Coronavirus: What Your Healthcare HR Department Needs to Know Right Now

healthcare HR and the coronavirus
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Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys sailing her catamaran and hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

Every day, healthcare employers realize that the coronavirus situation is impacting HR in yet another way.

Let’s go over the urgent issues for Human Resources departments in healthcare, social services, daycares, and dental practices.

Buckle up. There are a lot.

What should my HR department be doing about the coronavirus?

  1. Protect employees
  2. Let employees work at home if possible
  3. Consider paid sick leave
  4. Administer FMLA, worker’s comp, disability correctly
  5. Understand how the EEOC Pandemic Preparedness guidance may influence ADA compliance
  6. Prepare for things to get worse

1. Protect employees

Require all employees to use preventative practices to avoid exposure or transmission of the virus. If an employee comes to work sick, send them home before they come in contact with co-workers.

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, inform your staff or possible exposure. You don’t have to reveal the employee’s identity. Require exposed co-workers to follow CDC guidance of risk assessment.

Use your HR software to enforce policies

If you have an HR portal, post continual reminders about best practices for infection control. Include proper hand washing, disinfecting work surfaces frequently, coughing into a tissue and throwing it away, and social distancing.

Place posters throughout the workplace reminding employees of your policies. Consult the CDC website frequently for updates on best practices.

Non-essential employees

If your employees who don’t provide patient care clock in with a webclock, post a message on the clock in portal requiring them to go home if they experience flu-like symptoms. Tell them to leave immediately and either call, email, or text their manager when they get home.

Make it easy to disinfect in your workplace

Provide soap and water, tissues, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, and no-touch waste baskets throughout your facility.

Ask your custodial staff to disinfect door handles, bathroom faucet handles, remote controls, countertops, and other high-touch items more frequently.

If you use a scanning time clock that requires employees to touch a screen, disinfect it between employees following the manufacturer’s instructions. Provide hand sanitizer next to the clock so employees can disinfect their hands after clocking in. Consider getting a no-touch clock such as an iris scan model.

2. Let employees work at home and provide IT support

In healthcare workplaces most employees need to be onsite. Evaluate how many administrative workers can work remotely. Provide IT support if necessary so employees can stay virtually connected and do their jobs.

Use a human resources management system (HRMS) to help employees understand and follow company policies.

Dangerous rumors and worker fears can spread as quickly as a virus. It is imperative for companies to be able to reach all workers, including those not at the worksite, with regular, internally coordinated, factual updates about infection control, symptoms, and company policy regarding remote work and circumstances in which employees might be excluded from or allowed to return to the workplace. Harvard Business Review

Pay at-home workers accurately

You can track employee time for at-home workers with inexpensive employee timekeeping and scheduling apps. Your employees can clock in with their smartphone, view their schedules, and access their timecard.

3. Consider paid sick leave

If an employee gets COVID-19 or experiences symptoms, consider offering paid sick leave. Many people can’t miss even one paycheck. Companies who don’t offer paid sick leave risk having ill employees come to work and infecting others. Even employees who are not ill may need to quarantine or self-isolate.

Employers with union employees should review their collective bargaining agreements to determine if there are any restrictions on asking people to take unpaid administrative leave or sick leave. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)

When can I let employees come back to work after quarantine?

They must have had no symptoms for at least 24 hours. Free of fever 100.4°F (37.8° C) or higher. That means  WITHOUT using medication that could mask or suppress the symptoms including fever-reducing painkillers or cough medicine. NOTE: this is current CDC guidelines. This could change when more is known about COVID-19. Check CDC updates frequently.

Don’t require a doctor’s note

Don’t require a doctor’s note for not coming in to work, verifying recovery (or no symptoms after quarantine period). Many healthcare providers are overwhelmed and may not be able to provide the documentation for several weeks. If they quality for FMLA leave, they may need a doctor’s verification at some point. We discuss FMLA below.

4. Coronavirus and FMLA, worker’s comp and disability

FMLA, worker’s comp, and disability can be complicated in the best of times. HR professionals have several questions about how to administer these as it applies to coronavirus.

This is the most recent guidance from the Department of Labor.

Does FMLA leave apply for employees or family members who may contract coronavirus?

Yes, assuming that the FMLA applies to the employer, coronavirus would qualify as a “serious health condition” under FMLA. The employee could take FMLA leave if either the employee or an immediate family member contracts COVID-19 (or any other illness). In addition, the worker would be entitled to job reinstatement. Your state may have additional protections.

For an employee to invoke their 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave, he or she must have a “serious health condition” and otherwise satisfy the FMLA eligibility criteria. Although the symptoms of COVID-19 have been reported as flu-like, COVID-19 may be considered a serious health condition depending on the circumstances. Accordingly, an employee with COVID-19 or an employee who is taking care of a qualifying family member with COVID-19 may be permitted to take protected FMLA leave. However, employees who refuse to come to work out of fear of contracting COVID-19 would not typically qualify for FMLA leave. (SHRM), February 27, 2020

Coronavirus FMLA takeaway: If your company is subject to FMLA, and an infected worker (or the worker’s immediate family member) is eligible for FMLA, you must provide unpaid leave. Make sure you follow state leave laws as well.

Would I need to pay workers’ compensation for workers who contract coronavirus?

If the employee contracted the disease in the course of their employment, it would probably apply. Does the employees’ work require them to be exposed to persons who are infected? Most healthcare workers meet this criteria. If an employee incidentally contracts the disease from a co-worker, there will likely be no workers’ compensation liability.

Coronavirus worker’s comp takeaway: Consult with a medical professional on infectious diseases for advice on whether an employee’s illness is work-related.

Would I need to pay my employees disability benefits if they contract the coronavirus?

Yes, if such payments are provided in your company’s benefit plan.

Employer coronavirus disability takeaway: Review the limits of coverage in your benefit plan to ensure they have medical resources to administer the program.

5. Coronavirus and ADA compliance

In many situations, the coronavirus will most certainly qualify for “direct threat” status as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Pandemic Preparedness guidance. Consult your legal counsel to navigate the gray area where ADA rules and CDC recommendations intersect.

  • Keep personal health information confidential
  • Don’t single people out as having an increased risk due to racial or ethnic factors
  • Any employer who prevents workers who’ve recently traveled to China may be vulnerable to an ADA violation

Maintain confidentiality for people exposed, self-quarantined, or with confirmed cases of the disease. You need to inform your employees if they were exposed to someone with COVID-19, but you don’t necessarily need to divulge the employee’s identity.

A “direct threat” is “a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.” If an individual with a disability poses a direct threat despite reasonable accommodation, he or she is not protected by the nondiscrimination provisions of the ADA. Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans With Disabilities Act,  (EEOC)

6. Prepare for increased cases

This will most likely get worse before they get better.

  • Cross-train employees to decrease the impact of absenteeism
  • Evaluate business travel policies
  • Consider which conferences and meetings you should cancel or reschedule
  • Train managers and employees on updated company policies
  • Multi-state employers: determine if you need to modify policies for managing multiple locations. For example, you may need to give increased authority to onsite managers to make decisions based on local conditions.

Create an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan using CDC guidance.

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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