Employers Must Do What They Can to Maintain a Safe and Healthy Work Environment
As the number of reported cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to rise, employers are increasingly confronted with the possibility of an outbreak in the workplace.
Employers are obligated to maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their employees, but they are also subject to a number of legal requirements protecting workers from discrimination. Compliance issues to consider include:
- The general duty to provide employees with safe workplace conditions imposed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act;
- Protection against disability discrimination (including disability-related inquiries and medical examinations) under the Americans with Disabilities Act;
- Requirements set by federal and state employee leave laws; and
- The compensation of individuals who miss work due to COVID-19.
Federal and state governments are actively publishing information on this development. Reliable resources include the materials listed below:
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary
- World Health Organization (WHO): Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): Safety and Health Topics: COVID-19
Action Steps for Employers
To address the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace, employers should:
- Closely monitor the CDC, WHO, and state and local public health department websites for information on the status of COVID-19;
- Proactively educate their employees on what is known about the virus, including its transmission and prevention;
- Establish a written communicable illness policy and response plan that covers communicable diseases readily transmitted in the workplace; and
- Consider measures that can help prevent the spread of illness, such as allowing employees flexible work options like working from home.
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