As we get closer to the second year of the pandemic, employers are faced with more sick workers who need to take a leave of absence for weeks (and in some cases months). How can businesses ensure that their leave policies are appropriate for our current challenges and equitable to all employees? Let’s take a closer look at some best practices and top tips for your leave of absence policy for the age of COVID-19.
Ignorance Is Dangerous
What you don’t know can hurt you, and in these pandemic times, it can be downright deadly. So before you make any tweaks to your leave policy, you need to gather information on how vulnerable your employees really are.
Are your associates working from home? Or, are they meeting with clients face-to-face? While work-from-home employees are less likely to catch COVID-19 on the job, that doesn’t mean they can’t catch it elsewhere – at the grocery store or visiting family. Associates meeting clients in person may be more vulnerable to infection since they don’t know the health status of the people they’re meeting. And this fact is especially relevant as of this writing because the newest variant of the virus is reportedly highly contagious.
After assessing the vulnerability of your employees, consider your access to other important data. How will you know who might be infected in both the employee and visitor population? Do you check the temperature of employees and guests on a daily basis? Do you rely on self-reporting? If so, do you ask about recent travel and exposure to people who may have had COVID-19?
Even if you’re not conducting temperature or symptom checks on a daily basis, having employees and visitors self-report symptoms and their infection status can go a long way in helping you collect important data about who in the workplace may be infected. Self-reported health assessments should include the most common COVID-19 symptoms and the results should be kept confidential.
Employers should also focus on sharing with employees the most up-to-date information about the following:
- Most common COVID-19 symptoms
- Proper mask-wearing
- Proper handwashing
- Company leave policies
- And employers should clarify their expectations about what workers should do if they begin to experience symptoms (i.e. staying home, applying for leave).
Keeping the virus, its symptoms, and preventative measures front and center in the workplace can help reduce infection rates. Employees who are reminded of the deadly virus and what they can do to stop the spread may be more diligent in wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing, and maintaining sanitary conditions at work and home.
Best Practices For Crafting A Leave of Absence Policy In The Age of COVID-19
Now that you’re positioned to collect important data, here are a few of the top tips about creating an appropriate leave policy:
Create a policy for informing workers of possible exposure.
As soon as you find out that a worker has COVID-19 or has symptoms, you should inform employees that they been exposed to the virus. Anyone who had contact with the infected person (within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes in a 24 hour period) should be informed that they may have been exposed to the virus. But keep the name of the infected employee confidential.
Remote work for 14 days.
The CDC is recommending that people who are displaying symptoms or who have been exposed to the virus quarantine for two weeks. [Franchise] For low-income employees working in restaurants, this type of quarantine might be a heavy financial burden if they are not fully compensated for their quarantine time.
Budget paid leave.
Consider including paid leave for the quarantine period. Deducting quarantine pay from workers’ personal and sick leave time may come across as punitive. Employees may avoid reporting illness just to protect their finances. A leave policy that does not penalize workers for reporting their illness will keep everyone safe by encouraging sick employees to stay home.
Get financial support.
Employees may be eligible to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. And employers with fewer than 500 employees may be eligible for payroll tax credits so that they can afford to offer paid leave.
Trust your employees.
Don’t ask employees for a doctor’s note for them to qualify for leave and don’t ask for a doctor’s note to return. While the Americans with Disabilities Act allows employers to request a doctor’s note before allowing an employee to return to work, getting that note might be difficult, especially for workers who were not hospitalized.
Offer leave to caretakers.
Employers should remember that their workers may have family or other household members who become infected. If they’ve been exposed to the virus they will need to quarantine. Offer the same leave opportunities to these caretakers even if they have not become infected.
Offer mental health support.
The pandemic is impacting more than just employees’ physical health. Many workers are become depressed due to social isolation, the illness or death of loved ones, and the stress of living under the threat of a highly contagious and sometimes deadly virus.
Make it flexible.
In some cases employees may become very ill. Make sure that your leave policy is flexible enough to account for a leave period that is longer than 14 days. Also, consider developing a leave policy that will fill in the gaps where disability insurance may fall short.
Get A Forgivable Loan
If your business is still on financially shaky ground, consider applying for a PPP loan – the application has reopened as of January 11, 2021.
Contact us if you need guidance through the process.
Franchise Attorney Nate Riordan
If you have any questions about franchising, please contact the experienced franchise and business law attorneys at West Coast Franchise Law today at (206) 724-0846 to discuss your situation.