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Employer FAQs About COVID-19

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Be sure to check out our last post about what employers need to know about COVID-19. Here, we’re answering some of the most common questions that we’ve heard from our New York employer clients.

Can employees be required to work remotely/telecommute to reduce chances of exposure?  Yes.  Such requirements should be enforced based on objective standards and must not treat employees differently based on any protected class.

If I require an employee to stay home am I required to pay them?  It depends, if an employee is working remotely, she must be paid. If the employee is not working, employers still will be required to adhere to their existing PTO policies. Depending on the circumstances, New York’s Paid Family Leave Law may come into play. Presently, there is no State or federal law that requires employers to provide paid sick leave although we are monitoring the proposed changes in State law. New York City employers are reminded that they must adhere to local requirements regarding paid sick leave.

Can an employee refuse to come to work due to fear of COVID-19?  Generally, no.  However, employees may be protected by OSHA if they believe – and can establish – that they’re in imminent danger. Employers are urged to contact legal counsel before disciplining an employee who refuses to report to work because of fear of COVID-19.

What symptoms should I be watching for?  Flu-like symptoms warrant reasonable concern. To be cautious, employers should encourage employees to stay home if they’re coughing, sneezing, or have a fever, shortness of breath, and/or a sore throat.

Can I prohibit my employees from wearing face masks at work?  Generally, yes. According to the World Health Organization, face masks are necessary only for individuals who are treating someone who is infected with COVID-19.  Employers can reasonably conclude, then, that face masks are not necessary to protect the health of employees.  As a result, employers can prohibit the use of face masks in most workplaces at this time.

What should you do if you learn that someone in your workplace has been exposed or infected?  Employers should notify employees (and clients) who may have come in contact with the individual that there has been an exposure/infection. Employers must not disclose who was infected/exposed – remember to maintain privacy!

As a precaution, can I take my employees’ temperatures when they arrive at work?  It depends on the workplace and the circumstances. Employers are advised to contact legal counsel before taking this step to ensure they’re not running afoul of State or federal laws covering mandatory health exams.

What if I learn that certain races/nationalities/cultures are being stigmatized in the workplace?  Employers always are obligated to enforce their Equal Employment Opportunity and anti-harassment/discrimination policies. COVID-19 doesn’t justify harassment or discrimination based on race/nationality or any other protected class.

Stay tuned. . . The attorneys at The Coppola Firm are continuing to monitor developments in the law and regulatory guidance surrounding COVID-19. Stay tuned for additional practical guidance for employers. To receive these updates first, follow us on Facebook. If you have a specific question that hasn’t been answered here, contact us.

Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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