8 Telework and Social Distancing Points for Employer Communicable Illness Plans

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A Communicable Illness Plan (CIP) should primarily focus on describing expected actions of, as well as coordination among, your organization and locally-based governmental and private sector entities, particularly those responsible for public health, health care and emergency response. Plan components should address:

  • Awareness and communication
  • Facility issues (e.g. Visitors, social distancing, cleaning, etc.)
  • Health and policy
  • Specific actions, based on escalating scales of impact
  • For schools, continued learning must be addressed

Factors that should be considered include whether or not a facility will be closed, or for how long given not all factors are known at the time of planning. It is anticipated that an organization will need to plan to function with a 40 percent reduction in staffing levels.

Given the above, planning for remote work in combination with social distancing become important aspects of any organization’s CIP. We answer common questions below. For a full analysis of Communicable Illness Planning, read our past paper, COMMUNICABLE ILLNESS: Planning for Communicable, Insect Borne and Epidemic and Pandemic Conditions and join us for any of this month’s webinar sessions on the Flu and Communicable Illness Planning.

Telework and Social Distancing Q & A

1. May employers change work hours/schedules to minimize contact between employees?
Yes- unless your workforce is represented by a labor union and the agreement directs otherwise.

2. Once a pandemic begins, may employers mandate alternative work schedules (e.g., flex-time, staggered shifts) or alternative work arrangements (e.g., telework) to promote social distancing?
Yes- as long as changes are non-discriminatory and are consistent with any applicable employment agreements or labor contracts. Employing social distancing is within your rights as an employer and is in the interest of your employees.

3. May employers close lunch rooms and other gathering places to minimize contact between employees?
Yes, unless labor union collective bargaining agreement specifies otherwise.

4. Are businesses and other employers required to cover any additional costs that employees may incur if they work from home (DSL line, computer, additional phone line, increased use of electricity, etc.)?
Employers may not, under FLSA, require employees to pay or reimburse the employer for such items that are business expenses of the employer if doing so would serve to reduce the employee’s earnings below the required minimum wage or overtime compensation.

5. In the event an organization bars employees from working from their current place of business and requires them to work at home, will employers have to pay those employees who are unable to work from home?
Employers only have to pay employees for the hours they actually work, whether at home or at the employer’s office. Salaried employees must receive their full pay for any hours worked in a week.

6. Do employers have to pay employees their same hourly rate or salary if they work at home?
If telework is being provided as a reasonable accommodation for a qualified individual with a disability, then yes- same salary/rate. The FLSA only requires employers pay hourly employees for hours actually worked.

7. Must an employer grant a request to telework?
No, unless employment agreement or labor contract dictate otherwise.

8. Do OSHA’s regulations and standards apply to the home office? Are there any other Federal laws employers need to worry about if employees work from home?
OSHA has no requirements re: telework at a home office.

For a full analysis of Communicable Illness Planning, read our past paper, COMMUNICABLE ILLNESS: Planning for Communicable, Insect Borne and Epidemic and Pandemic Conditions and join us for any of this month’s webinar sessions on the Flu and Communicable Illness Planning.

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