How to Handle COVID-19 Employee Situations Correctly

How to Handle COVID-19 Employee Situations Correctly

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Posted by EJ Brown

April 7, 2020

Here is a list of frequently asked questions regarding your responsibilities to your team as a small business owner.

When is it safe for a sick employee to return to work and can I require a doctor’s note?

Follow the guidelines provided by the CDC

related to self-isolation of any individual experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or that has tested positive for the virus. The CDC recommends waiving the requirement of a doctor’s note during a crisis since it’s more difficult to access a health care provider. 

Should I tell my staff if an employee has tested positive for COVID-19?

Regulations within the

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

restrict employers from sharing health information with other employees. You can tell your team that there has been a potential exposure without singling out any one individual.

Can I ask an employee if they have tested positive for the coronavirus?

Asking directly about a specific illness can lead to a

disability-related inquiry through the ADA

. It’s better to ask general questions about your employees’ health and whether they’re experiencing specific symptoms.

You can also

take your team’s temperature

during this crisis to help prevent the risk of exposure as long as you keep any findings confidential.

What are best practices to follow when an employee has had contact with a person who has tested positive?


CDC recommends

that anyone who has had potential exposure to the coronavirus should self-quarantine. At this point, you can require an employee to stay home.

What about employees that have traveled recently?

The CDC recommends that anyone who has traveled to a country within the

Level 3 Travel Health Notice

should stay home for fourteen days after returning. 

If an employee is sick, can I require them to go home?

Any employee showing COVID-19 related symptoms can be asked to stay home until they are symptom-free.

Can an employee refuse to come in if they’re afraid of exposure?

Per regulations maintained by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an employee is legally entitled to refuse to work if they believe they are in danger and

specific other conditions are met

. If a complaint is filed, you may need to prove that you’re taking measures to provide a safe environment for your staff.

Also, be aware that employees with disabilities can request to work from home

through the ADA


Should I require employees to work from home when their responsibilities allow for that option?

Whenever possible, working from home will reduce exposure for your team and can benefit your company in the long run. You can implement new company policies around timekeeping, etc. to keep staff engaged when they’re not used to working from home.

What coronavirus-related absences are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) extends FMLA leave to anyone who cannot work if their child’s school or childcare service is closed due to COVID-19. FMLA will also likely extend to anyone who has contracted the coronavirus. The Families First Act also requires small businesses to offer two weeks of paid sick leave for anyone in quarantine related to COVID-19. 

Learn more about how the Families First Act affects small businesses


Does Workers’ Compensation cover COVID-19?

Most states will only pay out workers’ compensation benefits if the disease was contracted on the job which excludes most communicable and contagious diseases. If it seems likely that an employee contracted the illness on the job, these cases will be looked at individually. 

Can we reduce our team’s salaries during this crisis?

In general, yes.

Check to make sure there aren’t any state regulations

about giving advance notice before changes in pay. Pay should never be reduced retroactively. Be careful to stay above federal minimum wage ($684.00 a week for salaried and $7.25 an hour for hourly) or your state’s minimum wage.

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