The Coronavirus pandemic has created new, urgent challenges for employers. Below, we’ve documented some of the current leave of absence practices that our clients are using to help manage during this pandemic, as well as an FAQ based on our work with our clients.

Quarantined or Virus Exposed Employee FAQs

The sick employee should follow current CDC guidelines, quarantining at home (if able). A symptom-based approach recommends recording temperatures twice daily until 72 hours (three days) have passed without fever or treatment with any fever-reducing medications. In order to leave quarantine, it is advised that a minimum of seven days must have passed since the onset of symptoms, with then three subsequent days of no fever and improvement in symptoms. A testing-based approach requires two negative PCR viral tests obtained at least 24 hours apart. The area where the sick employee worked, including conference rooms and common areas, should undergo deep cleaning and decontamination to prevent spread to other employees.

We have not seen any company policy additions. However, we are seeing clients leverage existing plans and policies in different ways (e.g. allowing unpaid leave and personal leaves.)

We recommend foregoing paperwork or certification documents and more flexibility regarding eligibility requirements for the client’s paid leave programs. This decision at each employer’s discretion.

If they are on the CDC watch list, they are under mandatory quarantine.

A physician’s clearance may be required for an employee to return to work; however, it will depend on the type of leave that they utilized. This will vary, depending on what your company authorized.

Per CDC guidelines, the quarantine period is 14 days, which would be an appropriate period of time to cover the employee if the client chooses to do so.

Per the CDC guidelines, if the family member lives in the same home, your employee cannot enter the workplace. They can, however, be permitted to work from home if that’s appropriate for their job function.

We have been deferring to our clients regarding the amount of flexibility they would like to extend to quarantined employees.

For employees returning from personal or work-related travel, the safest course of action is to self-quarantine and work from home for a minimum of two weeks4 and avoid direct contact with other workers [45], especially for travel to higher-risk areas compared with travel by personal automobile to an unaffected rural area. If that worker becomes ill, he or she should promptly call a healthcare provider before appearing in a clinic or hospital (i.e., to arrange which entrance to use, to be given an appropriate type of mask before entering the building). The person should also avoid all contact with other people. Wearing a surgical-type mask when ill, such as in transit to a healthcare facility, may help to reduce the spread of the virus from the wearer’s sneezes or coughs.

This person should be treated as if he or she was infected, with a quarantine period of at least 2 weeks. Be sure that the local health department is involved. If the employee develops typical symptoms of COVID-19 infection, they should contact their primary physician or health department for testing.

Follow the same protocol as if the person was returning from an overseas country or area with a high risk of infection.

Sick employees (including those with minimal symptoms) should stay home from work, as it is important to eliminate all contact between the healthy workers in the workplace and anyone with potentially infectious symptoms [58]. If there is believed to be COVID-19’s SARS-CoV-2 virus transmission in the area (currently true of essentially all US urban and many rural areas), then anyone with even mild symptoms of a respiratory tract infection (e.g., cough, fever, fatigue) should stay home to be sure they do not progress to a clear, readily transmissible, and potentially severe COVID-19 infection [45], as well as to prevent transmission to others. Sick employees should also be encouraged to undergo testing if available. They should be instructed to call a provider or healthcare organization in advance, discuss the symptoms, seek testing if available (especially at outdoor tents), and put on a mask prior to entering any clinic or hospital.

Any questions about potential COVID-19 infections should be directed to the local health department, which has the expertise and personnel to investigate outbreaks and perform contact tracings (provided they are not overwhelmed by the current epidemic). It is important to recognize that return-to-work recommendations for essential workers, especially healthcare workers, may need to be modified during the course of the epidemic for practical reasons in response to acute workforce shortages in key jobs and sectors.

CDC recommendations for healthcare workers have been revised to address the removal exposed workers who had relatively low risks for conversion during potential incubation periods, as it affected the capacity for patient care [100]. Current guidance includes the following [100]:

  • A symptom-based strategy for symptomatic workers, who are recommended to be excluded from work until there has been at least 3 days since recovery, improvement in respiratory symptoms, and at least 10 days since the symptoms first appeared.
  • A test-based strategy for symptomatic workers, who are recommended to be excluded from work until there is resolution of fever, improvement in respiratory symptoms, and negative COVID-19 results for at least 2 consecutive tests. (There is a risk of ongoing positive test results in a minority of workers of uncertain significance).
  • A time-based strategy for confirmed but asymptomatic employees, who are recommended to be excluded from work for 10 days since the positive test result.
  • A test-based strategy for confirmed but asymptomatic employees, who are recommended to be excluded from work until at least two consecutive tests are negative 24+ hours apart. (There is risk of ongoing positive test results in a minority of workers of uncertain significance).

