On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of 2019-nCov also knows as “Coronavirus” as a public health emergency of international concern. On January 31, 2020 President Trump signed a presidential proclamation suspending entry into the U.S. by immigrants and nonimmigrants who pose a risk of transmitting coronavirus. Since it was initially detected in Wuhan, China, nearly 60,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide. Naturally, U.S. employers are growing increasingly concerned about the health and safety of their employees working stateside and overseas. While the statistics surrounding Coronavirus sound frightening, thus far it has produced results no more serious than the common influenza virus – with the most severely affected being the very young, pregnant women, and elderly individuals. Still, proper education and precautions should be taken to avoid panic and ensure your employees’ health. Below are some steps that employers can take to help protect their employees:
- Encourage employees to frequently wash their hands and use hand sanitizers. And remind employees that when sneezing or coughing to cover their nose and mouth.
- Actively encourage sick employees not to come to work. That will only hasten the spread of illness among other employees. Also, employees who arrive to work visibly sick should be sent home immediately.
- For employers with employees working overseas, especially in infected areas, employers should consider limiting expat travel to what is absolutely necessary for the time being. Review expat agreements to confirm contractual obligations and the ability to recall employees who want to return home.
- Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Managers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
- Routinely clean with disinfectant wipes all door knobs and flat surfaces in the workspace (i.e., desktops, countertop, appliances, file cabinets, etc.) Make sure employees are adequately supplied with cleaning products and actively encourage all employees to wipe down their immediate work station daily.
- Create a temporary work from home policy for some of your employees, if feasible. This won’t be an option for all businesses (e.g., a manufacturer) or employees. But if workable for your business, this practice can help cut down on the spread of illness in the workplace.
- What if an employee is diagnosed with coronavirus? While it is an employer’s duty to notify any employees who may have been exposed and to provide all pertinent information such as dates, time and location where they may have been in contact with an infected individual, it’s critical to not identify the infected employee by name as that may violate regulations under both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).