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Human Resources FAQ about COVID-19

HR FAQ about COVID-19

by Mia Reedy, PHR, Director of HR Client Services

 

The Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a hot topic in the world today. Employers understandably have concerns about what they can do to protect themselves, their employees, and their customers. Here are some basics for handling COVID-19 in the workplace.

 

Temporary Layoffs

Employers planning a closure or major layoffs as a result of the coronavirus can get help through the Rapid Response program. Rapid Response teams will meet with you to discuss your needs, help avert potential layoffs, and provide immediate on-site services to assist workers facing job losses.

If employees will be laid off it is recommended that all necessary separation paperwork should be accomplished. Employees should receive the following:

  • Final Paycheck including all applicable PTO/Vacation and tips earned.
  • Change in Relationship Form
  • EDD For your Benefit Packet

Health Insurance

All employees who have been laid off and have health insurance through the company will be covered till the end of the month.

COBRA notices paperwork will be sent to all employees.

Workers Compensation

It’s perfectly legal for an employer to lay off an employee who has an active workers’ comp claim, as long as the layoff isn’t related to the claim.

Employees who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses are entitled to certain benefits through workers’ comp, including medical expenses, partial income replacement, and perhaps vocational rehabilitation benefits. If employees are out on workers’ comp leave due to being laid off, they may be entitled to continue their benefits until they are released to work, even though the former employer won’t be able to rehire them when that happens.

Paid Sick Leave

Sick Leave is not required to be paid to employees who will be laid off due to COVID-19. Only if the employee has a valid reason and is eligible to use sick leave will they be paid for it.

401k

Must give 401k notices to employees.

Employees have the right to move the money from their 401k account to an IRA without paying any income taxes on it. This is called a “rollover IRA.” However, they also have a few options:

      1. Stay Put
      2. Cash Out
      3. Roll Over

 

Partial employment (for reduction in hours)

If you are temporarily reducing hours of work for your full-time employees, they may be able to receive unemployment benefits without needing to look for work.

Employees can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. UI provides partial wage replacement benefit payments to workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced, through no fault of their own. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria. Eligible individuals can receive benefits that range from $40-$450 per week.

The Governor’s Executive Order waives the one-week unpaid waiting period, so you can collect UI benefits for the first week you are out of work. If you are eligible, the EDD processes and issues payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim.

Work Sharing

In addition, employers experiencing a slowdown in their businesses or services as a result of the Coronavirus impact on the economy may apply for the UI Work Sharing Program. This program allows employers to seek an alternative to layoffs – retaining their trained employees by reducing their hours and wages that can be partially offset with UI benefits. Workers of employers who are approved to participate in the Work Sharing Program receive the percentage of their weekly Unemployment Insurance benefit amount based on the percentage of hours and wages reduced, not to exceed 60 percent.

Benefits for Employees 

State Disability Insurance (SDI)

Also be aware that individuals who are unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional) can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. Disability Insurance provides short-term benefit payments to eligible workers who have full or partial loss of wages due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50 – $1,300 a week.

Paid Family Leave (PFL)

Californians who are unable to work because they are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional) can file a Paid Family Leave (PFL) claim. Paid Family Leave provides up to six weeks of benefit payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. Benefit amounts are approximately 60-70 percent of wages (depending on income) and range from $50 – $1,300 a week.

Self Sufficiency Programs

Self Sufficiency is the branch of the Health and Human Services Agency that provides social welfare services to citizens in need. If there are employees who no longer have jobs, need access to food, or other potential public resource programs, you can direct them to the following:

Tips for Employers

To help prevent workplace exposure, employers should follow some basic guidelines for reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses. First, employers should encourage employees who are showing symptoms to stay home until they are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. Employees should notify their supervisor per their “call-out” policy if they are experiencing symptoms. Employers are encouraged to be flexible with their sick-leave policies.

While at the office, employees should practice good coughing and sneezing etiquette. Employers are encouraged to put up posters covering basic cough and sneeze etiquette, as well as posters regarding proper hand washing. Employers should look into providing tissues and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to their employees, and be sure to routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces. At this time, the CDC is not recommending employers use anything other than their normal cleaning materials. No special disinfectant is currently being recommended.

Employers are encouraged to stay up to date on COVID-19 by regularly checking with the CDC, the World Health Organization, and OSHA.

