Dental and Medical Counsel Blog

A Timely Response to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) Concerns

March 13, 2020

While businesses may not need to begin stockpiling toilet paper, a measured response to the spread of COVID-19 should not be delayed by the savvy business owner. The growing risk of the pandemic COVID-19 (as described on March 11, 2020 by the director of the World Health Organization) virus has an undeniable effect on businesses in or near affected areas. It is advisable to be prepared, issuing company-wide advice on healthy best practices, backed by advice from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It may also become prudent to plan for employee absences, or the possibility of government-mandated isolation.

Some companies have employees able to regularly work from home, and those businesses are increasingly asking their staff to stay in their homes and perform their work as usual. This may not be an option for dental and medical practices, who operate on an in-person only basis.

Companies choosing to have employees report to work should consider providing their team and offices with educational materials, cleaning supplies, and access to handwashing stations and sanitization wipes and gels. It may be beneficial to create and share protocols including mandatory hand-washing, postings, or emails detailing the appropriate way to cough, and ways to generally protect the employee while on the job. Additionally, employers should monitor updates from the CDC, federal, and local government in case of updates affecting their offices. Refer to the CDC and World Health Organization websites for best practices and the latest news, such as:

  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer any time an employee enters the office, touches their face, coughs, or sneezes
  • Sneeze and cough into and elbow or shoulder, or tissue, and dispose tissue before again sanitizing hands
  • Educate team on the symptoms of COVID-19, and advise any suspecting symptoms or those who have traveled to affected areas in the past 14 days to stay home, self-quarantining rather than risking the health of the in-office employees

The final bullet point brings additional concerns for practices. Whether quarantine becomes required by government regulations is yet to be seen, but preparation is essential, as there is potential for extended employee absences. Employers should be cognizant of their employees’ categorization, whether exempt, or hourly, and what each means to their practice in the event of mandated interruption.

Should non-exempt employees be expected to work from home, companies should ensure their policies and legal obligations to document timekeeping (and breaks!) are met. Documentation practices for exempt employees may be less stringent, but should also be taken into consideration should there be a period of extended absence or illness.

Consulting with legal counsel may be advisable to ensure compliance with federal and local laws regarding non-exempt or exempt employees working off-site, if this is not part of the businesses’ regular operations. For example, exempt employees must be paid their salary if asked to work off site, even if their hours are not what would customarily be expected by the employer. (If an exempt employee even just checks their work email, or answers work calls, they are legally entitled to their full salary for the week.) Employers must be sure to comply with all federal or state regulations, particularly if considering alternatives to standard attendance practices. Consideration should also be given to whether or not an employee will receive payment for an illness-related absence that extends beyond their earned PTO or sick leave. These matters have the potential to be very complex, and adherence to employment regulations is vital for protection of the employer.

Consult with dental and medical attorney, Ali Oromchian at Dental & Medical Counsel, PC at 925-999-8200 or the HR experts at HR For Health prior to instituting any mandatory furloughs, as compliance with federal and state law is required (such as federal and state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Acts) for such action that vary by state.

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