Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has spread from China to many other countries around the world, including the United States. The increased spread of the disease throughout the United States presents employers with significant workplace challenges. In order to help combat such challenges, we created this toolkit to help employers familiarize themselves with the best practices for handling the fallout.
Download the PDF version: HR Toolkit – The Employer’s Guide to COVID-19.pdf
This toolkit provides a comprehensive overview of the most pressing issues facing employers, including vital information regarding new federal laws such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, HIPAA privacy considerations, carrier response to the pandemic, layoffs and furloughs, tax credits and much more. However, please note that due to the developing nature of the pandemic, it is highly likely that the guidance found in this toolkit will require updating. Every effort will be made to continue to provide the most accurate, up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 and employer compliance considerations.
This toolkit is informative in nature and should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. For additional assistance, seek the help of legal counsel and a qualified insurance broker at TPG Insurance Services.
COVID-19 and Your Workforce
As the number of reported cases of COVID-19 continues to rise, employers are increasingly confronted with the possibility of an outbreak in the workplace.
Employers are obligated to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their employees, but are also subject to a number of legal requirements protecting workers, for instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act). This section of the toolkit provides a summary of the actions employers should take when confronted with COVID-19 in the workplace.
What Is COVID-19, and How Does It Spread?
The COVID-19 is a disease caused by a member of the coronavirus family that is a close cousin to the SARS and MERS viruses that have caused outbreaks in the past. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, runny nose, cough and trouble breathing. Most people develop only mild symptoms. But some, usually people with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. The incubation period for COVID-19 is from two to 14 days.
Initially detected in Wuhan, China in late 2019, the first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020. Since then, the disease has spread throughout the continental United States.
The available information about how the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads is largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses. COVID-19 is a new disease, and there is more to learn about its transmission, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread in the United States.
According to the CDC, the virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet) or 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 also be possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has been contaminated with the virus and then touching his or her own mouth, nose, or eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
People are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic. Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms, and there have been reports of this occurring, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970
Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the OSH Act), employers have a general duty to provide employees with safe workplace conditions that are “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Workers also have the right to receive information and training about workplace hazards, and to exercise their rights as employees without retaliation.
There is no specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard covering COVID-19. However, some OSHA requirements may apply to preventing occupational exposure to COVID-19. In addition to the General Duty clause, OSHA’s Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) standards and Bloodborne Pathogens standard may apply to certain workplaces, such as those in the healthcare industry.
Employers should continue to monitor the development of COVID-19 and analyze whether employees could be at risk of exposure. It is also important for employers to consider what preventive measures they can take to maintain safety and protect their employees from potentially contracting COVID-19.
Also, OSHA requires many employers to record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA Form 300 (OSHA Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses). OSHA has determined that COVID-19 is a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job. Establishments that are required to complete an OSHA 300 log should be sure to include all COVID-19 infections that are work-related.
Disease Prevention in the Workplace
Whenever a communicable disease outbreak is possible, employers may need to take precautions to keep the disease from spreading through the workplace. It is recommended that employers establish a written policy and response plan that covers communicable diseases readily transmitted in the workplace.
Employers can require employees to stay home from work if they have signs or symptoms of a communicable disease that poses a credible threat of transmission in the workplace, or if they have traveled to high-risk geographic areas, such as those with widespread… (to read the complete document, download here: HR Toolkit – The Employer’s Guide to COVID-19.pdf)