak, it is important that procedures and personnel are in place to respond in an organized and efficient manner.  Companies should have a pandemic coordinator who can assist with responding to a potential outbreak in the workplace.  The coordinator should know how to respond to questions from employees, handle sick leave requests, and react to other tasks that will arise in response to an outbreak, such as addressing disruptions in workflow.   Additionally, an organization’s pandemic coordinator should be knowledgeable about employment laws regarding sick leave and disability discrimination. 

Employers should also review their sick leave policies to ensure that employees understand how to request sick leave.  Organizations should ensure that employees understand that they will not suffer retaliation for requesting sick leave. 

  • Can I send people home who are showing symptoms of the virus?

Yes.  The CDC has advised that people who experience symptoms of the virus should not come to work.   

  • What if I find out that an employee has Coronavirus?

All information collected from an employee about a medical condition must be kept confidential and maintained in a separate file, a part from the employee’s personnel file.  If an employee does contract coronavirus and the employer becomes aware of this, employers should not disclose the identity of the employee who has contracted the virus.  

Employers should alert clients and other employees who have come into contact with the infected employee to get tested for the virus and inform these susceptible individuals that they should get tested because the employer has knowledge that have come into contact with someone who has the virus. 

  • What are some best practices my company should adopt now to prepare for an outbreak?

Encourage all employees to wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing.  Provide hand sanitizer to all employees who are required to come into the workplace.  To the extent that your employees can work from home, employers should offer the tools that are necessary for employees to telework and encourage teleworking for eligible employees.  Finally, instruct employees to work from home if they are feeling sick.    

As we all work to protect the health of our colleagues, neighbors, friends, and families, employers can do their part by ensuring that employees act respectfully and responsibility as the world addresses the spread of coronavirus.   

**The information discussed in this article is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. **

    The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.