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COVID-19: Answers to everything employers are asking right now

(BUSINESS NEWS) Can an employee refuse to work for fear of COVID-19 infection? Can we put employees on unpaid leave of absence? Can we ask for medical information? One Texas law firm answers these and other questions.

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Our globe is officially somewhere we haven’t been in modern history, as the COVID-19 pandemic chokes off businesses worldwide, leaving confusion in its wake. Employees have been Googling their rights, but employers are in an equally tenuous position.

Fortunately, Texas law firm, Bell Nunnally is on top of it, not only putting together a library of resources, but noting, “we know your business is determined to continue forward, as is ours. Our attorneys and staff, along with our files and documents, remain fully accessible, as they always have been.”

To that effect, they published a full list of questions and answers on Tuesday, and the following guidance is in their own words from Bell Nunnally website:

U.S. employers are in uncharted territory in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. The following is guidance for employers based on the information currently available. As the situation continues to evolve on a daily basis, our team will continue to keep you apprised of relevant developments. As always, please feel free to call us with additional questions.

Can we put employees on unpaid leave of absence?

Yes. Employers in Texas can put employees on an unpaid leave of absence to ensure the safety and security of its workplace. Employers should be careful to use reasonable, non-discriminatory measures to determine who should be put on a mandatory leave. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published guidelines for employers to use to protect their workforce.

During the H1N1 pandemic, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that requiring workers to go home is not disability-related if the symptoms present are akin to the seasonal influenza or the H1N1 virus. Therefore, an employer may require workers to go home if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu. Employers may also consider implementing a mandatory quarantine policy for employees who have come in contact with an infected person or have recently traveled to severely impacted parts of the country or the world, such as Seattle or China. The CDC has issued guidance suggesting the incubation period for the virus can be as long as 14 days so employers may choose to require a 14-day quarantine for employees returning from severely impacted areas. Employers should be careful not to rely on stereotypes or target specific groups by race, religion or national origin in determining who should go on leave.

An extended unpaid leave—especially in the case of a 14-day quarantine—could have a tremendous financial impact on some workers. While not required by law, employers may consider some partial pay options in the event an employee is put on leave due to possible Coronavirus.

Employers should also consider work from home possibilities to allow employees to continue working without risking the health of the workplace.

Congress is considering expanding Family Medical Leave Act protections to families impacted by COVID-19 and requiring employers to provide some form of paid sick leave. As of today, the legislation has not passed the Senate.

Can we ask employees for medical information?

It depends. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from requiring medical examinations and making disability-related inquiries unless: (1) the employer can show that the inquiry or exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity; or (2) the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee poses a “direct threat” to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot otherwise be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. The EEOC’s position during a pandemic is that employers should rely on the latest CDC and state or local public health assessments to determine whether the pandemic rises to the level of a “direct threat.” Given that President Trump declared Coronavirus a “national emergency” on March 13, 2020, it is likely reasonable for employers to make health-related inquires and/or take the temperature of a potentially ill employee. That being said, employers should limit the focus of the inquiry to determining whether the employee may have contracted Coronavirus and limit that information to the smallest number of people that “need to know” in the organization. Employers must protect the health information of employees, which would include any documentation related to Coronavirus to be housed in the employee’s medical file separate from the standard employment file.

What if an employee tests positive for the virus?

  1. Employees who test positive for the virus should be required to notify management as soon as possible. Employers should designate one person with management as the recipient of this information.
  2. The employee should be sent home immediately and instructed to follow up with his or her primary care provider. The employer should not allow the employee to return to work until he or she is symptom-free for at least 14 days.
  3. The identity of the infected employee must be kept confidential and shared only on a “need to know” basis.
  4. Employers should ask the employee to re-trace his or her steps to identify all office areas and co-workers with which the employee interacted.
  5. Extra measures should be taken to sanitize any areas of the office that the infected employee trafficked.
  6. Without disclosing the identity of the infected employee, co-workers who may have had contact with the infected employee should be notified so that they can self-monitor their condition. The employer should also consider having those potentially infected co-workers self-quarantine at home for up to 14 days.

