Stay calm…..wash your hands and review your employment policies.

Between fires, floods and power outages, Lake County residents have had our share of major disasters in recent years. We have learned the importance of preparing in advance and we have also learned we are very resilient. While the risk of COVID-19 to our community remains low, employers need to have a plan should this disease directly impact the workplace. 

With the daily barrage of COVID-19 news we know about good hygiene, avoiding crowds and travel, and staying home if we are not feeling well. But what should employers be doing to protect their business and employees? 

As of this writing we are waiting for details about a new federal law, “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.” This bill will provide sick leave for employees testing positive, are quarantined or need to care for someone with the virus. 

Allow Flexibility with Sick Leave Policies: Most employees accrue at least 24 or more hours a year of paid sick leave which can be used for their own illness or family member. Employers should allow flexibility in using other paid leave, restrictions on exhausting sick leave, requiring a physician’s note for absenteeism, and punitive actions for using too much sick time. 

Workplace Safety: Your workplace safety plan should address communicable diseases including awareness and training and use of personal protective equipment. Include hand hygiene, coughing in your elbow, avoiding handshakes and frequently disinfecting doorknobs and work surfaces. Add guidelines for telecommuting, minimizing exposure between your employees and the public, and canceling or postponing events or meetings. 

Wage and Hour Laws: This is one of the costliest compliance risks for employers regardless of responding to COVID-19 in the workplace. Make sure your employees are properly classified as exempt or non-exempt for payment of overtime. These classifications dictate how you will pay employees for working partial days, hours worked telecommuting, and stand by pay. In the case of telecommuting you may be obligated to pay travel time when employees are working at an alternate location. 

Consider Options and Flexibility for Employees to Telecommute: Employees working from home or other location are still subject to properly reporting hours worked, workplace safety guidelines, confidentiality and privacy, and posting requirements. Telecommuting policies should include use and cost of equipment (computers, printers, internet, etc.) and reimbursable expenses. 

Leave of Absence and Income Protection Eligibility: COVID-19 is considered a serious health condition which may qualify some employees for protected leaves such as Family Medical Leave Absence (FMLA) or California Family Rights Act (CFRA.) Employees may also be eligible for loss of income benefits due to illness or reduction of work hours through the Employment Development Department (EDD.) Employees will be able to claim their benefits immediately, as the seven-day waiting period is waived during a state of emergency, which Governor Newsom declared last week

Stay Calm and Plan: Managing our companies while addressing a public health emergency is yet another “first” for employers. This will continue to be a very fluid situation that will require monitoring daily. Rely on public resources include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our local Department of Health. Making plans now for your business and employees will avoid panic and minimize economic and financial hardships. 

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