The COVID pandemic has created as many questions as answers, and many of these relate to legal issues. It is important to sort these out now so you can move forward in a way that benefits both your employees and your organization.
COVID is unlike any challenge employers and their employees have ever faced. Every day, there are new questions. Many of these involve legal rights and responsibilities. Know the answers so that you can protect everyone and avoid workplace woes that hurt your teams and your company.
Here are a few of the COVID-related legal answers everyone needs:
- Can you require employees to be tested for COVID-19, even if they aren’t healthcare or frontline workers? Employers covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can mandate that employees be tested for COVID-19 if the testing is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has stated that testing is considered job-related if, for instance, it is done to confirm that an employee is COVID-negative and can safely start a job or come back to work. This includes both initial and periodic testing. At the same time, the EEOC stresses that testing must be consistent with current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance.
- If a worker tests positive, can you require proof of a negative test before that person returns to work? While federal and many local laws don’t restrict employers from requiring a employee who has had the COVID virus to test negative before returning to work, the CDC recommends requiring that workers be symptom-free for a specified number of days prior to a return to work. Such a policy is especially useful in areas where tests are in short supply or it takes several days to get results. The CDC also notes that employees may continue to test positive long after they’ve recovered from COVID.
- Who is responsible for paying remote work costs? According to legal experts, this depends on federal, state, and local laws and several other factors. These include the employee’s pay rate, why the person is working remotely, and whether the expenses involved are required for the employee to discharge job-related duties and responsibilities.
You won’t have all the answers, so it’s best to consult your legal counsel before setting any policies regarding legal aspects of COVID. Once you do have legally sound requirements or guidance, share these with employees and make sure they understand how these apply to them, what their responsibilities and rights are, and who to contact if they have questions.