As coronavirus continues to spread throughout California, and the world, it is important for employers to understand its workplace ramifications and the steps employers should take to ensure a safe workplace for its employees. Both Cal/OSHA and OSHA regulations require employers to provide a safe workplace and provide employees with information and training about workplace hazards, such as coronavirus.
Employers should take precautions by familiarizing themselves with coronavirus’ signs and symptoms and following recommendations made by federal and state agencies to prevent employee exposure to the virus. The CDC has published a document to assist employers with planning and responding to the coronavirus threat. See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/specific-groups/guidance-business-response.html.
Signs and Symptoms
Coronavirus signs and symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. While some people who get the virus will only experience mild illness, the virus may cause severe pneumonia in others. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes that symptoms of the virus may appear in as few as two (2) days or as long as fourteen (14) days after exposure to the virus. The virus may spread from person to person, though it is unclear how easily it may do so at this time.
The following are some of CDC’s recommended preventative strategies for employers to use in the workplace.
1. Educate employees on coronavirus. The CDC has provided two articles for employers to provide to their employees:
- a. What You Need To Know About Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19). [English/Spanish ]
- b. What To Do If You Are Sick With Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19). [English/Spanish ]
2. Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. It is imperative that employees with symptoms stay home and not return to work until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours. Employers should ensure that employees are aware of their right to sick leave and the procedures for notifying their supervisor when they need to use sick leave.
3. Emphasize importance of washing hands. Employers should instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs should be provided in all workplaces.
4. Perform routine environmental cleaning. Routine cleaning of all frequently-touched surfaces in the workplace, including workstations, countertops, and doorknobs/handles, should be conducted. Disposable wipes should be provided to employees so commonly-used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.
Does Coronavirus Qualify as a “Disability” Under ADA
An open question concerning coronavirus is whether an employee who contracts coronavirus is considered to have a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act or California Fair Employment and Housing Act. Generally, a virus, such as coronavirus or influenza, is not considered to be a disability under the ADA. However, an argument can be made that the coronavirus meets the ADA’s definition of a “disability on the basis of its limiting of a major life activity of breathing, even thought the coronavirus is a temporary condition.” While not the subject of this article, employers should know that the issue of whether an accommodation should be provided to a person with coronavirus should not be taken lightly and you should contact your attorney for further guidance.
Further, employers should not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin and should be sure to maintain the confidentiality of employee medical information, including confirmed Coronavirus diagnoses.