COVID-19

COVID-19 Employer Resources 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is COVID-19?

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others circulating among animals, including camels, cats and bats. The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person to person. This virus was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

How can the coronavirus spread?

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Human coronaviruses spread just like the flu or a cold:

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing;
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands;
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it; and,
  • Occasionally, fecal contamination.

 

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

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Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

The symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. Reported illnesses have ranged from people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying. 

 

Can we ask an employee to stay home or leave work if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu?

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Yes, you are permitted to ask them to leave. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that employees who exhibit symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic should leave the workplace. During the H1N1 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that advising workers to go home is not disability-related if the symptoms present are akin to the seasonal influenza or the H1N1 virus. Therefore, an employer may require workers to go home if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu.

Should I take my employee’s temperature?

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By order of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Directing Public Health Safety signed on 4/15/2020, businesses permitted to maintain in-person operations  are required to establish additional protocols if the business has been exposed to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID19 to include the implementation of temperature screening before an employee enters the business, prior to the start of each shift or, for employees who do not work shifts, before the employee starts work, and send employees home that have an elevated temperature or fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Employees are required to practice social distancing while waiting to have temperatures screened.

If the business has received no exposer as outlined by the order, such a drastic measure should only be taken after careful consideration of many factors.  Here is a summary of the factors to consider: https://news.bloomberglaw.com/daily-labor-report/insight-coronavirus-testing-issues-for-employers-reaching-for-thermometer Such a drastic measure should only be taken after careful consideration of many factors. 

 For employers opting to take employees’ temperatures, the following procedures are recommended:

  • Establish a threshold for which employers will not permit employees to work onsite; the CDC considers someone to have a fever if their temperature is great than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Identify a private room where employee temperatures can be taken. This is important to ensure the privacy of all employees and the outcome of their results.
  • Determine who will be responsible for taking employee temperatures and ensure this person is properly trained, wearing personal protective equipment, and properly sanitizing the testing area. Some organizations might also include an onsite nurse, occupational health or safety directors in this process. Individuals who are taking employees’ temperatures should have the authority to send employees home if their temperature is above the designated threshold.
  • Develop a staggered start time (if needed) to accommodate the extra time it will take to get multiple employees tested before they can begin work.
  • Communicate expectations to employees in advance. Inform employees of the new process, why it is important, where and when temperatures will be taken, and how information will be kept private. Employers should also communicate what will happen if an employee has a fever and consequences if an employee refuses to have his or her temperature checked.
  • Calibrate and test the thermometer being used daily. To minimize the risk of spreading germs, touchless thermometers are recommended.
  • Keep a record of an employee’s temperature if you are sending that individual home due to his or her temperature being above the designated threshold. That record must be maintained confidentially.
  • Ensure employees practice social distancing while awaiting their temperature to be checked.
  • Time spent waiting for temperatures to be checked is considered compensable work time.
  • Employers should also be aware that some individuals with COVID-19 do not have a fever. Employers who are considering implementing temperature checks who are unable to follow these recommended procedures may wish to consult with their legal counsel to ensure defensibility of their process.

 

My employees are asking what they can do to minimize exposure. What type of hygiene practices should I recommend to them?

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Recommended practices include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

When may an employee discontinue home isolation?

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Have the infected employee follow the direction of their medical provider or local health official regarding the duration of self-isolation. If that guidance is unavailable, there are three options per the CDC for determining when a person may end home isolation, using either (1) a time-since-illness-onset option, (2) a time-since-recovery option, or (3) a test-based option.

  • Time-since-illness-onset and time-since-recovery strategy (non-test-based strategy): Persons with COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue home isolation under the following conditions:
  • At least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery defined as resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and
  • At least seven days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
  • Test-based strategy (simplified from initial protocol): Previous recommendations for a test-based strategy remain applicable. However, a test-based strategy is contingent on the availability of ample testing supplies and laboratory capacity as well as convenient access to testing. For jurisdictions that choose to use a test-based strategy, the recommended protocol has been simplified so that only one swab is needed at every sampling. Persons who have COVID-19 who have symptoms and were directed to care for themselves at home may discontinue home isolation under the following conditions:
    • Resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications;
    • Improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and
    • Negative results of an FDA Emergency Use Authorized molecular assay for COVID-19 from at least two consecutive nasopharyngeal swab specimens collected ≥24 hours apart (total of two negative specimens). See Interim Guidelines for Collecting, Handling, and Testing Clinical Specimens from Persons Under Investigation (PUIs) for 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) for specimen collection guidance.
      • Individuals with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 who have not had any symptoms may discontinue home isolation when at least seven days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test and have had no subsequent illness. For 3 days following discontinuing home isolation, asymptomatic individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 should continue to limit contact (stay 6 feet away from others) and wear a covering for their nose and mouth whenever they are in settings where other people are present.   


