We are actively monitoring the status of the disease and how our clients may be affected by it. It is an evolving situation and we recognize that employers may have questions as to what steps they have a legal obligation to take to protect their workplace. Both federal and state laws may be impacted depending on the jurisdictions in which your business operates.

How is the disease spread:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

What are some of the duties of an employer?

As an employer, you have a duty to protect the health and safety of your employees and your business’ productivity without violating federal or state laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, among others, plus state and local laws, may all be implicated by actions employers take with respect to dealing with both healthy and sick employees.

Employers may need to take definitive steps to keep their place of business and their employees safe. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 provides in section 5 (a) that “each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

Here are some of the things we are suggesting businesses consider:

  • Adopting policies permitting sick employees to work from home and sending sick employees home when they present symptoms of respiratory illness, coughing, shortness of breath and fever.
  • Reconsidering any travel by your employees to China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.
  • If you have workers who have been to China for business or pleasure, requesting that they stay home for 14 days from the date they left China.
  • Making very sure that all policies are uniformly applied so that employees of certain nationalities, ethnicities and races are not targeted.
  • Not disciplining employees who do not wish to come to work if there is a reasonable potential for them to be exposed to the virus. If there is no such potential for them to be exposed, the employer may not have to pay the employee.
  • According to an OSHA Fact sheet, “employers should ensure that their workers understand:
    1. Differences between seasonal epidemics and worldwide pandemic disease outbreaks;
    2. Which job activities may put them at risk for exposure to sources of infection;
    3. What options may be available for working remotely, or utilizing an employer’s flexible leave policy when they are sick;
    4. Social distancing strategies, including avoiding close physical contact (e.g., shaking hands) and large gatherings of people;
    5. Good hygiene and appropriate disinfection procedures;
    6. What personal protective equipment (PPE) is available, and how to wear, use, clean and store it properly;
    7. What medical services (e.g., vaccination, post- exposure medication) may be available to them; and
    8. How supervisors will provide updated pandemic-related communications, and where to direct their questions.”

The CDC has also issued guidance to employers. Up to the minute information is available on the CDC website.

Importantly, we are here to answer any question you may have about your workplace and other possible consequences of the world-wide situation, including the virus’s impact on contracts you have, insurance issues (force majeure clauses), liability and more.

Please contact with any questions:

Ethan O’Shea, head of our Employment Law Practice | (215) 661-0400 |eoshea@hrmml.com.
Jon Samel, head of our Business Law Department | (215) 661-0400 | JSamel@HRMML.com.