Special Bulletin: Suggested Practices For Responding To The Coronavirus

Author:Mr Richard Rabin, Grace Margaret O'Donnell, Nathan J. Oleson, Esther G. Lander, Robert G. Lian Jr. and Joshua Keith Sekoski
Profession:Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP

Key Points

With the WHO having declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, companies should take reasonable precautions to protect themselves and their personnel. Below are some suggested practices United States-based companies can adopt, based on currently-available information. Companies should closely monitor the guidance issued by leading health organizations and medical providers, as information regarding the virus continues to develop and may impact the measures discussed below. The continued spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus ("COVID-19") has left U.S.-based employers scrambling to develop employment policies and practices to protect their companies and personnel. While the situation surrounding the disease is extremely fluid, with new revelations developing daily, this Special Bulletin offers our current view of best practices to respond to the emerging crisis:

  1. Continue to Monitor Developments

    Because the Coronavirus is first and foremost a public health issue, employers should remain abreast of the latest guidance issued by the leading health organizations tracking the disease, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Links to the relevant pages of their respective websites are as follows:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention World Health Organization European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control Companies should also be sure to monitor developments at the state and local level for information regarding public facilities, including public transportation and potential closures.

    Health insurers and medical providers may also be useful resources for up-to-date information on the virus and how employers should respond.

  2. Understand the Legal Framework

    Companies developing human resources protocols in response to the Coronavirus should be cognizant of the relevant legal backdrop. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to furnish a place of employment that is "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."1 Many states impose similar requirements.2 These laws require companies to be proactive in their response to COVID-19 and any other employee health risk.

    At the same time, other statutes may limit companies' ability to take certain precautions. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generally prohibits employers from requiring employees to undergo medical examinations unless "they are job-related and consistent with business necessity."3 Thus, a blanket policy requiring all employees to get tested for the Coronavirus, in the absence of any objective reasons to believe the individuals being tested have contracted the virus, could run afoul of the law, despite an employer's best intentions in promulgating it.

    Other laws also...

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