Practical guidance for employers on responding to the coronavirus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an interim guidance for employers regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19). This guidance may help prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.

In order to prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, it is recommended that employers use the CDC guidance to determine the risk of coronavirus infection.  Employers should never make a determination of risk based on race or country of origin, and as always, employers should maintain the confidentiality of employees with confirmed coronavirus infection.

Recommended strategies for employers to use now:

Actively encourage sick employees to stay home

  • Until an employee with a fever is free of a fever, signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or symptom reducing medicines. Employees should follow company policies regarding notification of being sick to their employer.
  • Employers should ensure that their sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
  • Employers should talk with companies that provide contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and non-punitive leave policies.
  • The CDC does not recommend requiring employees to provide healthcare notes to validate their illness or return to work, due to healthcare providers being extremely busy.
  • Employers should maintain flexible policies to allow employees to stay home to care for sick family members.

Separate sick employees

  • Employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms upon arrival at work or become sick during work should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately.
  • Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when sneezing or coughing.

Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees

  • Place posters that encourage employees to stay home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to the workplace and other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
  • Provide tissues and no-touch disposable receptacles for use by employees.
  • Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.   
  • Provide soap and water and hand sanitizers in the work place. Ensure that adequate supplies are provided and placed in multiple locations.

Perform routine environmental cleaning

  • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace.  Use the cleaning products that are usually used in these areas.
  • No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
  • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.

Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps

  • Check the CDC’s Travel Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country of travel. Specific travel information to and from China, and information for aircrew, can be found on the CDC website.
  • Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before traveling and to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
  • Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and promptly call a healthcare provider if needed.
  • Employees who are outside of the United States should follow company policy for obtaining medical care.  Please note that a U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services but U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability or resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines or medical care to private U.S. citizens who are overseas. 

Additional measures

  • Employees who are not sick but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their employer and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
  • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.          

Additional resources

Attorneys at McDonald Hopkins can assist employers in reviewing their benefits policies and making sure their supervisors are adequately trained with ready access to information on infection control and company policies. Diligent planning for health emergencies can help protect employees, customers, and the company. 

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