Updated June 4, 2020
ILMA has been fielding member questions about the effects of the COVID-19 disease outbreak on their operations. The following are some of the more frequent questions we have received and the answers we have given. Please understand that the questions-and-answers below are from the perspective of the federal level. In many instances, there may be state and local requirements that override or control the answer. Please keep in mind that guidance from governmental agencies and public health authorities is likely to change as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. The following answers are intended as guidance and are not legal opinions. As always consult with your local counsel. If you have a question that was not addressed here, please submit to to email@example.com.
Should we review our employee manual (or handbook) to determine what policies and procedures may need to be revised because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes, a thorough analysis of existing policies and procedures should be undertaken, particularly to include adjustments necessitated by federal and state laws enacted during the COVID-19 disease outbreak. In particular, review whether the requirements of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FCRA) apply to your organization, and compliance with the law, noting that it applies until December 31, 2020. Inventory those policies that were changed based on the crisis, as well as key decisions that were made related to employees. These policies may include:
- Vacation/Paid Time Off;
- Remote or off-site work;
- Work hours, including start/stop time, breaks, lunch times, flexible hours, and staggered work hours;
- Clock in/out procedures;
- Leave policies, including sick leave;
- Travel policies; and,
- Usage of Information technology.
When would be the best time to issue a new or revised employee handbook?
Assuming the employer is not subject to a collective bargaining agreement, it may be a good time to update the employee handbook. However, let us look at some issues. If the company modified policies by reducing benefits (e.g., PTO or vacation pay) and is uncertain whether or when to return the benefits to pre-COVID-19 terms, it may be more practical to wait. If company intends to maintain the modified policies, then issuing a new employee handbook may be in order. If the company has not done a thorough review of its employee handbook for some time, this may be a good time to update it. If continued remote work is expected and do not already have handbook policies in place, or wish to create more robust policies, now is a good time to do so.
Are there any updates on required workplace posters?
Employers must post numerous employment law related posters in locations throughout their facilities. Every employer covered by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) must post in a conspicuous place a notice of the recent statute’s requirements, although this mandate can be satisfied by emailing or mailing the notice to employees or posting it on the company’s website (internal or external) as long as employees are informed.
Is now a good time to conduct a pay equity audit?
Yes, but with the assistance of counsel. The company may be reorganizing its workforce to adapt to jobs that may have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consideration should be given to ensuring equitable pay for employees performing comparable work. If pay differences are identified, adjustments in pay can be rolled into other compensation changes that may be occurring.
Even though we are an essential business and we kept our doors open, we had to furlough (layoff) some employees. When we call them back to work, do we need to treat them as new hires?
Generally, not in the traditional sense, although some state laws address this issue. As a rule of thumb, employers should refresh hiring paperwork for furloughs longer than six months. If the furloughed employees remained on the company’s payroll, they can return to their prior positions at the same pay rates and benefits eligibility as when the employees left. If there are any changes to wages and/or benefits for the returning employees, those changes should be communicated to them in writing. Make sure to document the return-to-work date. It is good practice to provide notice to employees of return-to-work dates and any conditional return policies, such as successful background or drug checks, to give employees time to prepare.
Besides reviewing our employee manual (handbook), should we update our personnel files?
If the company terminated employees instead of furloughing them, the best practice is to put them through the company’s normal application screening process, although formal interviews can be waived. This process should include an application, I-9 form, and routine hiring paperwork (including employee handbook acknowledgment and post-employment restrictive covenants), and it may include, depending on state and local laws, criminal background and credit checks, drug tests, and post-offer/pre-employment physical exams.
While it makes sense to review personnel files periodically for completeness, now may not be the best time. Instead of tackling a thorough review, you may want to determine whether there are critical missing documents in the file, such as I-9 forms and signed acknowledgments, and ensure that medical information, including workers’ compensation documents and any other documents which contain an employee’s medical information are separated from the personnel file. Once normal operations resume, physical inspection for I-9 processes must be completed in-person within three days. The Americans with Disabilities Act and many state laws require employee medical information to be stored in separate, confidential medical files.
