As the number of reported cases of the 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 are also subject to a number of legal requirements protecting workers. This Compliance Bulletin linked below provides a summary of the compliance issues facing employers in this type of situation.
Download the COVID-19 Compliance Bulletin
There are a number of steps that employers can take to address the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition to reviewing the compliance concerns outlined in this Compliance Bulletin, employers should:
- Closely monitor the CDC, WHO, and state and local public health department websites for information on the status of the Coronavirus.
- 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.
- Consider measures that can help prevent the spread of illness, such as allowing employees flexible work options like working from home. are
As concern about coronavirus – the upper-respiratory infection that was first diagnosed in humans in Wuhan, China in late 2019, and has spread to the United States in recent days – grows worldwide, employers face a series of questions regarding the impact the virus will have on the workplace.
What Must Employers Do to Maintain a Safe Workplace?
U.S. employers may have concerns about compliance with workplace safety laws, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Under OSHA, workers have the right to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm; to receive information and training about workplace hazards; and to exercise their rights without retaliation, among others. To that end, employers should continue to monitor the development of the coronavirus and analyze whether employees could be at actual risk of exposure.
Employers may refer to OSHA’s Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic. While not written to address coronavirus in particular, this guidance does provide steps employers can take to address public health crises. OSHA has also aggregated its resources relating directly to coronavirus, and will continue to update its guidance as conditions evolve.
Given that employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees, employers should take some basic steps to help prevent the spread of disease and keep employees healthy:
- Educating employees on the signs and symptoms of the coronavirus and the precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk of contracting the virus. At this time, the CDC believes symptoms appear within two to fourteen days after exposure, with some infected individuals showing little to no signs.
- Providing hand sanitizer and hand washing stations, flu masks and facial tissues; encouraging employees to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; and cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched objects and surfaces.
- Minimizing unnecessary meetings and visitors, and assessing the risks of exposure by identifying workers who may have recently traveled to, come in direct contact with, or are scheduled to go to Wuhan City, and the Hubei Province in China.
- Implementing and/or evaluating workplace emergency response protocols.
- Implementing travel guidelines and procedures for approvals for travel to China.
- Allowing sick employees to work from home or take leave as appropriate.
Some employee concerns will be reasonably based and consistent with guidance from the World Health Organization, CDC, and OSHA; other concerns may be driven by unfounded fear or speculation. Employers should continue to monitor the information and recommendations from the CDC, OSHA, the State Department, along with information from other federal, state, and local government agencies involved in the response.
Update 3/12/220: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration released guidance to help employers prepare their workplaces for an outbreak of COVID-19 — along with a reminder that any incidents of employees contracting the novel coronavirus at work are recordable illnesses, subject to the same rules and failure-to-record fines as other workplace injuries and illnesses.
NAPLES, FL (November 5, 2019) – Gulfshore Insurance Inc. has announced its partnership with BerniePortal – a state-of-the-art software platform that combines benefits expertise with modern HR and Benefits technology. Through the technology, Gulfshore will be able to take the full HR management process online, making everything from onboarding to benefits administration intuitive and efficient.
“BerniePortal is an online benefits administration tool that we are providing to our clients at no cost. Typically, systems like this charge a per-member, per-month fee, and there is a lengthy setup timeframe. BerniePortal is different,” said Heather MacDougall, Chief Administrative Officer. “It provides a secure method for data collection through a simple and user-friendly interface from the perspective of the Administrator and the Employee. As a web-based program, it is compatible with any device that has an internet connection. We set up and maintain everything for you and will teach you how to use it.”
Nashville-based Bernard Health offers BerniePortal, a unique all-in-one online HR platform, to help small and medium-sized employers solve the transactional challenges of HR. For more information, you can visit www.bernieportal.com.
