Communicating to your Workforce and External Stakeholders
Updated March 18, 2020
At this unprecedented time in the world, we strongly advise that you overcommunicate with your stakeholders – both those inside your company and outside. Letting your employees know the expectations of remote working and when they shouldn’t come to the office is crucial for the health and safety of your workforce and your customers. UNDER BOTH OSHA AND STATE LAW, EMPLOYERS HAVE A GENERAL DUTY TO PROVIDE A SAFE WORKPLACE FOR THEIR EMPLOYEES. This requirement is even more important amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
With regards to sharing information to or about your employees and anyone impacted or quarantined as a result of COVID-19, businesses must maintain confidentiality in compliance with both HIPAA and ADA regulations. Be sure not to use names or any information about your employees that could allow others to identify them in any group communications or publications around your office. Privacy issues must be front of mind during this time.
That said, the rules regarding medical inquiries you can make to your employees is rapidly shifting. Employers will be given more leniency, due to this health crisis, to inquire into the health of their employees and anyone they’ve been in contact with. For example, employers may now ask about employees’ symptoms, but employers are now potentially permitted to also take the temperatures of their employees. Formerly, this action would NOT be allowed as it crosses the line of administering a medical procedure or exam. Due to the declaration of this global pandemic, the EEOC and ADA are flexing their rules because of the substantial negative impact this has on workplace safety. Stay updated!
Also be aware – if you take the temperatures of your employees and keep a record of their temperatures on daily basis, you have just created a medical record that you are now obligated to keep restricted and confidential. If you choose to take these actions, you need to pursue this with sensitivity and caution in order to remain compliant with privacy provisions.
Lastly, be sure that your vendors and customers are aware of any changes in your office hours or point persons. Be proactive in sharing your hours of operations and rescheduling in-person meetings to conference calls or online meetings. Think ahead to preserve your business relationships throughout this time.
The information above is intended to act as a general resource and therefore does not address all considerations and jurisdiction-specific analyses that may need to be undertaken prior to taking action. Thus, employers should seek specific counsel.