Can an employee refuse to come to work because of fear of infection?

Only if the employee reasonably believes he or she is in imminent danger, which essentially means that he or she reasonably thinks that reporting to work would result in immediate death or serious physical harm. While asking an employee to travel certain parts of the world (i.e., China, Italy) may rise to this level, coming to work in the United States is unlikely to rise to this level based on the information available now. However, employers should remain sensitive to employee fear as we progress through the pandemic and try to work cooperatively with employees to keep everyone safe, calm and working.

Do short term disability or business interruption insurance cover this?

Employers should contact their short term disability carriers to inquire as to whether Coronavirus would be a covered illness under their policy. Often there is a one-week waiting requirement before benefits begin, so in some cases, the employee may not qualify if the mandatory leave is less than one week. Similarly, the employee would not qualify if he or she is asymptomatic but simply quarantined.

Unfortunately, most business interruption policies require some type of property damage for coverage to apply. But employers are encouraged to contact their insurance brokers or carriers to evaluate what coverage may be available.

What if my company is a nonsubscriber to workers’ compensation insurance?

For Texas nonsubscribers to workers compensation employees testing positive for the virus are likely not covered under your work injury benefit plans. The benefit plans are designed to cover only those work injuries suffered in the “course and scope of employment.” For that reason, the benefit plans only cover “occupational diseases” (those encountered exclusively in the workplace), not diseases the general population is exposed to. Even if an employee contends they were infected by a co-worker who was previously diagnosed, it is just as likely that employee was infected outside of work in the multitude manners in which the virus is transmitted in the community.

What should employers be doing?

  • Plan – Develop an emergency response plan, which may include increasing employee ability to work from home in the event of a quarantine.
  • Sanitation – Implement increased sanitation measures, which may include enhanced cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, providing hand sanitizer or gloves and posting signs that require frequent hand washing.
  • Limit travel – For a limited period, consider restricting, or outright banning, travel by regional managers, salespeople and other employees who travel to other locations as part of their work routine. Instead, instruct them to conduct their work by phone or skype.
  • Isolation Policy – Develop a policy on how to reasonably identify and isolate potentially infected employees in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • Hotline – Larger employers may consider setting up a hotline so that employees can report they are experiencing symptoms and receive direction to a company-designated testing facility. Employers can likewise have payment set up with that facility as a benefit for their employees so the testing is free to the employee. As test kits are currently scarce, be advised that facilities are not obligated to test all people desiring a test, only those meeting the CDC testing criteria.
  • STAY CALM. Together, our communities and businesses will get through this.

 

The American Genius is news, insights, tools, and inspiration for business owners and professionals. AG condenses information on technology, business, social media, startups, economics and more, so you don’t have to.

Business News

Debunking ridiculous remote work myths (and some serious survival tips)

(BUSINESS) People new to remote work (or sending their teams home) are still nervous and have no concept of what really happens when people work from home. We’ll debunk that.

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With an entire nation (or planet) moving to a remote workforce in the midst of a global pandemic, we’re hearing some pretty wild misunderstandings of what remote work is, and how it functions effectively. Bosses are scrambling to buy up spying tech for some good ol’ hamfisted enforcement.

For those of us who have been remote for ages, it’s fascinating to watch the transition. And also offensive. People tweeting about getting to take naps and not wear pants. That’s not remote work, that’s just you being unsupervised like a child for five minutes, KEVIN.

I was chatting with my buddy Michael Pascuzzi about remote work (full disclosure, he’s a Moderator in our Remote Digital Jobs group) and despite cracking many jokes, we realized there is a lot of noise to cut through.

In the spirit of offering meat for you in these hungry times, Michael offered to put his thoughts on paper. And why should you listen to him? It’s because he has worked for several tech companies, both startups and enterprises including TrackingPoint, 3DR, and H.P. He currently works remotely for Crayon, a Norwegian Digital Transformation, and Cloud Services company. He holds an M.B.A. in Digital Media Management from St. Edward’s University and a B.A. in Art History from the University of Connecticut. He’s also wonderfully weird. And a remote worker.


