Coronavirus (COVID-19) HR Q&A

What is the Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

A respiratory illness that can be passed from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth when a person coughs or breathes. As of the time of this writing, it is still unknown how long the Coronavirus may stay on surfaces, but it may be possible to transmit the virus through surface contact. Known symptoms include fever, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 2-14 days from exposure.

The Governor declared a state of emergency. What does this mean?

Declaring a State of Emergency allows the Governor to request access to additional Federal funding in an effort to help slow the spread of the virus. It also allows for lawmakers to create emergency measures for the same reason. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) issued emergency rules on 3/11/2020 regarding paid sick leave for employees experiencing flu-like symptoms. The Colorado Health Emergency Leave with Pay (Colorado HELP) Rules requires up to 4 days of paid sick leave to be paid by the employer for employees being tested for the Coronavirus. This rule is currently limited to companies in leisure and hospitality; food services; childcare; education, including transportation, food service, and related work at educational establishments; home health, if working with elderly, disabled, ill, or otherwise high-risk individuals and; nursing homes and community living facilities.

If an employer already has a paid sick leave policy in place, the employee is allowed to exhaust the company leave first. If the employee does not have four days of sick leave available, employers are only required to supply additional sick leave pay to add up to 4 days. For example, an employee has 3 days of sick leave available, the employer must give them an additional 1 day of sick leave for a total of 4 days. All workers, regardless of full-time/part-time or exempt/non-exempt status in these fields are covered by this emergency rule.

This rule will be in effect for a total of 30 days but could be extended if the state of emergency continues. Additional rules for wage replacement options are still under review. StaffScapes will do its best to update clients as more information becomes available. For more details on this rule, please visit the CDLE website at:

https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/news/state-labor-department-releases-emergency-rules-paid-sick-leave-covid-19

Can we ask employees to stay or go home if they are sick?

Yes. If an employee lets you know they are sick, you can tell them to stay home. If a sick employee comes to work, you can tell them to go home. You cannot perform any kind of medical testing, such as temperature taking, on your employees to verify sickness. However, you can ask about their symptoms or how they are generally feeling and request they seek medical attention. Avoid asking about specific illnesses as it could lead to a disability-related inquiry under the ADA. Additionally, you may require a doctor’s note to clear the employee to return to work or require that they are symptom-free without fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours prior to returning. Please note that this practice should be applied consistently to avoid potential discrimination.

UPDATE: As of March 18, the EEOC is now allowing employers to take employee’s temperature before starting work or meeting with clients. Please note that a high temperature is not always a sign of COVID-19 and that some cases of COVID-19 do not cause a high temperature. All other forms of medical testing are still prohibited. Additional guidance can be found here: 

https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/wysk_ada_rehabilitaion_act_coronavirus.cfm

Do I have to pay employees who are sent home or are self-quarantined?

You may allow employees to utilize sick/vacation/PTO options if available. If paid time off is not an option or has been exhausted, the time away from work may be unpaid. PLEASE BE AWARE OF EXEMPT/SALARIED EMPLOYEES – IF THEY ARE STILL PERFORMING ANY WORK AT HOME, SUCH AS CHECKING EMAIL, THEY MUST BE PAID FOR THE ENTIRE DAY.

What about telecommuting?

If telecommuting is an option for your workplace, be prepared or plan to utilize this option more heavily. It can be a practical measure to help reduce exposure in your work environment.

Can employees refuse to come to work out of fear of infection?

It depends. The only time an employee can refuse work is if they are in imminent danger. This means a danger exists which can reasonably cause death or serious physical harm. At this time, the Coronavirus does not qualify as imminent danger unless you are planning on sending the employee to a Do Not Travel listed country, such as Iran or China. For more information on the Department of State’s Travel Advisory list please visit https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories.html/

One of our employees has been exposed to the virus but we found out after they interacted with clients, customers, or other employees. What should we do?

If possible, communicate with parties that came into close contact with an employee who has been exposed to the virus. Be aware of ADA privacy rules and avoid specific details about the employee. Do not disclose any identifying information about the individual who tested positive.

Do we need to inform the CDC that one of our employees contracted the Coronavirus?

There is no obligation to inform the CDC.

Should we supply masks and/or gloves to our employees?

No. There is a shortage of masks and they should be reserved for healthcare professionals. Sick employees should stay home, and employers should promote proper sneeze and cough etiquette as well as hand hygiene. Washing hands and using hand sanitizer is the most effective action people can take against the virus.

If my employee(s) want to wear masks, do I have to allow them to do so?

No. You may require they not wear masks. Doctors and the CDC agree that washing hands is the best defense against the virus, not masks.

What about cleaning?

The CDC recommends that high-touch areas are cleaned often and suggests that cleaning wipes/supplies are provided for employee’s use.

Are there any resources we can give to our employees?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a flyer that can be given to employees which explains the Coronavirus and healthy habits found here:

https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/coronavirus_workplace_tips_for_employees.pdf

Additional resources:

This Q&A is not intended to provide medical or legal advice. For the most current information on the Coronavirus/COVID-19 please visit the following sites:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus