Coronavirus Advice for Employers Scrambling for Guidance

By Greg Tumolo | Due to growing concern over spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and the lack of consistent messaging from public health authorities, employers have been left scrambling for clear and concise guidance on how to best protect their workplaces from this highly contagious and potentially life threatening virus.

Beyond the obvious advice to encourage hand-washing, implement extra workplace hygiene, and mandate sick employees stay home, what follows are best practices that employers should begin implementing NOW to promote the health and safety of their employees and remain in compliance with federal and state employment laws.

  • Sick leave and PTO policies should be administered in a flexible manner that allows sick employees who have exhausted their protected sick leave or PTO to remain at home without adverse consequences. Employers should remove any incentive for an employee who is ill or who is caring for a family member who is ill to return to work prematurely.
  • Consistent with business needs, all employees with the ability to work remotely should be encouraged to do so pursuant to a written work from home/remote work policy. Employees classified as “non-exempt” for the purposes of state and federal wage and hour laws should be reminded of policies regarding timekeeping, working “off the clock,” and prior approval for overtime.
  • Employees should be reminded of their obligations under the employer’s anti-discrimination policy. Decisions about whether to direct an employee to remain at home or to send an employee home from work must be based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons and not the employee’s race or national origin.
  • Employees classified as “exempt” must receive their full salary for each workweek in which they perform any work. This includes any work performed at home while quarantined (e.g. checking work emails). Hourly employees classified as “non-exempt” do not need to be paid for time not worked.
  • For employers covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees who become ill with the COVID-19 coronavirus or who care for a covered family member are entitled to the benefits and protections of job-protected leave.
  • For Rhode Island employees impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus, there are options. If an employee is unable to work due to illness but the workplace remains open, they can apply for Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) with the seven (7) day waiting period and medical certification requirement waived. Employees who are out of work because the workplace is closed or who have been directed to remain at home may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits, again without the required waiting period.

As with any public health emergency, employers must be prepared to respond to rapidly changing conditions. The trusted resources below should be consulted regularly. To learn more about how to handle issues in your workplace, contact Greg Tumolo at Duffy & Sweeney. (Look for our next blog post on business interruption due to the coronavirus.)

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance for keeping the workplace safe:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/workplace-school-and-home-guidance.pdf

CDC steps to prevent illness:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fabout%2Fprevention-treatment.html

CDC steps for what to do if you are sick:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/steps-when-sick.html

Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training’s coronavirus guidance

http://www.dlt.state.ri.us/pdfs/COVID-19%20Workplace%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

Rhode Island Department of Health’s coronavirus guidance:

https://health.ri.gov/diseases/ncov2019/