How are you advising employers to respond if they hear of someone testing positive to COVID-19?
If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to the disease.
Employers may ask, but cannot require, that the affected employee allow the voluntary disclosure of their identity. Without this consent, employers must be careful to protect the confidentiality of the affected employee, as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and other medical privacy laws generally prohibit employers from disclosing employees’ confidential medical information. Employers may generally inform the employee’s coworkers that they may have recently been in contact with an employee who tested positive for COVID-19 and recommend that the coworkers monitor themselves for symptoms and seek medical treatment as needed. If an employee is on leave due to testing positive or being quarantined, or because they have to be home to care for a child due to school closures, employers should develop separate methods for tracking such leave so that the employer can more easily take advantage of the tax credit offered by the emergency federal legislation known as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) signed into law this week.
What is the advice being given to employers about working from home? Have you had any cases where employees are complaining that their employer will not allow them to work from home?
All employers should be implementing strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations to the extent possible during an outbreak. This includes, among other issues, whether an employer can establish policies and practices, such as working from home for all employees who are able to do so and for those that necessarily have to come to work, use flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), and social distancing to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees. Employers are in various stages of adopting such strategies and we have heard that some employees are anxious about not being allowed to work from home. Currently in some locations in the United States, public authorities have ordered citizens to “shelter in place.” If this were to occurs in our area, most businesses will be effectively required to temporarily close, unless they are in an essential industry, such as healthcare, pharmacies, or grocery stores. For employers that establish work from home policies, it is critical that employers establish communication plans to keep people informed and connected, in
Is your firm establishing a task force of any kind to meet the challenges ahead economically?
Yes, we have a dedicated team of leaders that have been in planning and implementation mode for some time. Our firm has had a voluntary work from home in place for a week, and has adopted mandatory work from home starting at 5:00 pm today, Friday, March 20. We are still 100% open for business and consider ourselves lucky that most of our staff can work remotely.
What are some of the types of cases that may arise out of the current situation?
There are many questions with respect to how client businesses will be able to continue, and what measures to take, including paid and unpaid leave, furloughs and reductions in force, to allow employees to tap into unemployment benefits. As leave and other emergency legislation has passed, the state and federal departments of labor have been inundated with calls on how such legislation will be implemented. There are bound to be issues that arise regarding the failure to implement new legislation correctly. We expect also to see contractual issues, and unfortunately, bankruptcies or other liquidation measures taking place.
How is morale right now amongst your employees and in the labor force from what you know?
From talking to many businesses, it appears that everyone is feeling apprehensive and concerned about the unknowns of the future and how it will impact their health and finances, as well as that of their family.