- The U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Wage and Hour Division and Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced new coronavirus guidance for employers March 9.
- Among other things, one Wage and Hour document discusses whether the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay workers who are unable to work from home, if required. Another addresses whether leave to avoid the pandemic would be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act.
- In a separate publication, Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, the agency provides strategies for preventing the spread of illness and includes information on safe work practices. Workers in healthcare, however, said more is needed.
OSHA's guidance has specific recommendations for employers within certain exposure risk categories, but it recommends that all employers take the following steps:
- Develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan.
- Prepare to implement basic infection prevention measures, including promoting thorough hand-washing and good respiratory etiquette, and encouraging sick workers to stay home.
- Develop policies and procedures for prompt identification and isolation of sick people, if appropriate.
- Develop, implement, and communicate about workplace flexibilities and protections.
- Implement workplace controls, including administrative controls (changes in work policy or procedures to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard).
- Follow existing OSHA standards, including the PPE rules.
While the breadth of knowledge behind the spread of SARS-CoV-2 continues to expand, the recommendations for employers haven't changed too much since the initial outbreak of the virus.
Employers should implement or boost remote work policies and procedures, as appropriate, and take care not to discriminate on the basis of race or national origin. Some employers that may find remote work impossible, such as restaurants and retailers, have adapted new leave policies to ensure employee safety; Walmart rolled out emergency leave after an associate tested positive for COVID-19, and Trader Joe's said it will reimburse employees who take time off due to illness, for example.