The coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) is making headlines around the world and is adversely impacting the stock market. As of March 1, 2020, media outlets report that more than 88,000 people have been infected globally, with more than 3,000 deaths. In the United States, there are 87 confirmed reported cases, with two deaths in Washington state. More cases are being confirmed throughout the country with each passing day. There is no question that businesses, large, small, and everything in-between are feeling the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. One question many clients ask—how should employers address this growing concern?
At the onset, all employers must exercise prudence and vigilance, while avoiding panic and poor decision-making in addressing these concerns. Decisions made in haste can lead to financial consequences and business disruption. These could include creating awkward situations between customers and employees, promoting hostile or offensive work environments, or the filing of discrimination lawsuits by employees or third parties against the employer.
Instead, employers should do the following:
As noted above, employers should avoid enacting policies or acting in a manner that discriminates against employees and third persons under federal, state, and local laws, including without limitation, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ADA, and FMLA. We suggest paying particular attention to race or national-origin based harassment, discrimination or disparate treatment complaints, including those from affected countries. Any such policies should be enforced in a uniform and consistent method, including reasonably accommodating employees unless it creates an undue hardship on the employer.
Under the ADA, employers typically cannot make disability-related inquiries or require medical examinations unless the employer has a reasonable belief based on objective evidence that either:
Finally, under FMLA and state equivalent laws, employees infected by the virus or flu or employees with a spouse, child, or parent infected by the virus or flu are entitled to FMLA leave. Employers should ask employees for appropriate doctor’s notes, and can ask for FMLA notices and certifications to be completed accordingly.
As the coronavirus continues to impact our lives more every day, employers are strongly urged to exercise measured but deliberate actions by contacting health authorities and legal counsel as to how to take affirmative steps towards maximizing its chances at protecting against the spread of the virus for as many employees and other persons as possible. Our experienced employment attorneys are readily available to assist employers and businesses with this emerging concern.
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