Our company’s paid leave policies have been too generous. Can we change them?
Note that for companies with over 100 employees, the 2019 EEO-1 Component 1 data is due in March 2021, alongside the 2020 data. More information is expected on how to account for personnel changes and reporting as the deadline approaches.
Generally, yes. Unless there is a collective bargaining agreement in place, a company may make prospective changes in the types of benefits they provide to employees. However, it is necessary to confirm whether state law imposes any specific requirements and the company typically wants to avoid forfeitures of any pre-existing benefits. Additionally, clear communication about the changes to employees is recommended.
To avoid layoffs, we instituted pay reductions by applying different percentages to different pay ranges. Are there risks of eliminating the pay reductions for some, but not all, of our employees?
Assume that employees discuss pay among themselves, so ensure that compensation decisions are based on legitimate, non-discriminatory business reasons. The company may want to ask counsel to assist with an adverse impact analysis to determine whether the compensation decisions have a statistically significant adverse impact on a protected category. Clear communications may be helpful in explaining the reasons and import for the decisions and prospectively address inter-employee pay discussions.
I have heard about voluntary attendance policies. Should we consider one?
Voluntary attendance policies allow employees to cease work voluntarily and stay at home for a temporary period without the fear of traditional consequences (e.g., discipline or termination). It is appropriate to consult with counsel before implementing one, because the company runs the risk of modifying at-will employment relationships with employees and limiting termination rights for those employees who use the policy. To limit this risk, minimally include express language that the policy does not alter the at-will relationship. Further, avoid making express guarantees that employees who use the voluntary attendance policy will not be subject to termination or other adverse consequences if the company’s economic conditions change.
Is it permissible to screen job applicants for COVID-19 symptoms?
Yes, the job applicant can be screened for COVID-19 symptoms after making a conditional job offer, if you do so for all persons being hired same type of job. Under the current EEOC and CDC guidance, an individual with confirmed COVID-19 or is expressing its symptoms should not be in the workplace. In addition, the job offer can be withdrawn if the individual cannot start work for an immediate need. However, the company should ensure its normal policies of non-discrimination in the hiring process, in particular for individuals considered “high-risk” due to protected status, such as age or disability.
Can we postpone the start date or withdraw a job offer because the applicant is over 65 years old or is pregnant, which place them at higher risk from COVID-19?
No. Although the CDC has identified these individuals as being part of the “high-risk” group for COVID-19, it does not justify unilaterally postponing the start date or withdrawing their job offer. However, the company may discuss postponing the start date with these individuals, or perform alternate work remotely.
While we remain in the COVID-19 pandemic, if an employee requests an accommodation for a medical condition -- either at home or in the workplace – can we request information to determine if the employee’s condition is a disability?
Yes, you may request medical documentation to determine whether the employee has a “disability” as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You also may ask questions that may include: (1) how the disability creates a limitation, (2) how the requested accommodation will effectively address the limitation, (3) whether another form of accommodation could effectively address the issue, and (4) how a proposed accommodation will enable the employee to continue performing his or her fundamental job duties. The Society for Human Resource Management includes a guide and forms on the accommodation review process.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we did not allow remote work, except for sales staff. We now see value in continuing a remote work plan for other employees. What should we consider?
There are four primary considerations: infrastructure, implementation, remote work plans, and a comprehensive remote work policy. First, evaluate the company’s technological capabilities, including security and privacy protocols. Second, determine whether remote workers have, and will continue to have, the equipment needed to get their jobs done from home. Third, implement a remote work plan that includes work assignment and communications systems, attendance and timekeeping records, and expectations about travel. Fourth, review and revise, if necessary, the existing remote policy in your employee manual (handbook) to determine whether it needs updating. Particular attention should be paid to cybersecurity policies and infrastructure for employees dealing with confidential information, including considerations of separate computers or limiting file access permissions.
