Coronavirus FAQs: What Employers Are Asking

With a pandemic on everyone’s minds, our Stratus.hr team has put together some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve heard from clients. While the situation is fluid, we are actively monitoring these fast moving developments and may update these questions and/or answers.

My employee hasn’t tested positive for COVID-19, and they don’t exhibit all of the symptoms.  They are asking if they should come to work.

Source: fisherphillips.com
While OSHA says employees are only entitled to refuse to work if they believe they are in imminent danger, employers are encouraged to be flexible and understanding. A best practice is to consider alternative ways of working for concerned employees, such as working remotely or in an isolated area, away from coworkers. Be sure they have the proper personal protective equipment for any interactions they may need to have with others.

I’ve heard there’s a new federal paid leave program. Does that apply to us?

Yes, if you have less than 500 employees! Read the highlights of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) that was signed into law on March 18, 2020.

What if employees are complaining about their new job duties? Can I force them to comply?

When employees are being asked to do things they don’t normally do, such as wipe down, disinfect, make deliveries, etc., consider their safety concerns. If they refuse and there’s nothing that’s high risk, you can terminate for refusal. However, if more than one employee complains, that could be concerted work activity. While you could still find a permanent replacement, the refusing employees would have to be on the list to be considered for the next available job.

Does the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cover absences with or without COVID-19 infection?

Source: dol.gov
The FMLA covers absences for a “serious health condition” which is a loose definition considering the unknowns with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Companies may need to use their best judgment without doctor’s certification because of the current stress on the healthcare system. Employers are encouraged to have flexible leave policies for employees in these circumstances.

My business may need to temporarily shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Should my employees file for unemployment?

Source: dol.gov/newsroom
If your company is only temporarily shutting down operations due to the coronavirus or the employee is currently being quarantined but expects to return to work afterwards, you may want to consider using the federal paid leave program that will refund you 100% for paid employee wages. Employees will continue making their full wages for two weeks if you have cash flow to pay and then wait to be reimbursed through tax credits. Then they may qualify for emergency family leave at 2/3 their pay for the subsequent weeks, pending their eligibility.

If, however, you are a small business with less than 25 employees and/or suspect operations to be shut down long enough to not need the employee after the pandemic, they may want to file for unemployment. Here’s a link to select your state and see the process for filing for unemployment.

Can we check employee temperatures as they come into work?

Source: eeoc.gov
Yes. Medical exams are now permitted to try and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. However, employers should be aware that some people with COVID-19 do not have a fever. If you are requiring the taking of temperatures, make sure that it’s non-evasive (i.e. via forehead) and that employees who are taking temperatures are wearing personal protective equipment (gloves, safety glasses) and that you are considering privacy factors. Also make sure you’re applying the requirement consistently and document business reasons for testing.

How do employees adjust to working from home?

Be sure you have data security measures in place and refer employees to this article to help employees be successful while working remotely.

Does my health insurance cover coronavirus testing and treatment?

While most health insurance carriers are treating COVID-19 coronavirus testing as preventive health, not all are consistent with how they’re covering treatment. EMI Health, our large group provider, is waiving all copays and deductible charges for both testing and treatment. Check with your provider if you’re not covered with EMI Health.

How do we help employees maintain good mental health while quarantined?

Encourage your team to follow the below advice from Zywave.com:

  1. Maintain a routine. Try to maintain as much normalcy as possible. Go to bed and wake up the same time you did when you went into the office. If you regularly went to the gym before work, do an exercise workout at home. Be sure you keep kids on a routine, as well.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep. Breaking your regular sleep routine could have negative effects on your overall mental health.
  3. Spend time outside. Whether it’s going out to your backyard or taking a walk, get some vitamin D periodically while maintaining your social distance.
  4. Leverage technology. Reach out to loved ones to supplement your social life and reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
  5. Don’t obsess over the news. Check for periodic news updates to stay informed but don’t keep the TV on all day.
  6. Practice positivity and gratitude. Take 5 minutes a day to write down what you’re grateful for to lower stress levels and change your mindset.

To submit another question to this list, please contact our experts at HR@stratus.hr.

Stacey Gibson

Author Stacey Gibson

Stacey is a certified Professional in HR (PHR) and the reason her clients would never consider leaving Stratus.hr. When not at work, you can hear her at one of her children’s sporting events -- she’s the one whistling louder than the refs.

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