Update: What Employers Need to Know About Navigating the Novel COVID-19 Coronavirus Threat

March 23, 2020

Since the publication of our OnPoint on February 11, 2020, there have been several significant developments in connection with the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, 20190nCoV, or SARS-CoV-2. Most concerning is the drastic increase in the number of confirmed cases and the rapid spread of infection in countries and regions outside the Hubei Province, China. Countries around the world are seeing a radical surge in the number of those infected. As COVID-19 has attained pandemic status, United States employers must consider implementing and/or updating their emergency action and business continuity plans and should prepare for increased business disruption and employee absences. 

Here are some key developments and updates to our suggested best practices in responding to the threat of contagion in the workplace. 

Key Developments:

  • The CDC has confirmed that the virus may spread before an infected person shows symptoms, which has led to an increase in the number of “community-spread” cases, or cases where the source of the infection is unknown. 
  • The CDC continues to heighten its travel advisories to a significant number of countries and regions around the world.  
  • The U.S. Government has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel.
  • The U.S. Government has suspended the entry of foreign nationals who traveled to China, Iran, Schengen Area of Europe, and the UK and Ireland
  • The U.S and Canadian Governments agreed to close their borders to all non-essential travel.
  • State and local governments are heightening restrictions that limit business operations and some have issued temporary orders requiring all workers in non-essential businesses to remain at home.
  • The CDC is continuously updating its guidance for businesses and employers to rely on when responding to threat of contagion (found here) and methods for assessing risk of infection (found here).
  • OSHA issued, and continues to update, its guidance for employers (found here).
  • The U.S. Government has just passed legislation that includes a variety of measures to help alleviate the economic and societal impact of the COVID-19 crisis. The COVID-19 relief legislation (“Families First Coronavirus Response Act’’) provides additional paid sick leave benefits, expands the Family and Medical Leave Act, and provides emergency grants to assist states in processing and paying unemployment benefits, see our OnPoint here. Additional COVID-19 relief legislation is pending and such developments must be monitored closely.
Updated Best Practices:
  • Review and adapt any existing emergency action and business continuity plans based on the newest information provided from the CDC, WHO, U.S. Government, state and local government. 
    • This may include: requiring employees to work from home, if possible; implementing staggered schedules for essential personnel; stress testing IT systems to ensure there is adequate support for an increase in the number of employees working remotely; increasing the frequency and scope of office cleanings; and making available alternative means of communicating, including via videoconferencing.
  • Ensure compliance with all relevant state and localshut down, shelter-in-place, and related orders.
  • Discourage all non-essential business travel.
  • Advise anyone who feels unwell to stay home.
  • Implement a self-isolation period of 14 days for anyone who has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 or who may have been in close contact with, or resides with, someone who has a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 and for anyone who has recently traveled to high risk areas or has had close contact with, or resides with, anyone who has traveled to high risk areas.
  • Implement guidelines to restrict visits by third parties to the workplace (to the extent they are providing or supporting essential services), such as requiring advance confirmation that they have not recently traveled to, or been in close contact with anyone who has traveled to high-risk areas as defined by the U.S. Government and CDC, as well as confirmation that they are not aware of having been exposed to, or being in close contact with, anyone diagnosed with the virus.
  • Maintain open lines of communication with employees regarding the specific measures the company is taking to protect its workforce and ensure they have up-to-date information about the virus from reputable sources such as the CDC, WHO, U.S. Department of State.