March 13, 2020

Responding to Employee Concerns About Coronavirus/COVID-19 (Part 1)

Over the next few weeks it is likely that employers will be faced with questions from employees regarding COVID-19. This article is intended to provide employers with general guidance in addressing immediate employee concerns. For specific inquiries, employers should contact a Kerr Russell employment attorney.

Given the response to COVID-19 in other countries and states, it is possible that employees may ask employers questions regarding:

Business and personal travel
  • Employers should restrict business travel to all high-risk areas. They should also continue to monitor and update the restrictions as needed. Check the CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Travel, for the most up-to-date travel information.
  • If an employee expresses concerns about business travel in general, employers should engage in an interactive process with the employee. Discuss the concerns and consider postponing all non-essential business travel for the time being.
  • Employers should encourage employees who have recently (within the past 14 days) returned from high-risk areas to stay at home for an incubation period of 14 days.
    • Determining how to compensate individuals during this time will depend company policies. These may include: exempt / non-exempt status; the employer’s sick / paid time off policy; potential union obligations; and the employer’s general policies.
  • Employers may request that employees disclose their personal travel plans but should not seek to prevent employees from travelling on their own time.
  • Employers should encourage sick employees to stay home. Employees who present symptoms of coronavirus may be encouraged to seek medical assistance and sent home immediately.
  • Employers should refrain from asking employees if they have COVID-19 and from taking the temperature of employees. However, employees should be encouraged to review the symptoms of COVID-19, posted by the CDC. Employers may ask the employees to go home and seek medical assistance if the employee respond that they have one or more symptom listed.
  • Depending on the particular company, employers may want to consider relaxing their sick leave policies to allow for more flexibility during this period. Additionally, employers who require doctor’s notes for employees may wish to consider dropping this requirement for the time being.
  • Employers may also wish to consider alternative vacation / sick day policies. This includes leave sharing and vacation donation policies.
Remote Work Options
  • As the virus spreads, employees may ask about potential alternative work options, including the ability to work from home. Employers should consider whether the employee’s job position lends itself to a more flexible work schedule.
  • To prevent further spread of the virus, employers are encouraged to implement flexible work schedules or work from home policies to the extent feasible.
  • Employers who have scheduled conferences or group meetings over the next several weeks should evaluate these planned events. Determine if postponement is a viable option.
Workplace Precautions
  • Employees may ask about what precautions employers are taking to maintain a safe work environment pursuant to OSHA.
  • Employers should emphasize respiratory etiquette and proper hand hygiene by all employees.
  • A best practice is to continue all routine environmental cleaning, specifically sanitizing all commonly used workplaces and encouraging employees to do the same.
  • Employers with 10 or more employees are required by OSHA to keep track of all COVID-19 infected workers. They must evaluate the employee’s work duties and environment to decide whether exposures at work either caused or contributed to the illness.
  • Employers should consider implementing a pandemic policy and communicating business continuity expectations to employees in the instance of mandated closures or excessive absenteeism.

Concerns surrounding COVID-19 will implicate several employment laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the National Labor Relations Act. To properly address individualized issues that arise, you should contact your Kerr Russell attorney.

Mark C. KnothImage of Mark C. Knoth, Employment and Labor attorney of Kerr Russell chairs the firm’s Labor, Employment, Employee Benefits & ERISA Practice Group. He counsels and advises business owners, managers and human resources professionals on workplace issues. These include civil rights and anti-discrimination laws; employee discipline; wage and hour; overtime; employee leaves; reasonable accommodations; veterans issues; picketing; secondary boycotts; reductions in force; drug testing; unemployment compensation; affirmative action; and union organizing campaigns, among other matters. He additionally drafts employee policies, handbooks, contracts, and covenants not to compete, and investigates threats of violence, allegations of harassment, and other employee misconduct.

Olivia HankinsonOlivia V. Hankinson counsels and advises business owners, managers and human resources professionals on various labor and employment related issues. These often involve concerns which may implicate employment laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act. Olivia represents employers with respect to unemployment insurance hearings, MIOSHA violation allegations, EEOC investigations, and other employment law matters. She also drafts employee handbooks, employment agreements, restrictive covenants, and various other employment policies.

Liam K. HealyLiam K. Healy of Kerr Russell practice clients maintain compliance with state and federal tax laws that govern individuals and businesses focuses his practice on helping clients maintain compliance with the myriad of state and federal tax laws and regulations that govern individuals and businesses. A particular focus of Liam’s practice is in the area of employee benefits and ERISA. Liam specializes in designing pension and executive compensation plans to benefit business owners and executives. His practice includes drafting and reviewing deferred compensation agreements, severance agreements and non-compete agreements, representing employers in multi-employer plan collection and withdrawal liability matters.

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