On March 7, 2019, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its long awaited proposed rule to amend current overtime regulations. Specifically, the proposed rule would raise the minimum salary threshold under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) “white collar” exemption to $35,308 per year ($679 per week). The proposal does not call for automatic adjustments to the salary threshold; however, it does propose updates to the salary threshold every four years.
Currently, employees with a salary below $455 per week ($23,660 annually) must be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week. Employees making at least this salary level may be eligible for overtime based on their job duties. This salary level was set in 2004.
Full information about the proposed rule is available here.
The public will now have 60 days to submit comments about the proposed rule electronically at www.regulations.gov. The DOL will take time to review submitted comments and an effective date for the final rule is not expected until 2020.
Gulfshore Insurance will continue to monitor any updates to the FLSA exemption rules and provide updates as they become available.
Human resource professionals should prepare their organizations emergency plans now to ensure employees stay updated with crucial information and support, and to make sure business stays on track in the event we’re faced with a hurricane in the coming months.
Here’s a checklist organizations can use to prepare for a hurricane:
Share Disaster Plans & Emergency Resources Early
In anticipation of a natural disaster, HR leaders are often responsible for setting up communication plans and sharing information so that individual employees can prepare. Some recommended resources to share with those who may be impacted include:
- National Hurricane Center’s Hurricane Preparedness Guidelines
- Department of Homeland Security’s Emergency Kit and Supply Checklist
- Local Evacuation Shelter Information & Maps (including resources for pets)
Test Your Ability to Contact Employees During/After a Disaster, and Vice Versa
It is critical to encourage employees to update their emergency contact information in the organization’s system to ensure you have up-to-date phone numbers and other pertinent details on hand. At Gulfshore Insurance, we activate a secondary disaster hotline for employees only that allows us to convey critical messages before, during, and after a storm. If employees have cellular service, then they are able to call in to receive timely updates on the agency’s status of operations. A phone tree is another widely used method for communicating with employees, particularly if your organization has more than a handful of employees.
Consider an Alternative When Cell Service Becomes Difficult
While cell phone towers may go down and access to the internet or SMS capabilities may be affected, texting may provide one of the best options for staying in touch. Many organizations utilize an SMS instant-messaging system that allows them to notify employees about operations and other pertinent details. As such, it is important to remind employees about the need for extended batteries and backups in order to effectively use this system.
Extend Deadlines, Alert Vendors, and Pre-Schedule Remote Check-Ins
Business, of course, goes on in the rest of the world and deadlines still loom. If you have any vendors outside the affected areas with employee deadlines you should start working with them to get an extension. Leadership and operations teams may want to pre-schedule call-in times and provide access to a conference line. The calls will allow you to effectively plan for business continuity and report on efforts to check in with your employees.
Consider an Advance Payroll
Many of the activities HR teams will need to address in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster will, in some instances, be things that have been prepared for ahead of time. As employees get back in touch, additional needs will be identified, but access to payroll funds and cash, as well as a sense of job security, are often uppermost in the minds of staff members. The first paycheck after a storm can be is critical for employees. Remember that if extreme power outages occur, not only will banks be closed, but ATMs will probably not work either–cash is king!
Be Flexible with Attendance and Time Off Policies
Employees who have been displaced from their homes or have evacuated entirely may be anxious about job continuity even as they’re struggling with basics like getting access to food, shelter, gas, and clothing. Part of the communication prior to the weather event will ideally have provided employees with clarity around items such as pay continuity, use of PTO, or flexibility in the company’s attendance policies. As employees return to work, whenever that may be, they’ll still be dealing with numerous aftereffects. Providing consideration for additional time-off without penalty will be important to employees who must keep appointments with insurance adjustors, rebuild their homes, or find new living arrangements; this time may be with or without pay as appropriate and in alignment with the Fair Labor Standards Act for employers in the U.S.
Ryan Laude is a Client Advisor at Gulfshore Insurance specializing in employee benefits. Ryan works with a wide range of businesses to create the best funding options that fit their needs. Comments and questions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org