The House of Representatives passed legislation aimed at mitigating the economic impact of the coronavirus by providing financial assistance to businesses and individuals. Assuming the bill is passed by the Senate early next week and signed into law by President Trump, the law would ensure that workers can take paid or sick leave. The bill also bolsters unemployment insurance and guarantees that all Americans receive free diagnostic testing for coronavirus.
The potential economic fallout from coronavirus is unknown at this time.
Employers are currently required under state and federal employment laws to accommodate and pay sick employees. For example, the New Jersey Family Leave Act (“FML”) N.J.S.A. 34:11B-1, et. seq., requires public and private employers to provide covered employees up to 12 weeks leave of absence upon the birth or adoption of a child or serious health condition of the employee or defined family members. Although, the law does not require employers to pay these employee’s wages while they are on disability, they are required to hold their job, so that the employee may eventually return to work. Further, many employers pay their sick employees when they are out of disability either directly, through insurance benefits, or a combination of the two.
Clearly, if recommended social distancing, washing, and other hygienic suggestions are not adhered to and the virus continues to spread, the virus is likely to have severe and significant economic and human consequences. This bill, if enacted would provide economic relief to employers and employees.
The bill also provides economic support towards fighting this serious outbreak.
While, Congress is doing its part, it is important that all employers echo the important messages to its employees, so that this outbreak will be quickly contained and eventually eradicated.
Recommended strategies for employers to use now:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
- Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
- Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.
- Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
- Separate sick employees:
- CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
- Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette, and hand hygiene by all employees:
- Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
- Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning:
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
- Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps:
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found at on the CDC website.
- Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
- If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.
- Additional Measures in Response to Currently Occurring Sporadic Importations of the COVID-19:
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
- Encourage Employees not to Hoard Soap, sanitizers, food and cleaning supplies
- We are all in this together, it’s safer for everyone if all have access to and use soap, hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies and food.
We are all in this together. Congress is doing its part to combat the coronavirus. It is important that employers, for the sake and benefit of their employees, their business, and the general health of the economy echo the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control. It’s important for all Americans to do their part to end this outbreak.
Together, we will prevail. Together, we will end this pandemic earlier with less financial and human loses.