The coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly spreading from country to country, and the cases in the US only continue to rise. As such, employers must keep track of any developments and adjust accordingly. These actions should maintain a safe workplace, as well as appropriate monitoring and responding to the situation. These include compliance with labor laws and alternative efforts, such as working remotely. Here’s a quick guide on the extent of your responsibility as an employer:
Why do employers need to think about COVID-19?
Should employers continue with normal working conditions, you risk exposing your employees to the COVID-19. While a relatively mild disease for some, the vulnerable sectors easily fall to the disease. In fact, one in every five of the COVID-19 positive ends up needing hospital treatment. You must take certain measures, which are discussed in detail below.
Your responsibilities as an employer: An overview
Apart from disseminating information on observing proper hygiene, you may be dealing with other business concerns. That includes efforts to reduce other possible effects of the coronavirus in the workplace, such as labor standards and laws.
Efforts to ensure employee safety
- Reinforce good hygiene practices and safety precautions – The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide employees with a healthy and safe workplace. With the threat of the pandemic, employers are naturally expected to uphold this law with the utmost importance, such as taking basic preventive measures to reduce the risk of infection and spread. These include constant reminders of hand washing, as well as providing soap, sanitizers, tissues, and masks.
- Have your employees work remotely – Being in a digital age, you have all the means to migrate your business operations to remote work. Should you choose to do so, remember to consider security risks that may arise. As an employer, you are also required by law to provide IT support and loan equipment, as these are necessary to their job functions. Employees must also be paid for all hours worked, as well as reimbursed for work-related expenses (internet and electricity).
A review on labor standards and laws in the context of coronavirus pandemic
- The FMLA leave – The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is specifically designed for people dealing with serious health conditions and those who need to care for sick family members. This act requires employers with at least 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for particular health-related instances.
The symptoms of the COVID-19 are flu-like, but considering its adverse effects, it can be considered as a “serious health condition” depending on the circumstances (e.g., the elderly or immuno-compromised). With these in mind, an employee infected with the coronavirus or an employee taking care of a family member with the same disease may be permitted to take the FMLA leave. It is important to note, however, that an employee with no disease and refusing to report to work out of fear cannot qualify for the FMLA leave.
- Wage and hour issues – According to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), non-exempt employees who do not work cannot be paid. The FLSA minimum wage and overtime rules pertain to applicable hours worked during an entire workweek, so employees who do not work during such weeks are not entitled to wages. The only exception is the FLSA “white collar” employees, which pertain to the people paid on a salary basis, not hourly.
The employer is also required to pay employees according to employment contracts, collective bargaining agreements, or any other contractual obligations that may apply. Keep in mind that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has allowed employees to telecommute, deducing it as an effective way for employers to remain in operation while avoiding the risk of coronavirus infections.
More than the labor acts and guidelines discussed above, it is imperative for businesses to remain vigilant. Most employers have drafted business continuity plans that enable them to run smoothly, which can be helpful for events like dealing with a pandemic. Those plans may include remote work, which should detail precise working hours for non-exempt employees to avoid unnecessary overtime work. Additionally, the payroll department should be included as part of a business continuity plan. However, certain transmissions and processes should be considered, especially when dealing with valuable data.
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