As many of you are aware, three (3) Ohio residents have recently tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19). As with any serious disease or viral outbreak, issues related to the coronavirus are evolving. Employers should stay abreast of developments from authorities such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and take this time to review and update your safety plans.
We recommend that you closely monitor the CDC, WHO, the Ohio Department of Health, your local health department, and your county emergency management agency websites for the most up to date information regarding COVID-19. As you review and update your safety plan, consider policies and communication plans for employees, vendors, and customers, particularly if you are in a high-risk environment, have workers traveling to/from affected areas, or if you are receiving questions from employees, vendors, or customers.
We recommend that you consider proactively sharing educational information from authoritative sources with your employees on what is known about COVID-19, its transmission, and how to prevent exposure.
Symptoms and Preventative Actions
According to authorities, symptoms of COVID-19 include: mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. To better evaluate which geographic areas pose the most risk, employers and employees should consult the latest CDC Travel Health Notices. Anyone traveling to an area with a confirmed coronavirus case should closely monitor their health for a period of 14 days.
Currently, the CDC recommends everyday preventative actions including:
- Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- Staying home when sick.
- Covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Consistent with CDC recommendations, you should consider providing appropriate health and sanitation supplies in and around the workplace including soap, paper towels, and tissues (as well as proper disposal containers).
Information regarding the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers can be found on the CDC website. The following is a summary of the CDC’s main guidance points:
Actively Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home
The CDC encourages employees with symptoms of acute respiratory illness such as fevers or cough to stay home until they are without symptoms for at least 24 hours. The CDC has previously noted that COVID-19 is most contagious while an individual is exhibiting symptoms. For this reason, it is crucial that employees be sent home or refrain from coming into work if they have any symptoms of the virus.
Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies. The CDC also reiterated that employees be made aware of Company sick time policies, including that the policies permit employees to stay home to take care of sick family members.
Separate Sick Employees
If an employee arrives to work showing signs of an acute respiratory illness (such as cough or shortness of breath) or becomes sick during the day, the CDC recommends that the employee be separated and sent home immediately. Again, employers must ensure that they train their supervisors on how to identify such symptoms and ensure that employees are being sent home for the right reasons.
Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette, and hand hygiene by all employee
The CDC encourages employers to promote respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene as the most effective ways to prevent illness spreading. For example, providing tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for employees or providing soap, water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace can ensure proper etiquette is maintained.
Perform Routine Environment Cleaning
One of the most important preventative measures for illness containment is ensuring that work places are routinely cleaned. The CDC makes clear that no additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
Advise Employees before Traveling to Take Certain Steps
The CDC recommends checking its travel health notice for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country prior to travel. Employees should check themselves for any symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
The CDC recommends employers ensure their employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
Additional Precautionary Measures in Response to Coronavirus
The CDC encourages employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with coronavirus to notify their employer and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their exposure.
The CDC advises employers that if an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
CDC’s Plan for Possible Coronavirus Outbreak in the U.S.
The CDC makes clear that, for the general American public, (including workers in non-health care settings where work tasks are unlikely to increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19), the health risk from COVID-19 remains low. Even so, the CDC recommends that businesses consider adopting outbreak response plans if a COVID-19 outbreak does occur in the U.S.
In updating your safety plan you should ensure your plans are flexible to account for a rapidly changing scenario and should be shared with employees after being vetted by counsel. Some key considerations for your safety plan should include:
(1) reducing virus transmission among employees;
(2) protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications;
(3) maintaining business operations;
(4) minimizing adverse effects on other entities in your supply chains;
(5) evaluating the severity of the virus in the community in which your business is located;
(6) preparing for a possible increase in the number of employee absences due to their own illness or a family member, particularly if schools in your geographic area are shut down due to the virus;
(7) cross training personnel to perform essential functions to keep your business operating even when key staff are absent, or to explore flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting;
(8) preparing to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations; and
(9) for businesses with more than one location, providing local managers with the authority to take appropriate actions as outlined above.
In summary, in response to COVID-19 employers should monitor the CDC’s website for official guidance, review and update its safety plan, and consult with counsel before making employment-related decisions about COVID-19. It is critical that employers continue to provide current and accurate information to their workforces to avoid the spread of panic. Employers should coordinate with counsel and their internal human resources department to craft appropriate communication and prepare for employee questions and concerns around COVID-19.
As COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, KWGD will provide additional guidance for its clients.
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.
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