With ongoing developments surrounding the COVID-19 virus, many employers have made the decision to have their employees work remote. However, not all organizations have this flexibility, and there are still people who are heading to shared work environments. If you’re an employer who’s in this situation, you are likely thinking about sick leave policies and how to protect your employees who are coming into contact with one another daily. Naturally, you want you and your team to stay healthy so you can work together and be productive.

What do you do if you suspect someone in your workplace is sick and should be at home? As an employer, can you force a worker displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or some other illness to go home?

See Top HR FAQs that answer many of the same questions

The short answer is yes; however, there are some things to consider before you ask them to leave. The U.S. Department of Labor states that “employers should encourage employees who are ill with pandemic influenza or are exposed to ill family members to stay home.”  This aligns with the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation of staying home when you have a fever and for 24 hours after the fever breaks to ensure you are no longer contagious before returning to work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that if an employee is a “direct threat” to the workplace, employers have the right to send them home.

The EEOC gives four guidelines for determining if someone is a direct threat in the workplace: 1) the duration of the risk; 2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; 3) the likelihood that potential harm will occur, and 4) the imminence of the potential harm. Asking an employee to leave because of a suspected illness would also be permitted by the Americans with Disabilities Act because the symptoms they are exhibiting would be considered a threat to the rest of your team.

If you have employees showing symptoms of COVID-19 or other viruses in your onsite workplace, you should immediately send them home. These include symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat. Employers must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA. Additionally, you should take extra precautions to disinfect your workspace to prevent more workers from becoming ill. And if you haven’t already, review your sick leave and remote work policies to ensure they are updated and ready to be implemented if necessary.

In a scenario where you must ask your entire staff to work remotely, it is important to ensure everyone is set up with the necessary equipment. Communication is also crucial at this time. Keep employees updated and check in regularly to make sure they are doing well in their remote spaces.

For more information on workplace policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, check out the Apex COVID-19 resource page here.


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