The coronavirus pandemic has many businesses either evaluating their current workplace policies or setting forth new guidelines in order to adapt to the current environment. In light of the business closures and stay-at-home orders being issued across the country, you may have legal questions about COVID-19 and its impact on your workplace. Here are some common areas of concern:

 

What workplace policies should I update?

Now is the time to review and revise workplace policies to comply with new (and still evolving) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and federal, state, and local laws.  A new set of workplace policies should be distributed to employees right away, addressing topics such as:

  • A stay-at-home policy for employees exhibiting flu-like symptoms
  • Use of paid time off
  • Accrual of paid sick leave
  • Flexible work from home options 

What should be included in a Work from Home Agreement?

Your Work from Home Agreement should include guidelines to motivate productivity and ensure legal compliance. Your overall remote work policy may be designed to:

  • Minimize distractions
  • Enable adoption of SaaS platforms to integrate and manage workflow
  • Maintain regular communications (email, chat, and video conferencing)
  • Monitor wage and hour law compliance including time, meal break, and rest period reporting

How do I respect my employees’ medical privacy?

Though employers may wish to check on the wellbeing of their staff, they must be careful to respect employees’ medical privacy—This may include adhering to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), HIPAA, state constitution, and/or other relevant state and local laws. These laws restrict employers from inquiring about their employees’ medical history and specific medical conditions, and in many circumstances, they also protect such confidential medical information from being shared with others.

Here are some of the guidelines for pandemic preparedness in the workplace provided by The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

  • Send employees home if they have “flu-like symptoms” (i.e. fever or chills AND cough or sore throat)
  • Limit inquiries to the extent practical and keep medical information confidential
  • Comply with EEOC, CDC, and HIPAA guidelines for employee medical information
  • If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, notify the CDC and other employees (while maintaining that employee’s confidentiality)

How do I communicate policies to my employees?

Circulate your new and updated policies in an Employee Handbook that includes reminders of the company’s stand against harassment and discriminatory policies. Your handbook can be used to:

  • Create a protocol for documenting, investigating, and addressing discrimination or harassment complaints 
  • Document inquiries (and responses) made to employees regarding symptoms or travel to at-risk areas
  • Consistently apply any policies company-wide
  • Lay out your plan if an operational shutdown becomes necessary, including compensating exempt and nonexempt employees correctly

How often should I review my workplace policies?

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically impacted organizations around the globe, both big and small, so in times like this, you’ll want to review your workplace policies and employment practices often to ensure you’re in compliance with applicable laws. Additionally, your employees likely will have unprecedented questions and concerns about things like job security, remote work, and medical screenings. Visit the Rocket Lawyer Coronavirus Legal Center to ask a lawyer for specific advice or browse relevant topics.

 
 

About the author:

Stuart Hays is an On Call attorney at Rocket Lawyer and managing partner at Transbay Law Group. With combined legal and business expertise, Stuart frequently serves as executive general counsel, board member, and business development executive for his clients. His practice focuses on transactions, including technology licensing, product development, joint ventures, mergers & acquisitions, corporate finance, and general corporate counseling. Stuart’s clients are dynamic, growing and mature companies in enterprise software, mobile technologies, renewable energy, real estate, digital media and content, internet business models, construction and development, and professional services.

 

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.