Last week, 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance — a record number — all due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. Countless businesses are being forced to lay off or furlough employees in an attempt to have a surviving business at the end of the crisis. However, many people are still going to work, notably employees who are needed to keep the country ticking over, such as health care staff, delivery drivers, and supermarket workers. This comes with a higher risk of being exposed to COVID-19, but what are employer and employee responsibilities to reduce the risk? 

Employer responsibilities to their employees

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly and the response is constantly changing to reflect this. Employers should follow federal, state, and local requirements, but regularly check them to monitor developments and communicate these with their employees. Transparency is key to helping everyone cope during the crisis. Employers should explain symptoms to employees and tell them to stay home for at least a week if they have symptoms. It’s important to separate COVID-19 symptoms from other illnesses, such as seasonal allergies or asthma, so that staff who are healthy enough to continue working can do so. Allergies may be triggered by new cleaning products being used on a regular basis to disinfect the workplace. If employees have allergies, employers should look for alternative cleaning options and encourage people to work from home if possible. 

Employees need to protect themselves, too

Employees need to follow the advice of their employers, as well as government advice. Where employers are offering handwashing stations and PPE, staff are required to use them in order to protect themselves and others. If employees can work from home, they should and their employer should support this. It’s also up to employees to report to their employer if they have any symptoms as some may choose not to if they feel they need to continue working, such as for financial reasons. The new Families First Coronavirus Response Act will protect employees job if they take leave, which was specifically designed to protect them and others. 

What happens if employees get COVID-19?

Stories are quickly emerging of employees contracting COVID-19, most likely at work, such as doctors and nurses who have been treating COVID-19 patients. It’s almost impossible to prove where someone may have caught COVID-19 from, but for people working on the frontline, there’s a strong chance it’s work-related. In these cases, COVID-19 can be classed as a work-related condition and can result in a claim. The Industrial Insurance Act allows for treatment of COVID-19 when there’s a probable exposure to it at work and the worker’s occupation has a greater likelihood of contracting it. Again, this guidance is changing and moving quickly so may change and include more sectors as the situation develops.

Both employers and employees must play a role in keeping people safe as COVID-19 is rapidly spreading around the world. Advice is changing quickly as research is carried out and states respond the best they can, so regularly monitoring the guidance is key to knowing your rights and responsibilities.



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