E30: Season 3 Episode 10: Managing Business & Employee Obligations During COVID19

by Mar 14, 2020Covid-19, Season 30 comments

How to manage your business and employee obligations during the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic.

It has officially been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and a United Nations Emergency Declaration as well as a National Emergency Declaration by the President has led to closures of universities, businesses, and in some cases borders around the globe.

As a business owner, it’s important to understand what precautions and measures that your business should consider taking in order to best deal with the global pandemic, as well as navigating the maze of employee health, privacy, and other business and legal challenges. Here’s some of the few things that we thought an employer should consider in light of the changing landscape of COVID-19.

Legal Obligations

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act or OSHA and other state laws, employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment. At the same time, implementing a broad based ban or other business decision that’s not supported by actual fact could expose you as an employer to claims of disability or national origin discrimination.

First, evaluate what your legal obligations are to provide a safe and healthy workplace. This may include banning all business travel for employees to high risk places such as China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy at present, or developing a plan for employees that could be returning from a COVID-19 hotspot. You should also determine how to implement the CDC and other public health protocols and guidelines.

You have to determine the rights and limitations of your business in diagnosing employees as well as excluding them from company events or locations in the prevention of COVID-19.

Workplace Safety

Consider if remote work is necessary or something that your company can do and figure out what kind of accommodations you can put into place to ensure that workplace and labor laws are complied with.  Develop a communication plan for employees, including a way to reach employees in case they lose their work email, such as cell phone number backups or home land lines.

Develop a plan for all employees and stick to it. Require sick employees to stay home and develop a plan to compensate them. Determine to what extent you can require employees to disclose health status.

Finally, evaluate what your health plan covers for COVID-19 and publish a statement to employees so they know what their health benefits cover.

Determine your business liability if an employee is actually diagnosed with COVID-19 and what you have to do to protect the other employees of the company.

Establish an Emergency Succession Plan

Normally, you wouldn’t worry if somebody was out sick for a week or two, but in the face of COVID-19 you could lose an entire business management staff at the drop of a hat. So you need to figure out who you can cross train and who needs to prioritize and be in charge of what and when.

Also, anticipate the triggering of something called a force majeure clause for contracts, for delivery of goods and services. In fact, it may be something your business needs to trigger as well. A force majeure clause is a clause in a contract that says if there is some kind of massive disruption such as an earthquake or hurricane or some other disruption which could include in this case COVID-19 you may be exempt or excused or relieve to some degree of certain conditions in the contract. It’s important to check your contracts carefully.

Additional Measures

It’s possible that you could offer hardship distributions from your 401k and that’s something to talk with your benefits service provider about. COVID-19 implicates a wide range of employment laws including the Americans With Disability Act, Title VII, [Orissa 00:07:28] and others.

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