Some of our employees have been working remotely from home, and a few of them have expressed a preference for continuing to work from home. We need them back at our facility, so what can we do?
While some employees may have a real preference for working from home, an employer can refuse remote work, unless the employee is seeking a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If an accommodation is being requested, the ADA requires an interactive process with the employee to determine whether an obligation exists to provide such or another accommodation.
We are subject to a local paid sick leave requirement. When we bring employees back from furlough, do our employees retain any existing balance?
Most state and local paid sick leave laws have restoration provisions for employees who were terminated and re-hired within a certain amount of time. It is probable that, if a furloughed employee accrued paid sick or family leave pursuant to a state or local law, the balance must be made available to the employee when he or she returns to work. Review sick leave policies with counsel, being cognizant of COVID-19 specific sick leave requirements under the FFCRA.
Can we refuse an employee’s request to wear a medical mask or respirator?
Generally, yes. However, given the CDC’s new guidance, it is recommended that you do not refuse an employee’s request to wear a cloth face covering if it makes him or her feel safe, so long as its use by the employee does not create an additional hazard, such as working around machinery. However, a cloth face covering, as suggested by the CDC, should be encouraged instead of voluntary use of a surgical mask or N-95 respirator. The employer, in this scenario, is not required to pay for the cloth face mask or train the employee in its proper use.
Can an employee refuse to work without a mask?
CDC’s suggested cloth face coverings are not subject to OSHA’s respiratory protection standard. OSHA’s respiratory protection standard covers the use of most safety masks in the workplace, and the Agency says a respirator must be provided to employees only “when such equipment is necessary to protect the health of such employees.” OSHA’s rules also provide guidance on when a respirator is not required -- “an employer may provide respirators at the request of employees or permit employees to use their own respirators, if the employer determines that such respirator use will not in itself create a hazard.” However, if an employer allows the voluntary use of respirators by employees, it must provide the respirator users with the information contained in Appendix D to the respiratory protection standard.
Given the consensus that surgical face masks are only necessary when treating someone who is infected with COVID-19 or influenza, masks or respirators in most workplace circumstances are not necessary to protect the health of most employees and are within the employer’s discretion to disallow.
Can an employee refuse to come to work because of fear of infection from the coronavirus?
However, employers should consider the CDC’s April 3 guidance, recommending that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based COVID-19 transmission. The CDC recommendation for the use of simple, cloth face coverings which can be made at home (not surgical masks or N-95 respirators) is intended to slow the spread of the virus by the wearer to others, because a significant percentage of individuals with the novel coronavirus are asymptomatic. The cloth face coverings suggested by the CDC are not subject to OSHA’s respiratory protection standard.
Under OSHA’s respiratory protection standard, employers can deny an employee’s request to wear a surgical mask or a respirator in almost all situations. However, if an employee has a legally-recognized disability, unique physical condition (e.g., autoimmune), or particular job where wearing a face mask is advisable, then the employer should engage in a good-faith, iterative process with the employee to determine if an accommodation should be made.
On April 3, 2020, OSHA issued a new memorandum and interim guidance on enforcement of its respiratory protection standard and certain other health standards because of the severe shortages in respirator availability. OSHA has expanded its discretionary enforcement policy to all industries and workers who are facing respirator shortages because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Acknowledging the challenges faced by employers, including current supply shortages of disposable N-95 filtering facepiece respirators, OSHA outlines specific enforcement discretion to allow for extended use and reuse of respirators, and in some circumstances use of respirators that have “expired” or are older than the manufacturer’s recommended shelf life.
