How Employers Should Respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (“2019-nCoV” or “coronavirus”) is a respiratory illness that, with its spread to the United States, is raising important issues for employers.  This guide explains the outbreak, the legal implications of it, and how employers should be responding now to employees who might have the virus, are caring for affected family members, or are otherwise concerned about their health in the workplace.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

First detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, 2019-nCoV is a respiratory virus reportedly linked to a large outdoor seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread.  However, a growing number of patients reportedly have not had exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread is occurring.  At this time, it is unclear how easily the virus is spreading between people.  Symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, runny nose, headache, sore throat, and the general feeling of being unwell.  The incubation period is approximately 14 days, during which time an individual may see no symptoms but may still be contagious. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) reports that an ongoing investigation to determine more about this outbreak is underway, that the situation is rapidly evolving, and that more information will be provided as it becomes available.

As of January 30, 2020, there have been approximately 8,100 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in many countries, including in the United States.  On January 30, 2020, the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (“WHO”) declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”  On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency for the United States to aid the country’s healthcare community in responding to 2019-nCoV.  Additionally, on the same day, the President of the United States signed a presidential “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus.”

Legal Implications for Employers

With the presence of coronavirus in the United States, employers must be vigilant in complying with the various labor and employment laws implicated by the virus.

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