November 20, 2020

A Refresher for Employers for Addressing COVID-19

Employers continue to struggle with the COVID-19.  The entirety of our economy strains to remain open and productive while also safe and healthy.  In the last several weeks we have witnessed a rise in the number of cases and additional precautions issued by various state governments for continued function.  Pennsylvania, by way of example, has issued four new orders pertaining to Travel restrictions, mask mandates and guidance for healthcare providers, schools and colleges.  It is imperative that employers keep abreast of existing and evolving guidelines provided by both the CDC and their local state agencies.  Not only do employers need to know how to handle potential cases of exposure but must also develop internal policy and protocol to maintain and document compliance with current guidance at the state and federal level.  To this end, we provide a specific overview drawn directly from the CDC Guidelines:

Employees who have symptoms when they arrive at work or become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers, and visitors and sent home.  People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness.  Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.  Employees who develop symptoms outside of work should notify their supervisor and stay home.

Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.  In most cases, employers do not need to shut down their facility.  Employers should close off areas used for prolonged periods by the employee and follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations  

Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider.  Employees who test positive for COVID-19 should be excluded from work and remain in home isolation if they do not need to be hospitalized.  Employees should stay home until at least 24 hours have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.  For employees who never develop symptoms, isolation and other precautions can be discontinued 10 days after the date of their first positive test.

Employees may have been exposed if they are a “close contact” of someone who is infected.  Potentially exposed employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and follow CDC recommended steps.  Potentially exposed employees who do not have symptoms should remain at home and practice social distancing for 14 days.

Employers should not require sick employees to provide a COVID-19 test result or healthcare provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or return to work.  Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.

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).

The Family First Coronavirus Relief Act, the FFCRA, remains in effect until December 31, 2020.  This provides for paid emergency sick leave for up to 80 hours for full-time employees if they meet one of the six criteria.  Part-time employees are eligible for a graduated period based on their schedule and compensation earned over a two week period.  The eligible employees must meet one of the following criteria:

  1. Be subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. Been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19;
  3. Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. Is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2);
  5. Is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19; or
  6. Is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Secretaries of Labor and Treasury.

Employees taking leave for criteria 1, 2 or 3 shall be paid at either their regular rate or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period). By contrast, employees taking leave for criteria 4 and 6 shall be paid at 2/3 their regular rate or 2/3 the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate (over a 2-week period).  Under the FFCRA, an employee qualifies for expanded family leave if the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) for reasons related to COVID-19.  Therefore, employees taking leave under criteria 5 shall be paid at 2/3 their regular rate or 2/3 the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher, up to $200 per day and $12,000 in the aggregate (over a 12-week period—two weeks of paid sick leave followed by up to 10 weeks of paid expanded family and medical leave).

Employers that provide payments under the FFCRA are entitled to dollar-for-dollar tax reimbursements.  There are forms available on the Department of Labor website to facilitate documentation of the request for leave and basis for reimbursement.

Employers may not discharge, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against any employee who exercises his/her rights under the FFCRA.

Again, this guidance is derived directly from the guidance provided by the CDC and for the FFCRA.  These serve as the starting point for evaluation of strategic steps to address COVID-19 exposure and quarantine.  In addition, each state carries its own guidelines for exposure, contact tracing, quarantine, travel and face coverings.  Employers must familiarize themselves with the applicable requirements and design policies for compliance and enforcement.  The increase in cases has born an increase in COVID-19 related problems in the workplace.  An employer’s ability to successfully navigate these issues and take corrective action when necessary is entirely dependent on the employer’s established policies and protocols. 

Our Employment Law Group remains available to answer questions and assist.  Please contact us at 1-888-488-2638.