What Employers Need to Know About the Coronavirus

Published Monday, March 2, 2020

With the growing concern surrounding the Coronavirus, it is important for employers to become educated regarding the disease and help employees stay calm and understand the risk. Keep in mind that guidance regarding the Coronavirus is rapidly evolving and this article is current as of March 2, 2020.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released the following information:

  • The Coronavirus, abbreviated “COVID-19,” is a respiratory disease outbreak that was first detected in China and it now has been detected in 60 locations internationally, including the United States,
  • Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Severe symptoms have included pneumonia in both lungs.
  • At this time, most people in the United States will have little immediate risk of exposure to this virus. The Coronavirus is not currently spreading widely in the United States. However, it is important to note that current global circumstances suggest it is likely that this virus will cause a pandemic.
  • People in communities where ongoing community spread with the virus that causes COVID-19 has been reported are at elevated, though still relatively low, risk of exposure.
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19 are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19 also are at elevated risk of exposure.
  • Travelers returning from affected international locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure.

Here is some guidance for all employers provided by the CDC:

  • 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.
  • 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 way.
  • Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member.

Oregon Laws and the Coronavirus

  • An employee diagnosed with a confirmed case of Coronavirus may qualify under FMLA and/or OFLA as a serious health condition for them or their family member. If so, follow the normal family medical leave process.
  • Also, as a reminder, Oregon employees are allowed up to 40 hours of protected sick leave each year. If you have an employee who calls in with flu-like symptoms, and they have available time under Oregon Sick Leave, be sure to track and protect that time accordingly.

Employer CDC-recommended measures:

  • 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.
  • 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.

CDC Employee Travel Advisory:

  • As a first step to employee travel, employers should check the US Department of State’s Travel Advisory list. Currently China is listed as Do Not Travel due to the Coronavirus. Specific travel information regarding travelers going to and returning can be found on the CDC website.
  • Employers should 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 employees are traveling outside of 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.
  • 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).

It is important that employers do not jump to conclusions with the Coronavirus. Early Coronavirus symptoms appear to mimic the common cold. Instead of creating blanket policies such as requiring all employees who have certain symptoms to stay home, employers should assess the risk on a case-by-case basis, and encourage employees displaying symptoms to seek and follow professional medical advice.

Additionally, if employees have returned from an area infected with the Coronavirus but do not appear to have any symptoms, you should assess whether the employee’s role is capable from working at home for the incubation period. If an employee cannot perform remote work but you are requiring them to stay home from work, consider additional paid leave until the incubation period passes.

If you have any other questions regarding the Coronavirus, please do not hesitate to reach out!

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