While each situation is different, a generalized fear of contracting COVID-19 is not likely to justify a work refusal in most cases; however, employers should conduct a thorough review of the facts before taking any disciplinary action against an employee who refuses to perform his or her job for fear of exposure to COVID-19. Employers also should determine whether any unusual conditions exist in their workplaces.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) protects employees from retaliation in certain circumstances when they refuse to perform work as directed. However, employees are only entitled to refuse to work if they believe they are in “imminent danger.” OSH Act Section 13(a) defines “imminent danger” to include “any conditions or practices in any place of employment which are such that a danger exists which can reasonably be expected to cause death or serious physical harm immediately or before the imminence of such danger can be eliminated through the enforcement procedures otherwise provided by this Act.”
OSHA has said imminent danger is where the “threat of death or serious physical harm,” or “a reasonable expectation that toxic substances or other health hazards are present, and exposure to them will shorten life or cause substantial reduction in physical or mental efficiency.” Most work conditions in ILMA members’ facilities likely do not meet the elements required for an employee to refuse to work.
Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), nonsupervisory employees in both non-unionized and unionized settings may have the right to refuse to work in conditions they believe to be unsafe. The NLRB views this as part of concerted activity for the mutual aid and protection of coworkers. To refuse to work, employees should have a “reasonable, good-faith belief” that working under certain conditions would not be safe. The NLRA, however, protects employees if they are “honestly mistaken.” There is a separate analysis under NLRA Section 502 for unionized employees.
Can we reassign an employee to a different job or allow him or her to telework?
Generally, yes. The EEOC says that telework is an effective infection-control strategy that is familiar to ADA-covered employers as a reasonable accommodation. To the extent that you have an employee with disabilities or underlying medical issues that put him or her at high risk for complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, the employee may request telework as a reasonable accommodation to reduce his or her chances of infection. For “essential businesses,” such as ILMA members’ physical operations, there is no requirement that employees be allowed to telework; however, keep in mind that, if the employee is able to telework and it is a viable option, then it should be considered as a “social distancing” measure.
Must an employer pay employees who are not working because of COVID-19?
Employers generally are required to reimburse employees for teleworking expenses. Employers should carefully delineate what constitutes a necessary, reimbursable expense. For example, a portion of required technology expenses associated with work-required internet and phone usage, printing, faxing, etc. would require reimbursement, but expenses related to costs associated with mealtimes likely are not “necessary” even if an employer regularly provides employees with complementary meals as part of their job. Employers should draft a clear statement of what will be considered necessary expenses for reimbursement purposes for teleworking.
As to reassignment within a workplace, it generally can be done. However, keep in mind employers’ duty to prohibit discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. The anti-discrimination laws remain unchanged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Employers need to ensure employees are not engaging in discrimination and harassment. For purposes of the COVID-19 disease outbreak, employers should be particularly vigilant to harassment and discrimination because of an employee’s disabilities (whether actual or perceived) and their race, color, or national origin.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the general answer is “no.” FLSA’s minimum-wage and overtime requirements are based on hours actually worked in a workweek, so employees who do not report to work typically are not entitled to FLSA wages. However, beginning April 2, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires all employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide all employees either 80-hours of emergency paid sick leave for enumerated criteria or Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act Expansion (E-FMLA) benefits if an employee is unable to work (or telework) because of a certain “qualifying need.” Note that these are two different provisions under the FFCRA and can be taken either together or independently of one another. See ILMA’s alert for a more detailed discussion of both provisions leave requirements and entitlements.
Can work time missed be charged to vacation and leave balances?
Generally, the paid leave portion of the FFCRA provides that it does not diminish an employee’s rights or benefits under state or local laws or an existing employer policy. An employer may not require employees to use other paid leave provided by the employer before the employee uses FFRCRA emergency paid sick leave. These provisions seem to suggest that an employer’s existing leave policies do not count toward or reduce the 80-hour entitlement under the new law; however, the House Ways and Means Committee put out a press release upon passage, stating that "existing leave offered can count towards the 10 days." However, there may be differences for employees classified as “white collar” or exempt FLSA employees and who are paid on a salary basis. If such an employee performs at least some work in the employee's designated workweek, the salary basis rules require that they be paid the entire salary for that particular workweek. There are exceptions, such as when the employer is open for business but the employee decides to stay home for the day and performs no work. A Labor Department opinion letter on these matters can be accessed here.
