Let’s face it, nobody was prepared for COVID-19 and the disruption it would cause to our lives. If you’re an employer, there isn’t a policy or playbook that you can refer to that would help you navigate these challenging times. The pandemic has employees asking questions, and now you need a plan. You need to address what you’ll do to keep your employees as healthy as possible and what your employees can expect from you, as their employer, if COVID-19 affects your business.
Workplace HCM has put together a list of commonly asked questions that we feel will help you deal with COVID-19 crisis in the Workplace. We hope that you will find this information useful, and we will continue to provide more content on this topic.
Q: What can your employees do to prevent the spread?
A: Having all employees wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, as well as using alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, helps with the spread of COVID-19. Other precautions such as cleaning and disinfecting all touched surfaces frequently, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth and staying home when you are sick are also essential ways to help employees prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Q: Can I ask an employee if they have been diagnosed with an illness?
A: No. You cannot ask an employee if they have ever been diagnosed; although you may ask them if they have been to areas where they may have been exposed.
Q: Can I send home an employee who is showing COVID-19 symptoms?
A: Yes. Although this should be done uniformly among all employees. Allowing some employees to go home and some employees to stay could lead to discrimination issues. Employers should encourage all sick employees to stay home. You cannot force an employee to see a doctor, although you can send an employee home who appears to be ill.
Q: Can I send home an employee who is not showing COVID-19 symptoms, but may have been exposed to the virus?
A: Yes. If any of your employees have been knowingly exposed to or in close contact with anyone confirmed to have COVID-19, you may send them home.
Q: Can I require a doctor’s note to allow an asymptomatic employee to return to work?
A: No. Doctor’s notes may only be required if the employee has taken FMLA, and you have notified the employee before the FMLA began that you would be requiring a note for their return to their position.
Q: Can I deny an employee from returning to work even if the employee/employee’s doctor says they are fine to return?
A: Yes. If you still have any reason to believe that the employee poses some health risks that may affect your other employees, you may deny them from returning to work.
Q: Can I stop an employee from traveling?
A: You are able to stop employees’ work-related travel due to the risk of exposure, but are unable to stop employees from traveling for their own leisure.
Q: Do I have to pay a nonexempt employee if the business is closed, shut down or no work is available due to COVID-19?
A: No. All Nonexempt employees are only required to be paid for the time they worked.
Q: Can I require a nonexempt employee to use PTO in partial-day increments?
A: Yes. Keep in mind this is subject to state and local law.
Q: Can I require employees to telecommute?
A: Yes. As long as they are capable based on their job description.
Q: Do I have to provide equipment for employees working from home?
A: You may be required to reimburse your employees for all business expenses depends on your state law. You cannot require all nonexempt employees to purchase business equipment in which the cost would put the employee’s wages below minimum wage for their hours worked.
Q: Can I require an employee to use PTO if he or she is absent related to COVID-19?
A: Yes. As long as you consistently enforce and follow your own PTO policy.
Q: Is there any sort of financial support available for employees if business slows or shuts down?
A: All employees are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits if their company’s hours reduce or shut down completely.
Q: Are our employees eligible for unemployment if we have to close for a few weeks?
A: Most-likely. Although this is determined by a number of factors such as each state’s unemployment division, generally, employees who are unable to work through no fault of their own are eligible for unemployment. Employees who were unable to work due to COVID-19 symptoms or quarantine generally would be ineligible for unemployment because they were not able to work.