How can people leaders manage the people issues that arise during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

Let’s consider a few questions that are top of mind for many people leaders right now: When Is time off required? When should I send workers home? How can I manage reduced staff levels?

When Is Time Off Required?

Employers must first evaluate whether absences are covered under federal, state and local leave laws, including unpaid leave laws.

Regular flu symptoms aren’t usually considered a serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but a longer-term respiratory illness could trigger an employee’s right to take job-protected, unpaid FMLA leave.

Some states and municipalities mandate paid sick leave.   This would provide paid time off for an employee who becomes ill with COVID-19. This may also provide paid time off if the employee’s eligible relative is sick or needs treatment associated with an illness.

Many paid-sick-leave laws apply when an employee’s place of business or an employee’s child’s school or childcare facility is closed by public health authorities due to a public health emergency. This will become a common issue as more and more schools and daycares make the decisions to close.

Sending Workers Home

According to the CDC, employers should actively encourage all sick employees to stay home.  The specific CDC guidance includes:

  • Telling employees to stay home if they have symptoms of acute respiratory illness, a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, or signs of a fever. Employees should be fever-free for 24-hours without the use of medication before returning to work.
  • Encouraging employees to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick for any reason.
  • Ensuring that the company’s sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of the policies.
  • Making sure contractors and staffing agencies inform their employees about the importance of staying home when ill and encouraging business partners not to reprimand workers who need to take sick leave.
  • Not requiring employees with acute respiratory illness to provide a doctor’s note to verify their illness or to return to work, since health care providers may be overwhelmed with requests.
  • Maintaining flexible policies that allow employees to stay home to care for a sick relative.

Managing Reduced Staff Levels

In situations where paid time off is not required, employers should strongly consider implementing remote work and other social-distancing practices that could mitigate high levels of absenteeism. One best practice during this unprecedented even it to allow telework if it is at all possible. 

There are many industries such as transportation, retail, health care and hospitality that are not able to function without staff.  In these cases, they may need to make tough decisions to limit service or close during peak periods of employees unable to work due to illness. Because of the recommendation for social-distancing, industries might be able to reduce employee interactions in offices or stagger operations to reduce face-to-face contact. 

About Dr. Sheila Boysen

Sheila M. Boysen, Ph.D., PHR, BCC, MCC is Master of Organizational Leadership Program Director and ICF ACTP Director at Lewis University

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