The COVID-19 outbreak is causing widespread business closures, and for many businesses, this means layoffs and suspended jobs for hourly workers. Though many companies and small companies having business interruption insurance, this coverage may only apply to the type of disaster in which a business has to rebuild its storefront, campus, and other necessary structures.
If a local government or a jurisdictional authority takes action to close businesses and other activities during a quarantine, then there is the potential for certain insurance providers and coverage plans to account for ‘Acts of Civil Authority.’ For businesses that don’t have the option of allowing employees to work remotely or ‘telework,’ there are many difficult decisions regarding employees that, if not handled correctly, could lead to litigation risks:
- The Family and Medical Leave Act: Those employees with prior medical conditions that may put them at heightened risk from contracting COVID-19 may be eligible for job-protected leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Florida’s own family and medical leave laws provide for victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence, as well as the family members of those victims, to take off time to deal with these issues and receive medical treatment/counseling.
- Paid leave: Employers need to reduce employee exposure to the virus spread wherever they can. According to OSHA, the minimum amount of time that an employee with a verified exposure should avoid work is 14 days. Employers have more difficult considerations when it comes to allowing employees job-protection while self-quarantining after exposure to protect themselves and their family members. If an employee must self-quarantine but has no more paid leave time, there are additional concerns over employment policies regarding pay and exempt status. Florida’s sick leave laws are some of the weakest in the country. There are no legal requirements for companies to provide employees paid sick leave, though they may be eligible for some unpaid sick leave under the FMLA.
- Providing notices and updates: A business must be upfront and communicative with employees about measures taken to reduce exposure risks. Companies have an obligation to provide sanitary facilities with reasonable steps in place to minimize employee exposure wherever they can. A big part of this is informational notices and providing strategies for employees to protect themselves as well.
The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act
Due to the recent spread of COVID-19 cases in the US, the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act goes into effect April 1 and provides for two weeks paid sick leave time at the employee’s regular pay rate if they cannot work due to quarantine or infection.
Planning for business recovery
There are many potential risks for an employer to breach contracts and violate employment laws due to decisions made during the COVID-19 outbreak. Contact an attorney specializing in business law right away to explore the options for your company during this turbulent time.