In his own words below:

So you’re working remotely now. Cool.

At first, it feels.. strange. But, as you get into it, you’ll get comfortable with your routine.

I’m sure you have a preconceived notion of remote workers. You probably thought this type of work was just for Unabombers and nomads. Maybe you don’t think you have a real job any longer because you’re doing it in your Underoos.

While, yes, working from home does allow you the option to work in your underwear, you still probably shouldn’t. There’s a lot to working from home and getting work done. You’re going to get a crash course in the coming weeks. I’m going to give you a leg up on your peers by telling you what you really need to know and what nobody else is telling you about remote work.

The following is a cheat sheet to getting ahead of your peers – and maybe make a case for you to continue in this lifestyle after the pandemic has subsided.

1. Working remotely doesn’t mean playtime

Right now, you’re roughly one week into your new working arrangement. You’ve got your table, your computer, and your whole set up. You’re also taking advantage of:
– The creature comforts of home
– Nobody looking over your shoulder

Irish coffees for breakfast, no pants-wearing, and naps during lunch are all available to you now that you work from home. And let’s not forget about #WhiteClawWednesdays!

These are all terrible ideas.

Here’s why:

If you come to a phone/video meeting drunk, we’ll know. If you’re on a video call with bedhead and a wrinkled shirt, we’ll assume you’re unprofessional. White Claw Wednesdays are probably okay in moderation, but taking a shot every time Karen says something annoying on a conference call is a bad idea!

Working from home should be an enjoyable and comfortable experience, but it shouldn’t be fun. It’s still work; and work sucks.

2. Working remotely should give you a better work/life balance:

Initially, you’ll find it hard for you and for your employer to separate your work hours from your life hours. Staying working only during your work hours is VITAL to keeping your sanity. Microsoft Office 365 has a tool that measures your wellbeing in “My Analytics.” Below is a picture of my wellbeing for this month. It’s not good.

digital accounting of wellbeing

The leadership team and managers at my company stress wellbeing. We take that chart seriously, and failing to have quiet days doesn’t make you look like a hard worker. Hard workers get shit done 8-5.

3. Working remotely also doesn’t mean firing the nanny

Working remotely doesn’t equal additional family time. Your work hours are your work hours. The pandemic quarantine doesn’t leave a whole lot of options for families to coexist without overlapping.

And it’s okay to occasionally have a “coworker.” But, you need to create your own private workspace within the hustle and bustle of homeschooling going on around you.

Here are a few more best practices you won’t read anywhere else:

You’ll need to learn to distance yourself from “work” when no longer at your “office.” This means powering down at the end of the day. Having a work/life balance when you work from home tends to swing in the opposite direction than you probably assumed; work can take over your life.

  • You’re going to have to turn off mobile notifications 100% of the time. It’s a pandemic, you’re not traveling; you don’t need them on – ever.
  • Turn off your computer at the end of the day. It’s good for your computer, and it’s fantastic for your mental health.
  • If your manager needs to reach you or you need to contact a direct report, just follow the wise words of Kim Possible: Call me, beep me if you wanna reach me.
  • You must wear pants. (FYI guys, dark leggings look like real pants and are super comfortable) Get ready for your day as if it were a regular office. Take a shower, shave, comb your hair, eat breakfast in the kitchen, wear jewelry. Look like you give a damn.

  • You must turn on your camera for video calls (and please don’t take your laptop into the bathroom. no field trips). Nonverbal communication accounts for 93% of all communication. We need to see your face, your posture, your eyerolls.
  • All of your calls should be video calls. You’ll find you’ll miss humans if you do not see them daily.
  • Clean the room (or at least directly behind you). We shouldn’t see laundry and quarantine snacks in the background. We absolutely should never HEAR you opening a bag of chips.
  • Close your door. Kitchen, office, bedroom… whatever you’re using needs to be YOUR space. It’s your office. Your clubhouse. Only one Homer allowed.

And for the love of all that isn’t COVID, please wear pants.

More resources:

I’m on a team at Crayon that freely consults on working remotely and cloud technology. This isn’t a sales pitch. If you have questions or need productivity tips, you can always email my team directly at contact.us@crayon.com.

