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March 4, 2020
Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread globally, nationally, and locally, causing many organizations to face the reality of temporarily closing their doors or halting operations. It will be imperative that organizations take steps to prepare for and respond to disruptions from COVID-19.
Educate employees on the symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, and shortness of breath). If an employee feels sick with any of these symptoms, encourage them to stay home, seek medical care, and work remotely if possible. Currently, the WHO believes that symptoms can appear between one to 14 days after exposure, most commonly around five days. Concerned employees should first call their healthcare provider and communicate their concern about possibly having COVID-19. This will help the provider take steps to prevent further spread or exposure to other patients.
Ensure your sick leave and FMLA policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance. Recommend that affected employees consider the use of telehealth to further limit exposure. If you have King or Snohomish County locations, immediately notify your local health department for guidance on employees with suspected COVID-19.
According to the CDC, spread from person-to-person happens most often among close contact, at a range of about six feet via respiratory droplets (a cough or sneeze). Businesses should consider offering tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles. Face masks are not recommended as a protection measure; they should only be used by people who have a confirmed COVID-19 case and are showing symptoms to prevent spread to others, or when recommended by a healthcare professional. Healthcare facilities should ensure proper personal protective equipment is used in accordance with the CDC’s infection control recommendations.
Provide employees with access to soap and water or 60%-95% alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It is still unknown how long COVID-19 remains infectious in the air and on surfaces. Regularly clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as doorknobs, countertops, and workstations. Surface disinfection solutions with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, or 62%-71% ethanol have been shown to reduce infectivity of coronaviruses within one minute. Refer to the CDC’s guidelines on prevention and treatment for more information.
Minimize chances for exposure by restricting employee travel to those areas most impacted by COVID-19. Inquire with customers/patients/vendors about their recent trips to affected areas. The WHO maintains up-to-date information on the locations of confirmed cases, and the CDC has provided helpful information for healthcare professionals on how to identify and assess possible COVID-19 illness.
HIPAA Privacy Rule protections are not set aside during an emergency: “In an emergency situation, covered entities must continue to implement reasonable safeguards to protect patient information against intentional or unintentional impermissible uses and disclosures. Further, covered entities (and their business associates) must apply the administrative, physical, and technical safeguards of the HIPAA Security Rule to electronic protected health information.”
Further, The General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to provide “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause the death or serious physical harm to … employees.”
The Americans with Disabilities ACT (ADA) protects employees from disability-related inquiries or medical examinations, except in certain circumstances:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stated that sending an employee home who is displaying symptoms of a contagious illness, such as COVID-19, would not violate these restrictions. If the illness turns out to be mild, the action is not considered disability-related. Even if the illness does become serious, it would pose a direct threat and be permissible. Either way, employers are allowed to send employees home, or allow them to work from home, if they are symptomatic.
Employees who are well but have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. Family medical leave or other legal contracts may apply.
Once again, employers should ensure their sick leave and FMLA policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance in order to allow employees to properly care for themselves or family members.
As the number of confirmed cases and deaths continue to rise, especially in the Northwest, many organizations may experience some type of business interruption. Understanding the potential drivers of COVID-19-related losses, their financial impact, and what exactly is covered under your insurance policies, will be imperative to reduced interruption and a quick recovery.
To learn more about ways to prepare for and protect your organization against COVID-19-related losses, please consult with an experienced insurance broker.
The views and opinions expressed within are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Parker, Smith & Feek. While every effort has been taken in compiling this information to ensure that its contents are totally accurate, neither the publisher nor the author can accept liability for any inaccuracies or changed circumstances of any information herein or for the consequences of any reliance placed upon it.