An employer may have to keep paying employees because of an employment contract, collective bargaining agreement, or policy or practice that is enforceable as a contract or required under state law. Employers should keep in mind employee morale and the public relations aspect of not paying employees who may not be working if they are fearful of or have contracted COVID-19. Employers also should consider the impact docking exempt employees’ pay may have on whether employees will continue to stay at home voluntarily when they feel sick or disclose that they feel sick, if there is a perception that they will suffer a financial consequence for doing so.
As a general matter, the FLSA does not regulate the accumulation and use of vacation and leave. The salary requirements for exempt employees, however, can affect time-off allotments under various circumstances. Labor Department guidance on this topic can be accessed here. What an employer may or may not do about paid leave might be affected by an employment contract, a collective bargaining agreement, or some policy or practice that is enforceable as a contract or under a state law. Keep in mind that, beginning April 2, 2020, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provision in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide all employees paid sick leave when employees are unable to work (or telework) due to six specified conditions in the new law. See ILMA’s alert for a more detailed discussion of paid sick leave and expanded rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employers should expect paid sick leave and FMLA requests when the Families First Coronavirus Response Act become effective and should consider drafting a temporary update to their leave policies to comply with the new law.
Are there EEO concerns related to COVID-19?
Yes, because employers cannot select employees for disparate treatment based on national origin. The CDC recently stated, “Do not show prejudice to people of Asian descent, because of fear of this new virus. Do not assume that someone of Asian descent is more likely to have COVID-19.” However, if an employee, regardless of his or race or national origin, was recently in China, Italy or other countries with high numbers of coronavirus cases and has symptoms of COVID-19, then you may have a legitimate reason to bar that employee from the workplace. Employers also need to monitor whether employees of Asian descent are being subjected to disparate treatment or harassed in the workplace because of their national origin. This may include employees avoiding other employees because of their national origin.
Is COVID-19 a recordable illness for purposes of OSHA logs?
OSHA recently published guidance on this issue. OSHA recordkeeping requirements mandate covered employers record certain work-related injuries and illnesses on their OSHA 300 log. OSHA says an employer must record instances of workers contracting COVID-19 if the worker contracts the virus while on the job. The illness is not recordable if worker was exposed to the coronavirus while off the job. Recording cases of COVID-19 is required if: (1) the case is a confirmed case of COVID-19; (2) the case is work-related, as defined by 29 CFR 1904.5; and, (3) the case involves one or more of the general recording criteria set forth in 29 CFR 1904.7 (e.g., medical treatment beyond first-aid or days away from work)
Do we have a responsibility to report to the CDC if we learn or suspect that one of our employees has COVID-19?
No, there is no obligation to report a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 to the CDC. The healthcare provider that receives the confirmation of a positive COVID-19 test result is responsible for the mandatory report.
Can an employee be asked to stay home or leave work if he or she exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 or the flu?
Can we require a doctor’s note certifying fitness for work before allowing the employee back in the workplace?
Yes, you are permitted to ask an employee to seek medical attention and get tested for COVID-19. The CDC recommends employees should leave the workplace if they exhibit symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that it is permissible for employers to advise employees to go home, and it is not considered disability-related if the employee’s symptoms are akin to the flu or COVID-19.
Can we require an employee to notify us if he or she has been exposed, has symptoms, and/or has tested positive for COVID-19?
Yes. Any employee who becomes ill at work with COVID-19 symptoms should notify his or her supervisor. If an employee begins experiencing symptoms outside of work, has been exposed to someone that is exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, or has tested positive for COVID-19, the employee should report this to the company and should not report to work.