When Employees Show Up to Work Sick

There are both ethical and financial reasons for an employer to try and maintain a healthy workforce. Knowingly allowing a contagious employee to remain at work and infect others is dangerous and can be costly. If an employee shows up to work with flu-like symptoms, you should take the following actions:

 

  • Talk to them and ask them how they are feeling;
  • Explain the flu symptoms and the likelihood of spreading the virus;
  • Encourage the employee to go home to rest and recover;
  • Suggest the employee see a doctor if their symptoms are lingering or severe;
  • If the employee has sick leave or paid time off available, encourage them to use the time to go home; and
  • If the employee doesn’t have paid time off available, or if it isn’t offered, the employee should still be asked to go home so others do not become infected.

As with any policy, if you decide to send sick employees home, you must make sure to do so consistently. Do not create the appearance of discrimination.

When Employees Have No Signs of Illness

Employers have questioned whether they can mandate employees stay home if they have traveled to a region known to be experiencing an outbreak. Another question is whether they can require such employees to wear an anti-viral face mask. The short answer to these questions is no. Employers should tread lightly when dealing with potentially infected employees or they run the risk of having an employee file a claim.

According to the EEOC, an employer may only exclude an individual from a job for safety reasons when the individual poses a “direct threat”. A direct threat is a significant risk of substantial harm to the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced through reasonable accommodation. The harm must be serious and likely to occur, not remote or speculative.

This determination cannot be based on subjective perceptions, irrational fears, patronizing attitudes, or stereotypes. It is an individualized assessment of the employee’s present ability to safely perform the essential functions of the job, considering reasonable medical judgment relying on the most current medical knowledge, and/or best available objective evidence.

Relevant evidence may include input from the employee and opinions of medical professionals who have expertise in the disability involved and/or direct knowledge of the individual with the disability. In making a direct threat assessment, the following factors should be considered:

  • The duration of the risk;
  • The nature and severity of the potential harm;
  • The likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and
  • The imminence of the potential harm.

According to the EEOC, an employer may have the employee examined by a healthcare professional of its choice who has expertise in the employee’s specific condition. The healthcare professional can provide medical information that allows the employer to determine the effects of the condition on the employee’s ability to perform his/her job. Any medical examination, however, must be limited to determining whether the employee can perform his/her job without posing a direct threat, with or without reasonable accommodation. An employer must also pay all costs associated with the employee’s visit(s) to its healthcare professional.

When Employees are Concerned They May Have Been Infected

While the flu is generally not a “serious health condition” under the FMLA or similar laws, it could be if the employee or employee’s family member is receiving inpatient care or continuing treatment by a healthcare provider. COVID-19 could thus qualify as a serious health condition depending on the situation.

Likewise, employees might be entitled to FMLA or similar leave if they need to take time off for examinations to determine if a serious health condition exists, which may ultimately include the time off needed if an employee is quarantined; this could be considered “treatment” under the law.

If an employee is concerned they may have been infected, the employer should explore all leave options.

Taking Employees’ temperatures

In the wake of increasing Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the United States, we have received several inquiries from employers asking whether they can take their employees’ temperatures when employees arrive to work. The short answer is no – not yet anyway.

Why Employers Cannot Take Employees’ Temperatures

These businesses are just trying to protect their employees and customers; however, taking an employee’s temperature is a “medical examination” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). An employer cannot require a medical exam unless:

  • The employer can show the exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity; or
  • The employer has a reasonable belief the employee poses a “direct threat” to the health or safety of the employee or others that cannot be mitigated by a reasonable accommodation.

“Job related and consistent with business necessity” means an employer has a reasonable belief based on objective evidence an employee will be unable to perform the essential functions of the job because of a medical condition, or the employee will pose a direct threat because of a medical condition.

When Employers are permitted to Take Employees’ Temperatures

According to the EEOC’s guidance, employers are permitted to take employees’ body temperatures if a pandemic in your local area is declared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your state, or your local health authority. If that occurs, it is recommended employers only use hand-held thermal scanners (not oral, ear, armpit, or other types of thermometers), which are typically used to scan the forehead. Unfortunately, these thermometers are not known for accuracy. Therefore, it is recommended for employers to send employee’s home only when their temperature is over 100.4 F.

 

Please reach out to your FLORES HR representative for any additional information or questions about this subject matter at (619) 588-2411.