The first case of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has been confirmed in New York State. In this post, we provide an overview of what New York employers need to know.
Of course employers should monitor employee travel, and many are properly and cautiously cancelling unnecessary business travel, particularly to impacted regions. Employers must be sure to uniformly enforce any changes to travel policies, but may do so to protect the business and its workforce.
Employers, however, must not assess risk of infection based on an employee’s race or country of origin. What does this mean? For example, don’t apply a different standard to an employee who hails from a known-infected region of the world simply because she was born there. That’s discrimination, and it violates both New York and federal law.
On the other hand, employers can take proactive steps by reminding employees of their sick time/PTO policies and encouraging employees to use sick days if they’re ill. Instruct supervisors to send employees home if they report to work with flu symptoms. All employees should be encouraged to regularly wash their hands. That’s common sense – and the medical community tells us it’s effective, too.
In the event an employee exhibits coronavirus-like symptoms, you’re permitted to send him home. When this happens, an employer may want clearance from a medical provider before allowing the employee to return to work. Requiring a doctor’s note may already be part of your workplace policies, so be sure to enforce it. And if it’s not, contact legal counsel to create a compliant policy now.
Employers also should keep in mind that the spread of COVID-19 may lead to an increase in requests for paid family leave (PFL) and/or family medical leave (FMLA). Where applicable, employers should require employees to use PFL and FMLA concurrently.
If your organization has questions about responding to COVID-19 or other employee health-related issues in the workplace, including your leave policies, contact us. Our attorneys can help you put in place compliant and enforceable policies.