Keeping Your Workplace Safe during a Public Health Crisis

As a business owner, you are doing everything possible to maintain a safe workplace during this unprecedented public health crisis.  Here are some answers to questions that are arising from my clients relating to attendance when confronted with an employee who had exposure to the virus or is displaying symptoms.

Can I require my employees to work from home to reduce the spread of the virus?

Yes, you can require that employees work remotely.  You should develop a work-from-home policy that includes tracking work time for both salaried and hourly employees.  Clearly indicate that this is a temporary policy given the public health crisis and that employees should not assume the policy will continue once the crisis has abated.  Avoid discriminating by applying this policy uniformly, not just for certain employees.

Can I require my employees to self-report exposure to coronavirus or symptoms consistent with coronavirus?

Yes, you can require that your employees report to you if they have reason to believe they were exposed to the virus or if they are displaying known symptoms. In either situation, you may require that the employee take time off or work from home, if they are able. If the employee has not developed symptoms for 14 days after exposure, the employee can return to the workplace.

Can I ask my employees if they are experiencing any flu-like symptoms?

Yes, the EEOC guidance indicates that asking questions about fever, chills, cough, and shortness of breath does not violate federal law.  This is not the same as asking an employee about a disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Can I take my employees’ temperature at my workplace?

Yes, on Tuesday, the EEOC issued guidance stating that employers may take employees’ temperatures. This should be done in a confidential setting and the employer should inform the employee that it is only to see if they have symptoms.  Do not make any medical diagnosis and DO NOT make any written record of the results as this will subject you to significant legal obligations.

Can I require my employees that are experiencing flu-like symptoms to stay home?

Yes, the EEOC has stated that employees with symptoms of coronavirus should leave the workplace. You are required by OSHA’s General Duty clause to provide a safe workplace that is free from recognized hazards that could cause serious harm to employees. Workers should stay home until they are symptom-free for at least 72 hours.

If an employee contracts coronavirus, can I inform my other employees?

Yes, you may inform other employees of their possible exposure to the virus. But…
No, you may not identify the employee who is ill. The ADA requires that employee personal medical information remain confidential.

Business owners have never faced personnel situations like this.  The situation changes daily, so please make decisions in the best interests of all.  Please call if you have specific questions.  I am here to help.

NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR GENERAL INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES. IT DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE, NOR DOES IT CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. EACH SITUATION IS DIFFERENT. YOU SHOULD CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY TO DETERMINE YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS, REMEDIES, AND DUTIES.

By Wendy M. Anderson, Esq.
Law Office of Wendy Anderson, PLLC
480-825-4509
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