The world health community is responding to an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (COVID-19), that has been detected in almost 70 countries, including the United States. As COVID-19 is a new disease, it is unknown how severe this outbreak will be.
RGS has been developing recommendations and tools to help agencies respond to employment concerns related to COVID-19. Below are some tips and resources to help.
Protecting Health: Tips to Stop the Spread of COVID-19
- Hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette:
- Remind employees to clean their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and when soap and water isn’t available, with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol.
- Encourage the covering of mouths with tissues when sneezing, and discard used tissues in the trash.
- Display posters that encourage employees to stay at home when sick, practice hand hygiene, and follow cough and sneeze etiquette in the workplace.
- Provide wipes and encourage employees to clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, telephones, and keyboards.
- Advise employees to monitor themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness.
- Encourage sick employees to stay home.
- Employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be sent home immediately.
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness should to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever.
- Be flexible about requiring a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with respiratory illness as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be over-extended and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
- Be flexible about allowing employees to stay home to care for sick family members.
- Speak with vendors that provide your agency with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
- Stay aware of any county or community health alerts for the client agency location that you are visiting. Each county has a public health website that will notify its residents and business partners of any health issues or limitations.
Employee Benefits and Leave
Make sure you are aware of employee rights and benefits when considering time off for COVID-19-related issues. There are a range of vacation, holiday, sick and FMLA leave issues that should be considered when evaluating how employees should be compensated for time off that is requested or mandatory. Check with your HR staff and/or employment attorney as situations may vary.
Information should be shared with all employees to explain the relevant policies, workplace practices, leave resources, and pay and benefits that will be available to them if needed.
- Maintain awareness of where employees are traveling for work.
- Advise employees to check any county or community health alerts for the location that they are visiting. Each county has a public health website that will notify its residents and business partners of any health issues or limitations.
- Advise employees traveling out of the country to check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel.
- Approval for travel to locations with known outbreaks should be carefully assessed against business needs and employee health.
Maintaining a Respectful Workplace
Be mindful of practices that may be based on erroneous assumptions and lead to discriminatory behavior. Disease is a natural phenomenon, and its occurrence and transmission are based on exposure, not on race, ethnicity or culture.
HIPAA and Medical Privacy Issues
Agencies must adhere to HIPAA medical privacy requirements. Agencies should not share an infected employee’s name, identifying information, or medical status with anyone other than public health authorities and others responsible for ensuring public health and safety. However, this information should only be shared when there is a legitimate need and only the minimum necessary information should be shared. This will allow these entities to carry out necessary public health responsibilities.
Agencies may need to disclose information to individuals at risk of contracting or spreading the disease, if authorized for such purposes under the law. This could relate to co-workers, customers, or other people with whom the employee has had recent and regular contact. Agencies should adhere to all laws and regulations about how this information is disseminated.
Internet resources for more information:
The CDC and State of CA provide excellent current information and guidance. Start here:
Office posters may be obtained here:
You can contact your local County public health office here:
OSHA guidance on workplace protection and practices can be found here:
Please contact your assigned RGS HR Advisor or Chris Paxton at 680-587-7300, ext. 38 for support in communicating with your employees about their concerns, and for help navigating policy and benefit administration issues.