We are getting a flood of calls from worried employees about the risk of catching the coronavirus (COVID-19) n the workplace. Two questions come up over and over: What should my employer be doing? What should I do?
What Your Employer Should Be Doing
Your employer should already have a detailed plan in place, and should have announced it using company email, posters and meeting announcements. Important steps include (1) informing employees about the virus, including the most common symptoms, to help employees quickly determine if they may be infected; (2) limiting, postponing or canceling business travel to China and other coronavirus hotspots; (3) providing paid leave to, or authorizing telecommuting for, employees who may have been exposed to the virus, for a period of up to 14 days, which the Center for Disease Control has identified as the incubation period for the virus; (4) offering leave under the FMLA or as a disability-related accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and (5) possibly offering workers’ compensation benefits to those who became infected while performing work for the company or who’ve been infected by a coworker.
Employers should also strictly comply with HIPAA to ensure the privacy rights of affected employees.
Your Rights as An Employee
First, be mindful of the most common symptoms of the virus, which currently are fevers, coughing and a shortness of breath. If you have reason to believe you might be infected, seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor can tell you whether you’re infected with COVID-19. Seeking medical care is also essential to your ability to assert rights under medical leave laws.
Be aware of coworkers who might display such symptoms as well. If you have a legitimate concern, contact your human resource department and ask for guidance.
The virus chiefly spreads by person-to-person contact. You can also catch it by touching a surface that has the live virus on it, if you then touch your nose, mouth or eyes. But this is not the primary method of spread. You’re most likely to catch it from close contact with another person (within about 6 feet), or from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
If You or A Coworker Becomes Infected
If you become infected off the job, ask your HR department about your entitlement to paid or unpaid leave under the FMLA or ADA. If you become infected on the job, ask not only about the FMLA and ADA but also about your right to workers’ compensation benefits. Workers’ compensation coverage is available for job-related injuries.
If you believe a nearby coworker might be infected, ask your HR department about allowing you to work from home for a suitable period, assuming your duties are capable of being performed remotely.
Finally, ask your employer about protective wear if appropriate. First and most obviously, this may include masks to protect against the inhalation or ingestion of COVID-19 resulting from other employees’ coughing and sneezing. Federal OSHA regulations may require your employer to provide protective wear in this situation, just as it would in any workplace where the inhalation of dangerous matter poses a safety risk.
Call us at 800-663-7999, or message us privately on Facebook. This issue is too important to leave unaddressed. And if you feel your employer has unnecessarily endangered you and others, or has violated your rights if you’re infected, ask us about this as well. There’s never a charge for consultations.