The CDC has indicated that in general business settings (i.e., where individuals in the non-healthcare workplaces are not at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19), employees should evaluate the decision to return to work at least 72 hours after no longer having or exhibiting: (a) a fever (defined by the CDC as a temperature greater than 100.4º F or 37.8º C); (b) signs of a fever; and, (c) any other symptoms, without the aid of fever-reducing medicines (e.g., ibuprofen or acetaminophen) or other symptom-masking medicines (e.g., cough suppressants). It is unclear what the CDC means by “signs of a fever.” Employers considering implementation of a longer “return to work” policy than contained in the CDC’s guidance should consult with legal counsel.
The return-to-work standards and time periods will be different for an individual with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. CDC and local public health authorities should be consulted for guidance.
Because it is difficult to determine whether an employee is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, let logic be your guide and look for indicators that allow you to conclude that an employee could be a suspected but unconfirmed case of COVID-19. Err on the side of caution. The EEOC says that an employer can inquire into an employee’s symptoms, even if such questions are disability-related, as the employer is considered to have a “reasonable belief based on objective evidence that the severe form of pandemic influenza poses a direct threat.” Accordingly, inquiries into an employee’s symptoms should try to distinguish between COVID-19 and seasonal influenza (e.g., fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, runny or stuff nose, cough, etc.). Remember to maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.
Returning employees should be reminded to practice social distancing, good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, avoid close contact with individuals who appear to be sick, and stay home if they begin to feel sick again.
Yes. The EEOC says that such notes are permitted under the ADA either because they would not be disability-related or, if the pandemic influenza were truly severe, they would be justified under the ADA standards for disability-related inquiries of employees. However, as a practical matter, doctors and other health care professionals likely are too busy with the pandemic outbreak response to provide fitness-for-duty documentation. Therefore, other approaches may be necessary, such as form from a local clinic or an e-mail stating that the employee does not have COVID-19.
Are we allowed to take an employee’s temperature at work to determine whether he or she might be infected?
Yes. The EEOC says that, due to the current national pandemic emergency, measuring an employee’s temperature is permissible. Normally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) restricts the inquiries that an employer can make into an employee’s medical status, and the EEOC considers taking an employee’s temperature a “medical examination” under the ADA. Keep in mind that an employee may be infected with COVID-19 without exhibiting symptoms such as a fever. For those ILMA members doing business in California that are subject to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the CCPA requires employees be given notice prior to or at the same time as the taking of the temperature.
If we decide to take an employee’s temperature, what precautions are needed?
The individual who is taking the temperature be protected from reasonably anticipated hazards. Assume that the tester is going to potentially be exposed to someone who is infected with COVID-19 who may cough or sneeze while his or her temperature is being taken. Based on this anticipated exposure, mitigation efforts should be taken to protect the employee by eliminating or minimizing the hazard, including personal protective equipment (PPE), gloves, gowns and face shields. Review OSHA’s guidance for healthcare employees.
If we use chemicals to combat COVID-19 in our workplace, are there any steps we need to take?
Yes. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) applies if new chemicals, or temporary employees, are introduced into work areas to fight COVID-19. The HCS requires you to provide employees with effective information (safety data sheets and container labeling) and training on hazardous chemicals in their work area at the time of their initial assignment, and whenever a new chemical hazard the employees have not previously been trained about is introduced into their work area.
Does the COVID-19 emergency pre-empt HIPAA privacy rules?
No, the federal government recently reminded all employers that they must still comply with the protections contained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule during the COVID-19 disease outbreak. While limited exemptions were granted to covered hospitals in a March bulletin, the same has not been extended to employers.
What are our obligations under the HIPAA privacy rules if we are contacted by officials asking for emergency personal health information about an employee?
The HIPAA privacy restrictions apply only to “covered entities,” such as medical providers or employer-sponsored group health plans, and then only in connection with individually identifiable health information. Employers are not covered entities, but any disclosures should be made only to authorized personnel on after you have properly identified them.
