COVID-19 Employer Resources
(last updated 04.08.20)
Governor Wolf says Pennsylvania’s non-life sustaining business closures will extend indefinitely.
For businesses inquiring whether they are deemed life-sustaining, DCED has set up a two-pronged process to determine eligibility and to begin processing waiver requests to exempt businesses. They set up two resource accounts DCED will be staffing:
- firstname.lastname@example.org – A resource account to send questions about whether businesses need to close;
- RAemail@example.com – A resource account if businesses want to apply for a waiver and want information on the process.
March 24, 2020 - Life-Sustaining Business FAQs
Please note: Under the Governor’s Order, telework (i.e. working from home) should be employed whenever possible, non-life sustaining businesses which are required to suspend in-person operations may retain essential personnel to process payroll and insurance claims, maintain security, and engage in similar limited measures on an occasional basis. Social distancing must be observed if such occasional duties must be performed.
Business Lending Resources:
CLOSED - COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program (CWCA)
Loans of up to $100,000 will be available to small businesses (100 or fewer full-time employees) to use as working capital. Interest rates are being dropped to 0 percent. See detailed guidelines. No application fees. Terms include no payments or interest during the first year of the loan. First come-first served basis.
CLOSED - PIDA Certified Economic Development Organization (CEDO)
All PIDA loan applications must be submitted through a Certified Economic Development Organization (CEDO)-organized by county
What is COVID-19?
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.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include:
- 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.
How can the coronavirus spread?
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
I have an employee who has a fever or is coughing. Does that mean they have COVID-19?
Not necessarily. COVID-19 does manifest signs similar to other common conditions such as the cold and flu. If any employee presents themselves at work with a fever or difficulty in breathing, this indicates that they should seek medical evaluation. While the likelihood of an employee having the COVID-19 coronavirus is extremely low, it pays to err on the side of caution. Retrain your supervisors on the importance of not overreacting to situations in the workplace potentially related to COVID-19 in order to prevent panic among the workforce.
Can we ask an employee to stay home or leave work if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu?
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.
Can I take my employee’s temperature?
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
My employees are asking what they can do to minimize exposure. What type of hygiene practices should I recommend to them?
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.
Can employers restrict employee business travel to outbreak regions?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
How should employers treat employees who may have been exposed to COVID-19?
The CDC has developed a risk assessment matrix to assess risk and recommend measures.
What steps should employers take if there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 at work?
The CDC has developed a risk assessment matrix to assess risk and recommend measures. If there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 at work, the CDC recommends isolating the employee at work (e.g., conference room designated for this purpose) and sending the employee home as soon as possible. If other employees likely were exposed, they too can be sent home until tested and cleared to return to work. If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, the CDC recommends that the employer should inform employees of the possible exposure, but maintain confidentiality around the identity of the employee consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Will my employees be eligible for unemployment compensation (UC) benefits if they are unable to work because of COVID-19?
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?
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.
The governor of Pennsylvania recently urged all non-essential businesses to close. What is a non-essential business?
Press Release from Governor.
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?
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.
- Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act – Leave Request Form
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