As the country and the world continue to grapple with the worst pandemic the world has seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918, many are wondering how the current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is going to impact employment law. It is important for private employers to continue to evaluate the emerging risks that are continuing to evolve as the virus continues to spread. When it comes to employers, it is critical to communicate in a simple and straightforward manner with their employees, using facts. Furthermore, in cases where employees continue to come to work because the business is considered “essential,” it is important for employers to minimize the spread of potential coronavirus cases in the workplace. This means using information from the CDC and WHO (credible sources) while also providing adequate personal hygiene measures. Employers need to communicate in an empathetic manner with their employees.
Some employees are wondering whether or not an employer can lawfully prohibit an employee from returning to work until the quarantine period (14 days) has passed. In accordance with information that has been published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with the Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer would be justified in preventing someone from returning to work if that individual poses a direct threat to people in the workplace. This is the policy that was followed back in 2009 when H1N1 was causing a similar scare, albeit on a much lesser scale.
Furthermore, an employer can also request employees to work from home if the employee does pose a direct threat to others in the workplace. When in doubt, it is important to remember that people need to place the health of their coworkers and the general public first. Indeed, many employers have already taken it upon themselves to ask entire departments to work from home even if these individuals have not been in direct contact with people who have been deemed infected. This is already happening in the realm of employment law. According to Hamilton Employment Lawyers, “Agreements must be free from ambiguity and define key rights and obligations between an employer and employee from the start.”
Finally, many people are worried about their paychecks. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are required to pay employees only for hours they actually work as long as that person is NOT exempt from overtime pay (this means hourly workers and NOT salaried individuals). For this reason, employees need to work with their employers to figure out how their pay is going to be handled during the pandemic. This is an issue that impacts everyone and people need to band together during this time of crisis.