Employment Law

Navigating COVID-19: Underlying Health Risks, FMLA, and Vaccines featured image

Navigating COVID-19: Underlying Health Risks, FMLA, and Vaccines

Even as the COVID-19 vaccines have begun their rollouts, we all know that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. It may be months before the general population is vaccinated, so your company must keep health safeguards in place.

Beyond social distancing and wearing masks, there are other issues you need to understand as you manage employees during this tenuous time.

How to Manage Employees Who Are Fearful of the Workplace

For many companies, employees began working from home months ago and still are. For others, employees remained in the office or on the worksite, using care to follow health guidelines. As you ease employees back onsite, you may encounter a worker who is afraid to return. In that case, assure the employee that you are maintaining a safe workplace. However, tread lightly. If this worker has anxiety or is under stress, you may need to make accommodations per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Mental health issues have spiked during the pandemic, and you do not want to exacerbate a problem. Listen to the employee’s concerns, and determine what arrangements you can make. If the employee can effectively continue to work remotely, it may be best to grant that request.

Accommodating Employees with Underlying Health Conditions

Beyond those employees who are leery of the workplace, some may have health conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Or they may have conditions that will worsen if they are exposed to COVID-19. In that case, take time to talk with those employees, assess their situations, and see what accommodations you can make. Per the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you should avoid asking them about their specific medical conditions, but they may tell you freely. If these employees can work remotely, it is likely in your best interest to allow them to do so. Otherwise, you may need to activate coverage of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

When to Trigger FMLA

FMLA allows your employees to take unpaid leave for specific medical and family reasons. During this time, employees retain their benefits, and their jobs are protected.

If one of your employees tests positive for COVID-19 or needs to care for an affected family member, you will likely need to activate FMLA. Even if the employee has sick days to use, the illness can continue for some time and require follow-up care. However, if the employee does not have symptoms and feels well enough to work from home, you can allow remote work and continue to pay that employee as usual. Just be sure to discuss the FMLA option with your employee and document the decision.

If an employee has been exposed to COVID-19, has not been tested, and needs to quarantine, see if working from home is a reasonable solution. If it is not, you will need to activate FMLA.

Whether to Require COVID-19 Vaccinations

Once COVID-19 vaccinations are readily available, should you require your employees to get them? That is a question on many business owners’ minds. From a legal stance, you can mandate the vaccinations; however, it may be in your best interest to offer incentives instead. Discuss the question with your human resources office and determine what is best for your company culture. Whatever you decide, per ADA, you will need to accommodate workers who have medical issues that discourage getting the vaccine. Also, in keeping with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, you may need to make exceptions for employees who have religious beliefs that oppose vaccinations. In these instances, your best option is to talk to these employees and understand their situations. Offer remote work if possible.

The Challenges of Roofing Worksites

As with all employee relations issues, navigating COVID-19 requires careful thought. It is critical that you maintain open communications with your employees, so they understand your expectations and you understand their individual needs.

The roofing industry is more challenging than many others since working from home is not an option for much of your staff. While some employees have administrative duties, you require other workers to be onsite to meet construction deadlines and complete projects. Collaborate with your human resources professionals to accommodate all your employees to the best of your ability. Ensure that your policies are easily understood, consistent, and fair for everyone involved. If you maintain a balanced approach, you can ensure that your business thrives, your employees are healthy, and company morale stays strong.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.