Articles | March 16, 2020

Preparing Your Workforce for the Coronavirus: Guidance

The CDC has published an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to help them plan, prepare and respond to COVID-2019.

It recommends that all employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations.

Employers should review their human resources policies and leave policies to assure that they are flexible enough to accommodate change due to the outbreak.

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FAQs about workforce issues and the coronavirus

Below, we cover some frequently asked questions about the coronavirus and its impact on the workforce.

If an employee requests to take time off due to COVID-19, are there regulations governing the employer’s communications and interactions with the employee?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently posted a news alert reminding employers of their obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act in light of COVID-19.

This alert explained that the ADA and Rehabilitation Act rules, including the requirement for reasonable accommodation and the rules about medical examinations and inquiries, do not interfere with or prevent employers from following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance on steps for employers to take regarding COVID-19.

It also referenced EEOC guidance on the ADA and pandemic preparedness in the workplace that explains ADA-compliant employer practices in this context.

Specifically, the EEOC guidance addresses FAQs on:

  • how much information an employer can request from an employee who calls in sick
  • when an employer can take the body temperature of an employee
  • whether and when an employer can force an employee with symptoms to stay home, and
  • whether and when an employer can require a doctor’s note before allowing an employee to return to work.

If an employee has been exposed to coronavirus, and is requested to be quarantined for 14 days, is that employee eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act?

No. Under recently issued Department of Labor guidance, leave taken by an employee for the purpose of avoiding exposure to a condition such as the flu would not be protected under the FMLA where the employee is not (or not yet) seriously ill.

However, if an employee or family member is seriously ill due to COVID-19, that would likely qualify as FMLA-protected leave.

The Department encouraged employers to tell employees who are ill with pandemic influenza or are exposed to ill family members to stay home, and to consider flexible leave policies for their employees in these circumstances.

Read the Department's notice.

Is an employer required to provide paid sick leave to employees who are not able to work in connection with COVID-19?

Federal law does not generally require employers to provide employees with paid sick leave.

However, some state and local laws mandate paid sick leave.

Employers should consult with legal counsel about any applicable state and local paid sick leave obligations in connection with COVID-19-related sick leave.

Some employers are adding additional leave for dealing with the emergency, for example, providing for 14 days of paid leave if the employee is forced to quarantine or be a caregiver.

Employers can develop a policy for this emergency leave that takes existing leave policies and insurance into account.

Will my disability insurance policy cover leave during the coronavirus public health emergency?

Coverage under the disability policy for an employee who is ill due to COVID-19 should generally be the same as any other illness.

Some disability carriers have informed Segal that they will consider a diagnosis of COVID-19 to be covered, regardless of symptoms. However, there will be challenges when dealing with employees who must be quarantined due to exposure, or who need to stay home to take care of a loved one.

In these cases, employers may want to review existing sick leave and paid leave policies to assure that they are flexible enough to provide appropriate leave during times of crisis.

Some employers are adding additional leave for dealing with the emergency, for example, providing for 14 days of paid leave if the employee is forced to quarantine or be a caregiver.

Employers can develop a policy for this emergency leave that takes existing leave policies and insurance into account.

Does OSHA have any advice for employers about preparing for the impact of the coronavirus on our workforce?

Yes. OSHA has developed a dedicated webpage aimed at providing information to employers about the evolving coronavirus outbreak, including links to interim guidance and other resources aimed at preventing exposures to and infection with COVID-19.

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This page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or investment advice. You are encouraged to discuss the issues raised here with your legal, tax and other advisors before determining how the issues apply to your specific situations.

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