COVID-19 Pandemic Planning

GUIDANCE FOR CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC PLANNING TO SAFEGUARD YOUR BUSINESS

In order to provide guidance to GCT’s clients who are working on coronavirus pandemic planning for their businesses, we are sharing the following reminders about potential legal implications:

HOW TO RESPOND TO CDC & PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIALS' RECOMMENDATIONS

If the CDC or state or local public health officials recommend that people who visit specified locations remain at home for several days until it is clear they do not have pandemic symptoms, an employer may ask whether employees are returning from these locations, even if the travel was personal, and may require those employees to stay home after returning.

  • The current CDC travel advisory lists China, South Korea, Iran and Italy as warning level 3 locations and Japan as level 2
  • For travelers returning from these countries, a 14-day self-quarantine is recommended
  • This list may change and should be checked regularly, here.

Employers are permitted to mandate that some or all employees work remotely for a specified period of time, whether based on the employees’ travel history, based on actual exposure to an infected person or other business concerns.

EMPLOYERS' RESPONSIBILITIES ACCORDING TO THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT (ADA)

Under the ADA, employers are not permitted to make disability-related inquiries or medical examinations unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. Generally, a disability-related inquiry or medical examination of an employee is job-related and consistent with business necessity when an employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that:

  • An employee's ability to perform essential job functions will be impaired by a medical condition; or
  • An employee will pose a direct threat due to a medical condition.

All information about applicants or employees obtained through disability-related inquiries or medical examinations must be kept confidential. Information regarding the medical condition or history of an employee must be collected and maintained on separate forms and in separate medical files and be treated as a confidential medical record.

CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATIONS

GCT recommends that business owners plan for an infectious disease outbreak the same as they would for any other natural disaster (hurricane, earthquake, etc.) – make sure to communicate to your employees how they will be notified if you decide to close your office, designate a person or group of people who will check for updated information every day and ultimately make the decision of if there is sufficient risk to warrant either closing your offices temporarily or asking people to work remotely, and reassure everyone that they should take any precautions necessary to keep themselves safe (in this case, handwashing, stay home if having symptoms, etc.).

The Illinois Department of Public Health launched a statewide hotline for the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, to answer any questions from the public or to report a suspected case. That number is 1 (800) 889-3931.

During a pandemic, employers should rely on the latest CDC and state or local public health assessments. While public health recommendations may change during a crisis and differ between states, employers are expected to make their best efforts to obtain public health advice that is contemporaneous and appropriate for their location, and to make reasonable assessments of conditions in their workplace based on this information.

If your business needs assistance in developing a pandemic response plan, or would like to discuss specific questions, please contact one of GCT’s attorneys.