Yesterday the NBA announced that it has suspended its regular season after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus (Covid-19). Given the NBA schedule in the last two weeks, the entire NBA might have been exposed to the coronavirus! Yesterday, President Trump also stated he was sharply restricting travel to the United States from more than two dozen European countries. While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) continues to issue caution given coronavirus does not pose an immediate risk of exposure for most people in the United States, given these announcements and the high probability that there will be more to come, what can (and should) employers in the Unites States do to prepare for the issues that will inevitably rise as the impact of the coronavirus spreads?
Can an Employee Refuse to Come to Work?
Given the recent developments some employees may not feel safe coming to work. In order to ensure employees that their work environment is safe, employers should take measures to combat fear of coronavirus. This may involve regularly updating employees on the risk of an outbreak and the latest health and wellness tips provided by the CDC, providing hand sanitizer or just providing cleaning materials in the workplace. Employers can also encourage any sick employees to stay home — just as with any severe cold or flu. As health concerns grow, employers can also reschedule non-essential planned travel and events. California, along with many other states provide employees with the right to a safe working environment. The California Health and Safety Administration (Cal OSHA) protects employees from any conditions that provide imminent danger. If the coronavirus continues to spread the Cal OSHA regulation could potentially be implicated.
Can an Employer Require an Employee to Stay Home?
Employers may ask employees about any recent travel they may have taken and to the countries they have visited. They may also inquire whether an employee has had close contact with anyone else who has traveled. However, medical related tests can only be performed if there is a job-related necessity or the employer may subject themselves to privacy related concerns. If the employer has a legitimate concern than an employee may pose a risk to others they may require that an employee stay home for the incubation period (which is currently 14 days), but the employee may be eligible for protection under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California’s corresponding state laws. An employee needs a serious health condition in order to take advantage of the 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave. Depending on the circumstances coronavirus may be a serious health condition and an employee with coronavirus or taking care of a family member with coronavirus may be able to utilize FMALA leave. However, fear of coronavirus is not enough.
What Other Precautions Can an Employer take?
Employers should take this time to update their employment policies and review whether a remote work policy or telecommuting is feasible and whether the employer is prepared to implement such a transition. Finally, an employer should review and update their emergency contingency plans.
While this is an uncertain time with news coming out every hour, employers should evaluate their business to become as prepared as possible for the uncertain.
Jeffrey B. Love, Esq.
Jeff Love is a partner with the firm. His practice encompasses all facets of real estate transactions, including drafting and negotiating purchase, sale, syndication, and financing transactions in connection with commercial, industrial, and residential assets. He also regularly drafts and negotiates office, retail, and industrial leases for regional landlords and tenants throughout the West Coast. Mr. Love has extensive experience drafting, negotiating, and reviewing real estate loan documents, including originations, modifications, note purchase agreements and other finance-related transactions from structuring through loan closing. He is a licensed real estate broker in the State of California.
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