Coronavirus (COVID-19): Workplace Resource Center
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, XpertHR is constantly working to add new resources and update existing content with the latest information to help employers safeguard their employees and their business.
Recent additions include:
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act: COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Requirements
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): Engaging Remote Workers
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): New York Compliance Concerns
Additional resources can be found in the sidebar at the right.
Author: XpertHR Editorial Team
The coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continues to challenge employers on several different fronts.
From safety to health to job functions and more, employers must consider how to prepare and protect their employees and the workplace.
Legal Responsibilities and Workplace Strategies
At this time, there are no laws or regulations specifically addressing an employer's legal obligations relating to COVID-19. However, employers should regularly consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the most current information on the coronavirus, including guidance for businesses. Also, employers must always be mindful of the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act. Under this clause, an employer is required to furnish each worker with "employment and a place of employment, which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." While this clause applies to a wide array of different situations, in the case of COVID-19, it essentially requires an employer to ensure that its employees have a safe and healthy workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued guidance on preparing workplaces for COVID-19 and an alert aimed at preventing exposure.
In addition, the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standard issued by the OSHA requires that employers provide their employees with certain equipment - including gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory devices - when particular hazards may cause injury or impairment. Also, OSHA has deemed the coronavirus a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job and, therefore, an employer must record any such cases on the OSHA 300 log.
An employer should also consider workplace strategies relating to COVID-19, along with other infectious diseases. For example:
- Provide a letter to employees with guidance on COVID-19;
- Consider implementing a contagious disease policy to communicate to employees how the virus and other infectious diseases will be addressed in the workplace;
- Review information about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to ensure policies comply with federal laws;
- Evaluate FMLA criteria about whether an employee is eligible for leave for coronavirus-related conditions;
- Ensure that new and existing employees fill out/update their emergency contact form in case they exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus or are exposed to it; and
- For those covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), consider privacy concerns.
Education as to the transmission and symptoms of COVID-19 is key to allaying fears and reducing misinformation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 can be transmitted person to person, specifically through respiratory secretions, e.g., coughing and sneezing.
It is crucial that everyone is aware of the symptoms of COVID-19. Common signs of the virus are:
- Respiratory symptoms;
- Shortness of breath; and
- Breathing difficulties.
Severe cases may cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure or death.
Educating employees on the facts of COVID-19 will encourage communication and cooperation between employees and management on measures to ensure the health and safety of the workplace. Further, it would be prudent to:
- Determine how to address an infectious disease in the workplace;
- Evaluate additional workplace issues relating to infectious diseases; and
- Consider how to address an employee with an infectious disease.
Reducing Potential Exposure to the Coronavirus
As with most infectious diseases, there are certain precautionary measures an employer can take to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus. For example, employees should be strongly urged to:
- Wash their hands frequently with soap and water;
- Make use of hand sanitizer gels or wipes when soap and water are not readily available;
- Maintain social distancing;
- Avoid touching their face;
- Cover their coughs or sneezes;
- Stay home if they are sick; and
- Self-quarantine if they have tested positive or otherwise have reason to believe they may have been infected.
To stress the importance of these measures and demonstrate commitment to the overall health of the workforce, consider taking additional steps such as placing tissue boxes at each workstation and hand sanitizers at several locations around the workplace, e.g., by the printer.
Addressing Concerns About Performing Job Functions
Be prepared for employees who may be nervous and concerned about contracting COVID-19. From an employee-relations perspective, an employer should be understanding of the employee's concerns and evaluate every request or issue based on the employee's particular circumstances.
If an employee refuses to come to work when a co-worker is suspected of having contracted the coronavirus or is displaying flu-like symptoms, consider alternative arrangements such as telecommuting. With the appropriate equipment, e.g., laptops and software, allowing employees to telecommute can go a long way to ease worries among the workforce and further protect the workplace from transmission. Also, have employees take their laptops home each night in case the office is closed or they cannot get to work.
If telecommuting or working at another location is not an option, clearly, but kindly, communicate:
- Why the employees cannot be accommodated;
- Why the risk of COVID-19 infection may be low;
- How the employees can protect themselves from infection; and
- What protective measures the employer will take.
There is still much that is unknown about the virus so listen to an employee's concerns and fears and be open to discussing alternative solutions.
In addressing or responding to a proposed alternative working solution:
- Review the telecommuting policy;
- Determine how to manage a telecommuter; and
- Consider additional issues relating to flexible working arrangements.
An employer may find that an employee has reservations or simply refuses to go on a business trip as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In this case, an employer should consider proposing an alternative, e.g., conduct the business from the "home office."
Also, check the CDC's advisories on travel restrictions. Regardless, an employer should consider postponing all travel out of an abundance of caution.
The situation remains fluid so be sure to consult the latest news and resources on the appropriate government sites.
Business disruption during this time can affect payroll processing. The resulting delay in paying employees and other payees can expose an employer to penalties and fines for failure to report and remit payroll taxes or adhere to wage and hour laws. Although the IRS and the taxing agencies of the affected states may provide employers with tax filing and payment extensions, these agencies do not forgive interest for late deposits or reports. Therefore, payroll professionals have good reason to do everything possible to ensure that business can continue as normally as possible during the pandemic.
- Ensure that payroll remains operational by implementing a payroll disaster recovery plan;
- Check state-by-state variations in pay frequency and lag time requirements;
- Meet deadlines for filing federal forms;
- Review state laws regarding direct deposit and paycards to determine whether your business can require or switch to these methods now for employees who were normally paid by paper check.