Covid-19 (commonly known as Coronavirus) is front and center in the minds of everyone across the world. In the United States, preparations are underway for a potential spread of the virus further into the country. With the potential of the labor force becoming diagnosed with the illness, employers have to be aware of the best ways to respond, including prevention and employee rights. According to Steven Schwartzberg with Law.com, foreign countries have taken steps to close schools and even certain businesses, advocating for opportunities to work from home as much as possible. In the heart of the outbreak, quarantines have been put into place to minimize the impact of the disease. Schwartzberg goes on to identify the following symptoms commonly exhibited:
- Shortness of breath
What makes the virus so frightening to people is that exposure will not necessarily yield significant symptoms, and even more pronounced symptoms may take several days to appear. It is also such a concern because there is not currently a vaccine to immunize against the virus. The following is helpful information for employers to know how to best support their employees and to understand their rights as they relate to the response to this virus.
Rights Under FMLA
The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take time for certain family medical reasons and even personal medical reasons if they have a serious health concern. Jeff Nowak with Littler writes “clearly, employees with the coronavirus and employees with a child, spouse, or parent infected by the coronavirus are entitled to FMLA leave,” requiring of course that they fall within the definitions of FMLA-eligible employees. This means that employers should be prepared to extend this without question or hesitation.
Transmission of Covid-19
With ongoing investigation about Covid-19, there is more being learned all the time. As of now, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it is “respiratory secretions” that account for the spread of the virus. This occurs when infected people sneeze or cough. This type of transmission is a result of close contact. OSHA goes on to report that close contact is typically within approximately six feet. This transmission is similar to the way influenza is spread. Employers should encourage all staff to avoid close contact with those that are sick. Furthermore, reminders to staff about washing hands, covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing, and keeping a distance from sick individuals is in the best interest of all employers to avoid Covid-19 and any other viral infection.
Preventative Measures by Employers
An employer would be well advised to extend additional remote work (from home) options to employees that have potentially exposed to Covid-19. If they are not symptomatic but have been exposed, working from home may be a good option. It may be worth making reasonable alterations or accommodations to allow an employee to do this to prevent the potential spreading of the virus. If this accommodation can be made, it should not count against the employee’s allotted FMLA days, as they are not symptomatic, and able to work. In addition to this, washing hands with soap and water for more than 20 seconds is a necessary prevention method. Keeping distance from sick people and keeping surfaces commonly touched (doorknobs, desks, keyboards, telephones, etc.) disinfected is also a common and effective prevention method.
Careers at Higher Risk
Certain careers are at greater risk of being exposed to Covid-19. Those working in the healthcare industry are considered at greater risk because of their exposure to symptomatic individuals. Others that work in the airline industry, or at borders and points of entry into the United States are also potentially exposed to those carrying the virus. At this time, those that travel to countries that have a greater number of cases should as a part of their job, should not travel until further notice. Employers should be aware of travel restrictions and plan accordingly for their employees.
Not every employer watches out for their employees and their well being as they should. With the spread of Covid-19, there are many practices that can help in the prevention of the virus that employers will simply not put into place. Fighting against unfair business practices against their employees is what we do best. Our law firm is ready to fight for your rights and help you in the event of unfair practices and a failure to adhere to the law.