As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus (“COVID-19“) continues to increase in the United States, as well as around the world, businesses should (i) take steps now to minimize workplace exposure to all respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19; and (ii) create and be prepared to implement a plan to protect their workforce and ensure business continuity if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States.
At the current time, the following steps are recommended by the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC“):
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
- Emphasize respiratory etiquette and hand-washing hygiene
- Perform routine environmental cleaning
- Advise employees who are planning to travel to check CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for latest guidance and make sure those employees are aware of the employer’s policy and the available resources for obtaining medical care abroad
If an employee or a member of the employee’s family is confirmed to have COVID-19, the employer should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure. In doing so, employers must maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disability Act.
In addition to the above steps, employers should begin planning for additional measures to protect their workforce and allow for continuity of operations if there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States. These may include:
- Adopting policies that allow employees to telecommute and work flexible hours
- Require employees who show symptoms of COVID-19 to not come to work
- Require employees who may have been exposed to work remotely
- Replacing in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences
- Ensuring compliance with applicable federal and state leave laws, including the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA“), when taking steps regarding employee absences from work
- Making sure that information technology and infrastructure systems for the business can support multiple employees working remotely
- Plan how the company will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or if supply chains essential to the business are disrupted
- Consider cancelling non-essential business travel to countries outside to the U.S. where there is an outbreak of COVID-19.
For further information on COVID-19 and the CDC’s guidance for businesses, go to the CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html.
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