Coronavirus: An Employer Q&A

As of March 13, 42 states and the District of Columbia have reported cases of COVID-19 – a disease arising from the newly identified coronavirus.

The United States has banned travel from Europe (the UK and Ireland are excluded) for foreign nationals. U.S. citizens and foreigners with green cards may return from Europe, subject to quarantine.

The total number of cases reported in the United States remains relatively low compared to the overall population, but that number will continue to rise due to community spread and increased testing.

Here are some common questions being asked by employers.

Employer: Can I ban travel to affected locations?

Employers may ban any business-related travel to areas of high community spread. Employers should also strongly encourage their employees to avoid all nonessential travel to areas where coronavirus outbreaks are high, as the CDC has recommended. Employers with business involving travel to those areas should consider reasonable alternatives for their workforce, such as videoconferencing. As more countries and U.S. locations report cases of COVID-19, employers should recognize that assessments of elevated travel risks must remain dynamic.

Employers generally do not inquire into employees’ lawful off-duty travel. Employers should consider advising employees about the risks associated with such travel and inform them of the consequences of undertaking such travel, including periods of quarantine (14 days is the current guidance) before being allowed to return to the workplace and apply any such practice on a non-discriminatory basis.

Unionized employers should consider reviewing their applicable collective bargaining agreements to confirm their ability to unilaterally implement such a mandate, or discuss the issue with the employees’ collective bargaining representative.

Employer: Can I force a sick employee to go home or stay home?