The EEOC confirmed that you may require a doctor’s note stating the employee is fit for duty before permitting them to return to work.

Can employers restrict employee business travel to outbreak regions?

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Yes. Employers should consider suspending business travel, especially to restricted countries per the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices.

I have employees who refuse to work with an employee that has returned from abroad even though they are asymptomatic. What should I do?

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Negative stereotyping or alienating employees over perceived conditions or from coming from abroad can create potential discriminatory liability for a company. Similar to other forms of discriminatory conduct, it shouldn’t be condoned or permitted. Unless objective evidence exists that an employee is known to have the virus or is otherwise manifesting symptoms or conditions that would make working with them an unsafe working practice, employees should understand that they have the expectation and responsibility to work with their fellow co-workers in accordance with their job responsibilities.

Can employers restrict employee from personal travel to outbreak regions?

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No. Employers cannot restrict employee personal travel and may violate the ADA’s association discrimination rules if they discriminate against employees with family in COVID-19 outbreak regions. Additionally, some states have statutes related to lawful off-duty conduct that could be implicated if an employer tries to control personal travel. Employers can request that employees traveling to outbreak regions alert the employer about such travel. Employers can monitor employees returning from outbreak regions for signs or symptoms of infection. According to the EEOC, because a pandemic has been declared, employers may ask employees about whether they are symptomatic if they traveled to outbreak areas.

Can I make an employee stay home from work merely because they have traveled to a country that has had cases of COVID-19?

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If an employee is asymptomatic and is not otherwise under direction by federal, state or local officials to be quarantined, then an employer should not attempt to impose such a measure upon them by making them stay home from work. An employer may establish a policy that is consistently enforced to request that the employee work remotely for a period of time (14 days), if such remote capabilities are possible.

What should an employer do if an employee refuses to come to work even though they are not ill and have not been exposed?

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Given the media attention COVID-19 has received, employee anxiety is at an all-time high. The best practice for an employer to combat employee-related stress is communication. Regularly update employees about the virus and prevention, what is being done internally at the organization for prevention, provide hand sanitizers and disinfecting wipes, and continually reinforce appropriate preventive protocol.

Generally, employees do not have the right to refuse to come to work. However, if the workplace has experienced an outbreak or exposure, various laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), protect employees from being exposed to work conditions that cause serious danger or imminent threat. Thus, should an employee refuse to come to work because of a COVID-19 outbreak, OSHA may be implicated.

Employees are only entitled to refuse to work if they believe they are in imminent danger. OSHA defines “imminent danger” to include “any conditions or practices in any place of employment where a danger exists that can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated through the enforcement procedures otherwise provided by this Act.” OSHA states that imminent danger is where there is “threat of death or serious physical harm,” or “a reasonable expectation that toxic substances or other health hazards are present, and exposure to them will shorten life or cause substantial reduction in physical or mental efficiency.”

The threat must be immediate or imminent, which means that an employee must believe that death or serious physical harm could occur within a short time.  Most work conditions in the United States, however, do not meet the elements required for an employee to refuse to work.

Once again, this guidance is general, and employers must determine when this unusual state exists in your workplace before determining whether it is permissible for employees to refuse to work. If there is no imminent danger, employees may still fear coming to work due to COVID-19. If that is the case, it may be advisable to allow employees to use paid time off as well as allow remote work where possible. These options may or may not be feasible for employers depending on the nature of their business.

Should we institute a temporary remote work policy in light of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak?

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Whether your company implements a remote work policy is entirely dependent on your organization’s circumstances and the area of the country where your workers reside. You may not want to introduce a new system in place if you have had not yet had time to test and develop your remote work capabilities. On the other hand, if you have established protocols in place, this could be a good opportunity to leverage them. Regardless of what you choose to do, you should make your decision based on objective evidence and not emotion or fear. Make sure your decision is educated and intentional, not reactionary and spur of the moment.

What steps should employers take if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 at work?