Meanwhile, here are some additional resources to dig into:

  1. 20 tips for working from home
  2. Guide to engaging a distributed workforce
  3. Top 15 tips to effectively manage remote employees
  4. How to make working from home work for you

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Business News

Will House Democrats pass the new Senate stimulus package?

(BUSINESS NEWS) A new stimulus package for the COVID-19 pandemic has come from the senate, the question now is will the House Democrats accept and pass it?

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Congress can’t seem to agree about COVID-19 relief. Yesterday, the Senate and the White House came to an agreement on a $2 trillion economic stimulus package. The Democrats are now the hold-up. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has publicly stated that the House will be reviewing the bill, but there is no commitment as to whether the bill will pass or not. The Hill reported that some House Democrats are concerned that they have not provided any input.

What’s in the measure?

According to CBS News, the actual text of the measure hasn’t been released, but they did get information from Minority Leader Chuck Schumer about some of the contents:

• Expanded unemployment benefits to boost the maximum benefit and to give laid-off workers full pay for four months
• Direct payments to individuals making less than $99,000
• $130 billion for hospitals
• $367 billion in loans for small business
• $150 billion for state and local governments
• $500 billion for large businesses
• Creates an oversight board to govern large loans
• Prohibitions to prevent President Trump and family from getting federal relief

Will the measure pass?

Pelosi has said that this measure is a big improvement over the Republican’s first proposal. It seems as if she is working hard to move the measure through the House, but given the current state of politics, it’s hard to believe that anything will be done without some debate. Many Democrats have pushed for a food stamp increase, which is not in the current measure. However, the Democrats did win on the oversight board that protects the employees of the companies who are getting loans. Money for states was another Democrat victory in the current measure.

If the bill can pass the House unanimously, lawmakers won’t have to vote on the floor. If the House can’t agree, the House will need to reconvene and amend the Senate measure or pass their own measure. Under the COVID-19 travel restrictions and quarantine issues, it might be difficult to get anything done quickly. The urgency is real, but so is the responsibility. The Democrats want the money to do what Congress intends, not for CEO compensation or stock buyouts.

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Business News

MLMs under investigation for claiming they have a COVID-19 miracle cure

(BUSINESS NEWS) Guys, there is currently no cure for COVID-19 and it’s definitely not being sold by your friend in an MLM or whatever their company calls themselves.

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It should go without saying that essential oils are NOT a cure for COVID-19, but unfortunately, the MLMs are at it again. Yes, that’s right, there are people trying to market their oils, pills…etc. as a way to stave off the pandemic that is currently upon us. So before we go any further, may I remind y’all that there is no miracle cure to treat or prevent the virus.

Do not use MLM products as a replacement for the actions laid out by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), like social distancing and vigorous hand washing.

Don’t get me wrong, if you or your friends or relatives want to use MLM products on top of the advice given by doctors and scientists, go ahead. But advertising that these products can cure a disease that’s currently spreading across the world isn’t just irresponsible, it’s dangerous. Even if you don’t catch it, you’re still at risk of spreading the virus.

As of right now, the FTC is investigating seven companies over COVID-19 related claims, but you should be suspicious of anyone claiming they have something that will help. Do your homework. Sources like the CDC and WHO (World Health Organization) are great places to start if you’re unsure about information that you see on social media or hear from a friend. Disinformation is everywhere, so it’s vital to keep track of sources.

If you do stumble across a friend or family member trying to slip in MLM sales during this global crisis, be civil in your rebuttals. Many people join MLMs because they’ve been struggling to make money elsewhere. MLMs are notorious for targeting immigrants and stay-at-home moms. With COVID-19 bringing a slew of job loss, financial circumstances for many are more precarious than ever, which could very well put pressure on people in MLMs.

In short: MLM corporations that advertise a miracle cure? I didn’t think these companies could be more evil, but I was wrong. Your friend on Facebook touting their essential oil as a miracle cure? Definitely not great, but there might be more going on than meets the eye, so be honest with them, but also be kind.

It’s no magic cure, but a drop of kindness could go a long way right now.

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