The continuing spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has begun impacting the U.S. workplace. As clusters develop around the country and employees return from abroad, employers are beginning to confront complicated issues of workplace exposure and other legal risks. Given these developments, employers should take action now to be ready to address these issues as they continue to develop.
Employer response planning for COVID-19 will require a careful balancing of competing interests. Employers have differing and potentially competing obligations to potentially infected employees and the remainder of their workforces. At the same time, employers are striving to maintain business operations and avoid any unnecessary interruption.
Before turning to the legal landscape confronting employers, it is important to note that the guiding principles behind all employer responses in this area should be: (1) understanding; and (2) flexibility. While state and federal laws provide many minimum standards, the best thing an employer can do in the midst of this growing epidemic is to take care of its people. Doing so is not just the right thing to do, but it also encourages employees to be reasonable in return and it mitigates the risk of future conflict with employees or legal exposure.
In preparing to address COVID-19 in the workplace, employers should begin considering several “top-line” obligations and exposures.