Employees in contact with an infected coworker should continue to undergo medical screening. Close contacts are defined as any individual who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to positive specimen collection) until the time that the patient is isolated [101].

Risk assessment should include the duration of contact with the sick employee, whether they were using any personal protective equipment, and the type of personal protective equipment used (e.g., cloth face covering vs. respirator) [102]. Attempt to maintain confidentiality regarding an ill employee’s identity. Employers may wish to apply more or less restrictive policies depending on their individual business requirements, organizational characteristics (e.g., closeness and numbers of other workers), and risk tolerances. For higher risk exposures with greater business considerations, the most conservative approach is to have employees who could be in the incubation stage work from home for at least two weeks after the possible exposure.

Yet, in certain manpower shortage situations, medical centers and critical service workers are being allowed to work while asymptomatic with twice-daily temperature checks, self-surveillance for symptoms, social distancing, disinfection of work spaces, and consistent mask-wearing instead of being quarantined for 14 days [103]. This option is controversial and not without considerable risks as pre-symptomatic spread is believed to be a primary source of epidemic spread. This option should be carefully weighed between the industry sector, criticality of the job, job requirements, and risks of an infectious individual in that particular workplace. This option is likely unduly risky if the workforce or work group is mission critical.

Commonly Asked Questions by Employees

If the family member is not ill, the employee may not be entitled to any statutory or company leave programs.  However, your company could offer personal leave time to cover the quarantine period.  If the family member is subsequently diagnosed with the virus, your employee may be entitled to either a statutory or company
leave program.

Unless the employee is ill, they are likely not entitled to any statutory or company leave programs. However, your company may choose to offer personal leave time.

Unless the employee is ill, they are likely not entitled to any statutory leave, but they might be eligible for other company leave programs.

Follow your normal leave process.  If the absence is supported medicallythen it may qualify as a serious health condition.  If it’s not a serious health condition, the option would be an alternate leave plan (company sponsored or statutory leave).

Since the leave time is unrelated to the child’s illness, your employee may not be entitled to statutory or company leave program.  However, your company may offer personal leave time to cover the time period of the child’s school closing.  Some of our clients are offering employees personal leaves in the event of school closures.

Policy & Regulation Impacts

Yes, several states have provided update guidance or enhanced leave policies. On the right-hand side of this page, you’ll find a running list…we are adding new links frequently as we learn of new legislation.

We are following the progress of the relevant Federal legislation closely, and will provide guidance via this FAQ once a law passes.

Coronavirus Leave of Absence Statutory Guidelines

Click the image to view and download the latest Statutory Updates

Additional Coronavirus Leave of Absence Questions

In terms of leave eligibility, we’ve advised ReedGroup clients to manage claims as they normally would under their plans.  For example, if an employee does not meet the requirements for FMLA or STD, even if quarantined, they would not be entitled to leave under these programs.  However, the employer may consider providing that employee with PTO for the quarantined period or allow them to work from home if possible.  We are deferring to our clients’ directives as to how they would like these claims managed; large employers can have very different operational needs.

We are seeing various applied methods including paid leave for a certain period of time, the use of personal leave, and utilization of paid time off. One example: authorizing a paid, “excused” absence for 14 days.

Our primary recommendation: allow the employee to work from home where able.  In instances where the employee is unable to perform the functions of their job in a work from home environment, we recommend employers look to existing leave policies and procedures up to and including  leave as an accommodation. 

If an employee is asked not to report to work, and is unable to substantiate that they have a serious health condition, the employee should follow the normal expected path for leave of absence requests  in order to determine what, if any, applicable leave types they may be eligible for based on their situation. 

To date, we have not seen any increase in mental health claims related to Coronavirus.

We’ll update this page with additional information and resources as they become available.

Compliance Webinars and Podcasts

State and Federal Guidelines and Resources Related to Work & Coronavirus

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