The continuing spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is impacting workplaces in the Bay Area and employers should be aware of the practical guidelines aimed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Last week Santa Clara County’s Public Health Department (SCCPH) issued new guidance for workplaces and businesses to encourage employers to make it easier for employees to work in ways that minimize close contact with large numbers of people. See link here for the SCCPH guidance: https://www.sccgov.org/sites/phd/DiseaseInformation/novel-coronavirus/Documents/COVID19Update-Businesses.pdf
California Sick Leave & COVID-19:
One of the SCCPH’s tips for employers is to encourage them not to require a doctor’s note when an employee requests the use of sick leave due to the practical impact on healthcare offices. Expect that many employees will be calling in sick and will have questions about their benefits and pay during the time they are not working. We encourage employers to review their paid sick leave policies and usage limitations so that managers and human resources professionals can communicate these guidelines to employees. Remember that an employee taking paid sick leave should not be “working remotely.” Many employers are encouraging employees to work from home. If an employee takes advantage of that opportunity, the employer should not deduct any leave from their leave bank because the employee is still working.
Discrimination & COVI-19:
Employers must be aware of the potential risk of discrimination in a proactive workplace response to COVID-19. Even if an employer has the best of intentions in implementing a new policy or practice to follow the SCCPH guidelines, there may be risk of discrimination in its application. For example, even though workers over the age of 50 are part of a population that the SCCPH deems at “higher risk”, an employer should not impose any policies based on unlawful age restrictions. If your workplace is able to support a large number of employees working from home, an employer may structure that change based on job, department or any other non-discriminatory category, but not age.
Call Legal Counsel if You Have Questions
In recent weeks many employers have received inquiries from employees about COVID-19 and the workplace. Some employers may seek to amend their policies and practices temporarily to follow the SCCPH guidelines and allow more flexibility in sick leave or remote work. If you have any questions about amending your practices or have a specific workplace concern please contact Berliner Cohen LLP’s experienced team of employment counsel at 408-286-5800.