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The infected employee should be sent home until released by their medical provider or local health provider. You should send home all employees who worked closely with that employee to ensure the infection does not spread. Before the infected employee departs, ask them to identify all individuals who worked in close proximity (within six feet) for a prolonged period of time (10 minutes or more to 30 minutes or more) with them during the 48-hour period before the onset of symptoms to ensure you have a full list of those who should be sent home. When sending the employees home, do not identify by name the infected employee or you could risk a violation of confidentiality laws. If you work in a shared office building or area, you should inform building management so they can take whatever precautions they deem necessary. The CDC provides that the employees who worked closely to the infected worker should be instructed to proceed based on the CDC Public Health Recommendations for Community-Related Exposure. This includes staying home until 14 days after last exposure, maintaining social distance from others, and self-monitoring for symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath).

How long should the employees who worked near the employee stay at home? Those employees should first consult and follow the advice of their healthcare providers or public health department regarding the length of time to stay at home. The CDC recommends that those who have had close contact for a prolonged period of time with an infected person should remain at home for 14 days after last exposure. If they develop symptoms, they should remain home for at least seven days from the initial onset of the symptoms, three days without a fever (achieved without medication), and improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath).

The CDC has released relaxed guidelines for critical infrastructure workers, as previously defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19. Under the relaxed guidelines, critical infrastructure workers potentially exposed to COVID-19 may continue to work following exposure provided they remain symptom-free and employers implement additional precautions to protect the employee and the community:

  • For Employers:
    • Measure the employee’s temperature and assess symptoms prior to permitting the worker resuming work, ideally, before they enter the facility.
    • Clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment routinely.
  • For Employees:
    • Self-monitor under the supervision of their employer’s occupational health program.
    • Wear a face mask at all times while in the workplace for 14 days after last exposure.
    • Maintain a six-foot distance from others and otherwise observe social distancing in the workplace as work duties permit.

Critical infrastructure employees who become sick during the workday should continue to be sent home immediately. You should notify those who had contact with the ill employee while be employee had symptoms, and two days prior to the symptoms appearing. You should then implement additional precautions for those employees as described above.

The CDC also provides the following recommendations for most non-healthcare businesses that have suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases:

  • It is recommended to close off areas used by the ill persons and wait as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection to minimize potential for exposure to respiratory droplets.
  • Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
  • Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
  • To clean and disinfect:
    • If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection (Note: “cleaning” will remove some germs, but “disinfection” is also necessary).
    • For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective.
    • Diluted household bleach solutions can be used if appropriate for the surface. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.
    • Cleaning staff should wear disposable gloves and gowns for all tasks in the cleaning process, including handling trash.
    • Gloves and gowns should be compatible with the disinfectant products being used.
    • Additional PPE might be required based on the cleaning/disinfectant products being used and whether there is a risk of splash. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding other protective measures recommended on the product labeling.
    • Gloves and gowns should be removed carefully to avoid contamination of the wearer and the surrounding area. Be sure to clean hands after removing gloves.
    • Employers should develop policies for worker protection and provide training to all cleaning staff on site prior to providing cleaning tasks. Training should include when to use PPE, what PPE is necessary, how to properly don (put on), use, and doff (take off) PPE, and how to properly dispose of PPE. 
    • If you require gloves or masks or other PPE, prepare a simple half-page Job Safety Analysis (JSA): list the hazards and the PPE (gloves, masks, etc., as needed), and the person who drafts the JSA should sign and date it.
    • If employers are using cleaners other than household cleaners with more frequency than an employee would use at home, employers must also ensure workers are trained on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals used in the workplace and maintain a written program in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200). Simply download the manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and share with employees as needed, and make sure the cleaners used are on your list of workplace chemicals used as part of the Hazard Communication Program (which almost all employers maintain).

Will my employees be eligible for unemployment compensation (UC) benefits if they are unable to work because of COVID-19?

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The Pennsylvania Office of UC has stated that employees may be eligible if:

  • An employer temporarily closes or goes out of business because of COVID-19
  • An employer reduces the claimant’s hours because of COVID-19
  • The claimant has been told not to work because their employer feels he/she might get or spread COVID-19
  • The claimant has been told to quarantine or self-isolate, or live/work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts

Also, as of March 17, 2020, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has waived the waiting week previously required for UC benefits. Eligible claimants may receive benefits for the first week that they are unemployed.

My employee alleges that they contracted the coronavirus while at work. Will this result in a compensable workers’ compensation claim?

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It depends. If the employee is a health-care worker or first responder, the answer is likely yes (subject to variations in state law). For other categories of employees, a compensable workers’ compensation claim is possible, but the analysis would be very fact specific.

What are my obligations as an employer under EPSLA and EFMLEA?

