With all of the recent news about the coronavirus outbreak in China, employers have increasingly been left to wonder about protections they should take. The truth is that there is not a consensus among all medical professionals about the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, and as a result, there is little in the way of legal obligations for employers in dealing with this virus.
Common Sense Recommendations
However, the U.S. Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recently issued an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, which contains a series of common sense recommendations employers should follow to prevent outbreak of the disease on premises. They include:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
- Separate sick employees
- Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees
- Perform routine environmental cleaning
Employees Who Travel
The CDC has also issued Travelers’ Health Notices with regard to Americans who travel. Among other things, the CDC recommends that:
- employees make employers aware of acute respiratory illness, and
- employers advise traveling employees to seek medical attention if they are sick while traveling.
Conducting An Internal Risk Assessment
CDC has also issued a Guidance to employers as to how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. The principal recommendations of that Guidance are summarized in the flowchart linked here. Naturally, the risks increase for an employer with a workforce that routinely travels overseas, and for employers with employees who work in a healthcare setting.
Avoid Protecting Against Non-Existent Risks
Just because an employee has traveled overseas – and especially if he or she did so because you required it – does not mean you are required to keep the employee away from work. Be thoughtful in how you deal with such employees, and make an effort not to impose restrictions that could in any way be construed as punitive or harmful. Finally, be sure to follow the CDC Guidance, and check for updates on the CDC website, as the advice changes on a regular basis.
Dan Handman is a partner in the Santa Monica office of Hirschfeld Kraemer, LLP. He can be reached at (310) 255-1820, or firstname.lastname@example.org