NC coronavirus Q&A: How does COVID-19 affect employers and workplaces?
Each day, the number of confirmed positive cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19 or or coronavirus) in the United States continues to rise. As a result, employers of both large and small businesses must prepare for issues that will arise as the virus spreads and affects our daily lives. Members of Sumrell Sugg's Employment Law Practice are here to answer any questions you may have relating to
Covid-19 and the affect it may have on the way you conduct your business.
The article below from The News & Observer answers some questions employers in North Carolina have about their workplace response to Covid-19. Please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.
March 12, 2020
With the number of coronavirus cases rising across North Carolina, leading Gov. Roy Cooper to declare a state of emergency, small-business owners and other employers have questions about how they can or should respond. Can I ask employees about their travels? Can employees be ordered to stay home, see a doctor or get tests? The News & Observer is reaching out to employment attorneys and other experts for answers to questions from
Q: CAN I ASK MY EMPLOYEES ABOUT THEIR RECENT TRAVEL?
Response from Natalie Sanders, a labor and employment attorney with Brooks Pierce: Yes. Employers at this point in the coronavirus situation can require employees to report any travel they have taken internationally or to places with known outbreaks. The employment la
ws that really come up here have to do with medical information. But simply asking employees about travel is not prohibited. Employers should be consistent in the questions they ask and carry out a policy in who they’re asking so no one feels discriminated against or singled out.
It’s best at this point for employers to put together a policy and let employees know what the expectations are. A policy would probably say: “Report to us if you have reason to believe you have been exposed, or that you have been in close contact with someone else who has been exposed.”
Q: CAN I REQUIRE AN EMPLOYEE TO BE TESTED FOR THE CORONAVIRUS?
Response from employment attorney Natalie Sanders: There are likely to be industry-specific differences here. What might be appropriate in a health care setting could be different from a manufacturing setting or an office setting. The Americans with Disabilities Act regulates when employers can ask for medical information or ask workers to undergo a medical examination.
There’s some good guidance that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission put out back in 2009 with the flu pandemic. It says you should be guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whether it has been declared a pandemic and in situations where you might have a substantial, real risk, then it may be appropriate to ask someone to submit to a medical examination. It really varies by industry, workplace setting and the risk factor.
Q: SHOULD I ALLOW EMPLOYEES WHO HAVE EXHAUSTED THEIR SICK LEAVE TO STAY HOME FROM WORK IF THEY FEEL UNWELL?
Response from employment attorney Natalie Sanders: Employers should encourage all sick employees to stay home. The CDC is encouraging employers to be flexible in their policies. North Carolina does not have a mandatory paid leave law for private employers, so there is no current obligation for employers to provide additional paid leave. Employers can make exceptions to their policies, so long as they are carried out in a non-discriminatory manner. An easy example would be if schools close. An employer could not have a policy that says, “We’re going to go ahead and pay women who have to stay home to take care of children who aren’t in school, but we’re not going to pay men.” That would be discrimination.
Q: HOW DO I MANAGE EMPLOYEES WHO WANT TO WORK FROM HOME?
Response from employment attorney Natalie Sanders: Working remotely, if it is feasible, is what employers want to encourage people to do at this stage if they can. How to manage the employees working from home is going to be very specific to the employers and what they have the capabilities to do. You’ll know if the work is getting done or not. But generally, we’re in a situation where the people who are most likely to be equipped to work from home are at a level where they understand expectations. If working from home is new to your employees, have clear policies on work hours, production and keeping in touch with supervisors.
Q: WHAT IF MY EMPLOYEES REFUSE TO COME INTO WORK?
Response from employment attorney Natalie Sanders: If employees refuse to come to work, they may have some protections under the law. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, for example, if there is an immediate, true danger in the workplace, workers would have some protections from disciplinary action.
Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees refusing to come to work could be construed as a “concerted activity” if there is some basis for believing that the workplace is unsafe.
Employers aren’t required to pay people who refuse to come to work. But if the employee actions meet the standards under those statutes, an absence probably can’t count under an attendance policy or be used to justify firing someone.
If you have questions about how Covid-19 can affect your business, please contact Sumrell Sugg, PA by calling (252) 633-3131.