For many, concerns remain about the risk of contracting coronavirus once back in the workplace. It's a serious issue for a workforce that is more stressed than ever. And besides real fears about getting sick, a Gallup poll found a majority of American adults working from home would prefer to continue doing so “as much as possible” after the pandemic. Though telecommuting is mostly an option for white collar workers, more than 62% of employed Americans currently say they have worked from home during the crisis, a number that has doubled since mid-March.1
To help companies prepare, we’ve put together a list of the top questions employees are asking about returning to work.
“I feel uncomfortable returning to work. What are my options?"
- An important first step is to have a conversation with your employee and actively listen to their specific concerns. Determine if they’re reasonable.
- Determine if you’ve already addressed your employee’s concerns or have set plans. For a quick plan on safely returning to work, take a look our employer checklist.
- Review and comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) guidance.
- Consider (or continue) remote work options and explore alternative duties and responsibilities that can be performed from home.
- Employees can only refuse to return to work if they believe they are in immediate danger, the hazard cannot be fixed by the employer, and there is no way to do the job safely.2
“How are you protecting employees more vulnerable to COVID-19?”
- Have a plan to protect your high-risk employees (e.g., older adults, those with underlying conditions resulting in immunocompromise, and pregnant women).
- Stay compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): review Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on reasonable accommodations for disabled employees during COVID-19.
- If a health care provider advises an employee to self-quarantine because the employee is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the employee may be eligible for paid sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and the quarantine must prevent the employee from working or teleworking.
- Consider altered worksite arrangements for employees who request it, such as remote work or time off from work.
- Modify your workspace to allow them to maintain a six-foot distance from customers and other employees, such as using Plexiglas separators or other barriers between workstations.
Listen to our podcast for more information about FFCRA guidance.
“Are you providing personal protective gear?”
- Yes. According to OSHA, when work practice and administrative controls are not possible or do not provide appropriate protection, businesses are required to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and foot and eyewear protection.
- Select PPE based on the hazard to your employee and ensure that it’s properly fitted and maintained, consistently worn, and regularly inspected.
“If I feel sick, can my employer ask about my symptoms?”
- Yes. According to guidelines from the CDC and under the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are allowed to ask employees what symptoms they are experiencing during a pandemic and restrict them from coming into the workplace.3
- Employers are allowed to take employee temperatures only if they pose a direct threat to themselves or others. Information collected must remain confidential.
- According to CDC guidelines, employees should not return until at least 3 days have passed since recovery and at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
- Employers should not require employees to provide COVID-19 test results or a healthcare provider’s note to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave, or to return to work.
“Can my company make me come back to work if I don’t have child care?”
- The FFCRA adds a new reason for qualifying leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This provision — the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) — includes cases where the employee is unable to work in person or remotely because they are caring for a son or daughter whose school or place of care is closed or their childcare provider is unavailable due to COVID-19.
- The EFMLEA provides up to 12 work weeks of job-protected leave with health insurance in 2020, between April 1 and December 31.
- To help offset the expense of providing emergency sick leave and paid EFMLEA benefits, private companies are eligible to receive a refundable tax credit for the leave paid out each quarter.
For more information, please visit our COVID-19 resource center at guardianlife.com/coronavirus.