Navigating the impact of the coronavirus COVID-19 on your business functions can be challenging. And the road-map continues to change.
Businesses and HR professionals are struggling with compliance challenges and best practices in the face of a novel virus pandemic known as COVID-19.
The coronavirus strain affecting virtually every area of life and business today has infected a number of people in California. As of March 18, 2020, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) determined that there were at least 598 positive cases and 13 deaths in California (including one non-California resident).
The CDPH website states that,
"Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are common among animals and humans. This novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is a newly discovered coronavirus that has not been previously detected in animals or humans. The source of this virus is not yet known."
COVID-19 and the Nation
While it is a frightening prospect and has engendered an unprecedented reaction and response, the overall fatalities are exceptionally low compared to the seasonal influenza outbreak suffered each year. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that this flu season is worse than that in 2018-2019.
For example, CDC's latest data shows the cumulative hospitalization rate for the flu so far this season is 61.6 per 100,000 people, compared with 43.3 per 100,000 at the same point last season. The CDC estimates show that there have been at least 22,000 deaths related to the flu so far this season (2019-2020).
And this flu season has been especially hard for children, according to CDC, with 144 pediatric deaths reported as of March 7.
Also, in 2009-2010, the CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases of H1N1 virus, or Swine Flu, with 274,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths in the United States due to the virus.
By comparison, the total deaths from COVID-19 have only numbered about 160 as of March 18, 2020. The figures vary depending on a number of factors and some estimates are as low as only 97 officially confirmed fatalities in the U.S. so far.
As of March 16, the CDC stated that a total of 4,226 COVID-19 cases had been reported in the United States, with reports increasing to 500 or more cases per day since March 14, 2020.(Graphic courtesy: abc11.com - Source: State and local health departments, Johns Hopkins University, and reporting by ABC Owned Television Stations.)
COVID-19 and Your Business
As an employer in California, you are obligated to do what you reasonably can to ensure the health and safety of your employees at work. An article from Mondaq notes,
"Section 5(a)(i) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 ("OSHA"), known as the "general duty clause," requires employers to provide a workplace "free from recognized hazards...causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm." In addition, numerous states have OSHA-approved workplace safety laws that require employers to make reasonable efforts to prevent work-related injuries, including the spread of infectious diseases. The "general duty clause" and state analogs provide legal support for employers imposing reasonable steps to protect employees from COVID-19 in the workplace."
As a result of the Swine Flu (H1N1) pandemic in 2009-2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") issued guidance that can be used to support for the implementation of non-discriminatory COVID-19 policies. In addition, the EEOC guidance offers some clarification of what types of employer action would be legal under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This may include barring sick workers from the workplace since, during a pandemic, this policy does not violate the ADA because it is "not a disability-related action." The EEOC Guidance also permits such an action under the "direct threat" exception to the ADA, applicable during a pandemic.
In addition to the previous guidance created by the EEOC, the state of California's Department of Labor Standards and Enforcement (DLSE), the Employment Development Department (EDD), and CalOSHA all have new FAQs addressing how the COVID-19. coronavirus affects California businesses.
The Labor Commissioner's Office has released FAQs on Laws Enforced by the Labor Commissioner and the intersection with COVID-19, addressing key topics including sick leave and reporting time pay.
The Employment Development Department (EDD) has also issued guidance for employees that are n line with the DLSE guidelines. The EDD's guidance explains how employees can replace wages lost due to coronavirus-related absences, through short term disability or unemployment insurance.
A blog post at a website of Seyfarth Shaw LLC, explains CalOSHA's guidance for protecting workers from COVID-19 under the Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) standard. The ATD standard applies to the healthcare industry and other areas where risk of exposure to aerosol transmissible diseases may be higher.
A recent follow-up article from them states that,
"Now, CalOSHA has issued interim guidance to general industry employers on how to protect workers from COVID-19. The guidance confirms the Division's position that even employers not covered by the ATD standard must, under the CalOSHA regulatory scheme, protect employees from COVID-19 to the extent the disease is a hazard in the workplace."
In addition to these California-based resources, business owners and HR managers can access up-to-date information and guidance from the following sources:
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce - Coronavirus Small Business Guide
- CDC - Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
- National Restaurant Association - Coronavirus Information and Resources
Your Partners for HR Guidance
COVID-19 issues are pressing and evolving, causing real concern for both employers and their employees. Among other steps, HR personnel should maintain regular updates to policies and internal notifications.
In addition to support and guidance available from Accuchex, businesses may benefit from regular consultation with employment counsel.