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The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. Employers should consult the Department of Labor’s website: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave.
The outlined provisions and will apply from the effective date 4/1/2020 through 12/31/2020.

I have an employee that has already taken 12 weeks of FMLA leave this year, are they eligible for an additional 12 weeks of FMLA leave to stay home their children?

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No. The Act does not expand an eligible employee’s FMLA leave entitlement to greater than 12 workweeks during any 12-month period. Accordingly, an employee that has otherwise exhausted FMLA leave during the 12-month period is not entitled to additional 12 weeks of leave under EFMLA. That said, as we understand it, this employee would still be eligible for ten day of Emergency Paid Sick Leave under the Act, as well as any other available leave under state and local laws or company policies.

What should I do if I still need to hire employees during COVID-19?

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It’s encouraged by the CDC to consider using videoconferencing for interviews rather than in-person interviews. If you require in person interviews, skip the tour and limit those meeting with potential applicants.  In addition, follow other CDC guidelines like spacing out at least 6 feet and have face masks/gloves readily available.

Can I ask if an applicant has COVID-19 during an interview?

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Once your applicant is selected and only after the applicant is fully hired, as per the EEOC, you can ask if they have COVID-19 symptoms in the same process as you do your other employees.  

What are my obligations as an employer under EPSLA and EFMLEA?

View Answer

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.  Employers should consult the Department of Labor’s website at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic/ffcra-employer-paid-leave. The outlined provisions apply from the effective date of 4/1/2020 through 12/31/2020.

What records do I need to keep when my employee takes paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave?

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Regardless of whether you grant or deny a request for paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave, you must document the following:

  • The name of your employee requesting leave;
  • The date(s) for which leave is requested;
  • The reason for leave; and
  • A statement from the employee that he or she is unable to work because of the reason.

If your employee requests leave because he or she is subject to a quarantine or isolation order or to care for an individual subject to such an order, you should additionally document the name of the government entity that issued the order. If your employee requests leave to self-quarantine based on the advice of a health care provider or to care for an individual who is self-quarantining based on such advice, you should additionally document the name of the health care provider who gave advice.

If your employee requests leave to care for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed, or childcare provider is unavailable, you must also document:

  • The name of the child being cared for;
  • The name of the school, place of care, or childcare provider that has closed or become unavailable; and
  • A statement from the employee that no other suitable person is available to care for the child.

 

If I am an employer, may I use the paid sick leave mandated under the EPSLA to satisfy paid leave entitlements that an employee may have under my paid leave policy?

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No, unless your employee agrees. Paid sick leave under the EPSLA is in addition to your employee’s (including Federal Employees’) other leave entitlements. You may not require your employee to use provided or accrued paid vacation, personal, medical, or sick leave before the paid sick leave. You also may not require your employee to use such existing leave concurrently with the paid sick leave under the EPSLA. But if you and your employee agree, your employee may use preexisting leave entitlements to supplement the amount he or she receives from paid sick leave, up to the employee’s normal earnings. Note, however, that you are not entitled to a tax credit for any paid sick leave that is not required to be paid or exceeds the limits set forth under the EPSLA. You are free to amend your own policies to the extent consistent with applicable law.

Is COVID-19 a recordable illness for purposes of OSHA Logs?

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OSHA has published guidance on this issue. OSHA recordkeeping requirements mandate covered employers record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA 300 log. You must record instances of workers contracting COVID-19 if the worker contracts the virus while on the job. The illness is not recordable if worker was exposed to the virus while off the clock. You are responsible for recording cases of COVID-19 if:

  1. The case is a confirmed case of COVID-19;
  2. The case is work-related, as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and
  3. The case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7 (e.g. medical treatment beyond first-aid, days away from work).


OSHA recently published guidance for enforcing their recordkeeping requirements for cases of COVID-19. Recognizing the difficulty in determining whether COVID-19 was contracted while on the job, OSHA will not enforce its recordkeeping requirements that would require employers in areas where there is ongoing community transmission to make work-relatedness determinations for COVID-19 cases, except where:

  1. There is objective evidence that a COVID-19 case may be work-related; and
  2. The evidence was reasonably available to the employers.

This waiver of enforcement does not apply to employers in the healthcare industry, emergency response organizations (e.g., emergency medical, firefighting and law enforcement services), and correctional institutions in areas where there is ongoing community transmission. These employers must continue to make work-relatedness determinations. 

 

 

Additional Guidance/Resources

 

Additional Guidance

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

World Health Organization

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)

PA Department of Labor and Industry

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

 

Additional Resources

 

Additional Resource Sites

 

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