Are we required to develop an infectious disease contingency plan?
However, we recommend you treat all employee medical information as “confidential” and afford it the same protections as those granted by HIPAA in connection with the company’s group health plan. In certain circumstances, if you have plan information, you can share it with government officials acting in their official capacity, and with health care providers or officially chartered organizations such as the Red Cross. In addition, if the person is unconscious or incapacitated, or cannot be located, information can be shared if doing so would be in the person’s best interests.
While not required to do so, it is highly recommended by OSHA. OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens standard (29 CFR 1910.1030) applies to occupational exposure to human blood and other potentially infectious materials. While this OSHA standard does not apply to all workplaces, it is a good starting place.
Should a plant shut down as result of a COVID-19 case or outbreak? If a plant shutdown occurs, what is the recommended time offline to disinfect, and what is the appropriate timeframe to resume operations?
If an infected employee physically contacted manufacturing equipment, inputs and/or outputs, what steps are needed to disinfect the equipment, the raw materials and potentially the finished products?
- The areas used by the sick person should be closed off. It is not necessary to shut down the entire facility.
- Wait as long as practical before cleaning and disinfecting the affected area to minimize potential for exposure to respiratory droplets. Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.
- Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces.
- Cleaning staff should wear disposable gloves and gowns, coveralls, or other personal protective equipment (PPE) suitable for the disinfectant being used. Be sure to remove and dispose of/launder PPE, as appropriate, and clean hands after. There is no additional PPE required specific to COVID-19.
- Operations can resume as soon as the cleaning and disinfection are completed.
What are the recommended strategies and practices for a workplace quarantine if employees are becoming ill?
- If the objects in question are not accessible to employees, they may have little potential for contamination and may not present an exposure hazard of concern.
- If equipment, inputs and outputs are thought to be contaminated and can be cleaned and disinfected (or laundered, for porous materials), follow the CDC cleaning and disinfection recommendations.
- These recommendations indicate that dirty surfaces should be cleaned with soap and water prior to disinfection.
- To disinfect, use products on EPA’s N list or diluted bleach. There is more information on this on cleaning and disinfection guidance on the CDC Business website for this as well.
- If objects are thought to be contaminated and cannot be cleaned and disinfected, they can be isolated.
- COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads.
- Current evidence suggests that novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.
- Some studies have suggested anywhere between hours and up to nine days, depending on surface material and environmental conditions (e.g., temperature and humidity).
- It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, should the impacted facility expect a CDC investigation? If so, what should the facility expect in order to be prepared, and what type of interruption should be anticipated?
- Employees who have symptoms including fever, cough, or shortness of breath should notify their supervisor and stay home.
- Employees who appear to have symptoms including fever, cough, or shortness of breath upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be immediately separated from other employees, customers, and visitors, given a face mask if possible, and sent home.
- Sick employees should follow CDC-recommended steps. Employees should not return to work until the criteria to end home isolation are met, in consultation with healthcare providers and state and local health departments.
While CDC may deploy staff to investigate clusters of confirmed COVID-19, it does not routinely investigate every impacted workplace. Employers should cooperate with state and local health officials.
Is the CDC developing a nationwide rapid home test for COVID-19 that could be deployed in the workplace?
CDC’s focus has been on increasing state and local laboratory capacity. As of March 18, 91 public health laboratories are now running the CDC assay, including 50 states, plus District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
As of March 18, CDC has tested over 4,754 samples that equate to more than 1,610 patients. Public health labs have tested more than 40,360 samples.
The International Reagent Resource, who distributes kit components to public health labs, shipped 309 reagents to 53 laboratories on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
If you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19, or you are a resident in a community where there is ongoing spread of COVID-19 and you develop symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms and your exposure. They will decide whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home. The best thing you can do is to take steps to protect yourself from respiratory illness, such as washing your hands often and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.