Pandemic dos and don’ts for employers

The recent coronavirus (COVID-19) has challenged employers, human resources and in-house counsel with how to respond. Certain best practices can guide and protect your employees and company during a pandemic, when the annual flu season comes around, and if workers have an everyday illness.



  • Create and/or enact your business continuity plan. It should address critical areas of operations and include pandemic protocols.
  • Be proactive. Strongly encourage employees to take proactive measures in accordance with recommendations from local, state and federal governments and health agencies to prevent infection and community spread.
  • Be inclusive. If your employees are unionized bring in the right representatives into the conversation and review your collective bargaining agreements.
  • Make hand sanitizer and tissues available, particularly in common spaces.
  • Offer flexibility on where and how employees work, if possible.
  • Stagger work schedules or lunch hours to prevent large gatherings of employees.
  • Consider whether to cancel or reschedule company travel, events, and business meetings, particularly those that gather large groups of people together. In this regard, keep in mind that in many states, stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders have been issued, which have precluded these sorts of activities for the time being.
  • Don’t panic. Not everyone who has flu-like symptoms has COVID-19.
  • Don’t overreact. A thoughtful response will assist employees and minimize disruption to operations.
  • Don’t remain silent. Post or communicate recommendations of healthcare professionals about hand washing and other best practices to prevent spread.
  • Don’t skimp on cleaning. It is more important than ever to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces with recommended products.
  • Don’t engage in behavior that may be more likely to put you and others at risk for contracting the virus. Remember to frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing, but not with your hands. Discard tissues after each use.

When an employee is sick

If an employee appears to be or is ill, as an employer, you are allowed to do the following:

If you believe the employee has or been exposed to COVID-19, you can:

When the employee has a confirmed case of COVID-19, you can:

  • Ask the employee about symptoms, such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath.
  • Screen employees who may be at high risk of exposure, for example asking questions regarding recent travel or conference attendance.
  • Send employees home who appear to have symptoms associated with contagious illnesses such as COVID-19 and flu.
  • Ask employees who may have had exposure to work from home or self-isolate for a period of time to determine if they are ill and/or contagious.
  • Require employees to use certain types of leaves, including paid sick time, vacation/paid time-off, or leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if eligible.
  • Require the employee to provide medical documentation from a healthcare provider clearing the person to return to work.
  • Inform your team of the risk that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 at work. Be sure to maintain confidentiality of the employee who is ill.
  • Discuss possible accommodations with the employee who is ill, such as working from home, leave of absence, etc. Employees who are concerned about their exposure may request or require accommodations, as well.
  • Require employees to use certain types of leaves, including paid sick time, vacation/paid time-off, or FMLA, if eligible.
  • Notify the State or Local Department of Public Health.

Pay and time-off:

In both cases, you should pay hourly (non-exempt) employees for all hours that they worked. For exempt employees, you will want to review legal requirements around paying their salary. For example, if you require an exempt employee not to work, you may be required to pay them their salary during this period, depending on the circumstances.

Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and CARES Act: Know your obligations and opportunities under these new laws.

You cannot do any of the following:

  • Do not discriminate or single out employees based on national origin, race, ancestry or citizenship status. Be sure to monitor and enforce harassment policies.
  • You cannot prohibit personal travel. You may, however, cancel or schedule business travel. You may encourage employees to check the travel health notices put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government agencies before making personal travel decisions.
  • Ask questions of disabled employees to determine if they are more susceptible or have a compromised immune system. If an employee calls out of work, you may ask why. Additionally, should a disabled employee voluntarily disclose health information, you may ask questions that will help you provide them with accommodations. All health information that is disclosed should be kept confidential.
  • Require employees to take certain actions, such as getting a flu shot or submitting to medical testing if they have no symptoms and are not at high risk.

This content was provided by Laner Muchin. Laner Muchin is one of the oldest and largest law firms in the country dedicated exclusively to the representation of employers in the areas of labor and employment law, employment litigation, business immigration and employee benefits.

This material is provided for informational purposes only and does not provide any coverage or guarantee loss prevention. The examples in this material are provided as hypothetical and for illustration purposes only. The Hanover Insurance Company and its affiliates and subsidiaries (“The Hanover”) specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that acceptance of any recommendations contained herein will make any premises, or operation safe or in compliance with any law or regulation. By providing this information to you, The Hanover does not assume (and specifically disclaims) any duty, undertaking or responsibility to you. The decision to accept or implement any recommendation(s) or advice contained in this material must be made by you.

LC 2020-176