The COVID-19 pandemic has created many unique situations for employers. The effects of the pandemic and ensuing government regulations have impacted every household differently. Some employees may struggle with childcare while others may fear exposure. The standard “playbook” for handing common employment issues has been torn up and employers are required to make decisions with very little guidance. Here are some tips for how handle unique employment situations that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What should I do if an employee has symptoms of COVID-19?
If an employee has symptoms of COVID-19 when they arrive at work or become sick during the day, the employee should immediately be separated from other employees, customers, and visitors and sent home. A policy should be in place requiring employees who develop symptoms outside of work to notify their supervisor and stay home.
Employers should not require sick employees to provide a COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or return to work. Cal-OSHA guidelines state that an employee with COVID-19 symptoms shall not return to work until:
- At least 24 hours have passed since a fever of 100.4 or higher has resolved without the use of fever-reducing medications;
- COVID-19 symptoms have improved; and
- At least 10 days have passed since COVID-19 symptoms first appeared.
What should I do if an employee calls in sick? How can I protect other employees from potential exposure to COVID-19?
California law requires employers that receive notice of potential exposure to COVID-19 to “provide specified notifications to its employees within one business day of the notice of potential exposure.” However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to keep all medical information confidential, even if it is not related to a disability.
To comply with both laws, employers should seek to protect the identity of the infected employee. Rather than ask all employees if they were in close proximity to the infected employee (which requires identify disclosure), the employer should make the inquiry to the infected employee. Upon receiving names from the infected employee, notification should be given to the exposed employees while maintaining the privacy of the infected employee.
To keep employees and customers save, follow the CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting the workplace. All common areas and surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces. The CDC recommends waiting 24 hours before cleaning and disinfecting to minimize potential for other employees being exposed to respiratory droplets. If waiting 24 hours is not feasible, wait as long as possible.
What if multiple employees test positive for COVID-19?
If an employer is aware of a COVID-19 outbreak occurring at the worksite, the employer is required to report the confirmed cases within 48 hours to their local public health agency. A COVID-19 case is someone who: 1) has a positive viral test for COVID-19, 2) is diagnosed with COVID-19 by a licensed health care provider, 3) is ordered to isolate for COVID-19 by a public health official, or 4) dies due to COVID-19, as determined by a public health department. The California Department of Public Health has defined an outbreak in non-healthcare or non-residential congregate setting workplaces as three or more laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among employees who live in different households within a two-week period. The employer must continue to provide notice of subsequent cases to the agency.
When should employees be given Paid Sick Leave?
The amount of leave and compensation an employee is entitled to receive depends on multiple factors, including the reason for the leave (whether the employee is sick, quarantined or caring for another person) and employee’s pay status (salary or hourly). More detail can be found in our article regarding COVID-19 Sick Leave.
Daniel Thompson is an employment lawyer with Davis & Wojcik APLC, a Southern California based law firm with offices located in Temecula and Hemet. He is also the author of Land of Liability: A Guide for California Employers. He can be reached at (951) 652-9000.