COVID-19 HR Q&A

BY Pam Krivda
3/17/2020 - HVAC Employment , COVID-19

The past few days and weeks have been confusing, navigating our "new normal" under the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. We have continuously worked to gather up as many resources as possible to help support you during this time. Our HR Consultant, Pam Krivda, along with our Manager of Talent and HR Solutions, Syretta Williams filmed a few videos last week on HR Best Practices for handling COVID-19. You can view the videos and other COVID-19 resources on our new resources page and read all HR questions covered by Pam and Syretta below:

Q: What do I do if a branch employee tests positive?

A: We hate saying this, but the branch should be closed and thoroughly hazard cleaned.  It’s best to empty it of people and wait a couple of days before the deep cleaning.  Everyone who was in the branch should be self-quarantined at home for 14 days.

Q: What do I do if a corporate office employee tests positive?

A: Same protocol as for a branch positive test:  close the office, make sure no one comes in, wait a couple of days, and hazard clean the premises.  Everyone who was in the office should be self-quarantined at home for 14 days.

Q: What do I do if a customer’s employee who frequents your branch tests positive?

A: Best practice is to shut down the branch and follow protocol that would be followed if it were your own branch employee testing positive.

Q: If one of my employees tests positive, do I need to notify all customers?

A: There is no law requiring this.  But, this is a pandemic and customers would likely want to know if they’d even potentially been exposed – so they can quarantine themselves and not give it to their employees, etc.

Q: Does COVID-19 qualify for FMLA?

A: (as does any influenza or coronavirus) if your company has 50 or more employees [1].

The condition must be a ‘serious health condition’ involving continuing care which is characterized by:

A period of incapacity of more than 3 consecutive, full calendar days and any subsequent treatment or period of incapacity relating to the same condition.  The full definition of ‘serious health condition’ is long and replete with ‘what if’s’ so, if in doubt, ask questions.

[1] A FMLA-covered employer is generally one who employs 50 or more employees, within 75 miles of each other, for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.  The formula can get much more complicated than that, depending on circumstances.

Q: What do I do if an employee has flu-like symptoms?

A: Send him/her home.  We’re not equipped to diagnose or determine the seriousness of such symptoms. If the employee has PTO available, of course you allow the employee to use it. Beyond PTO, the law does not require that you pay an employee in this situation.  For morale or related reasons, you might choose to pay the employee. If the employee is non-exempt, you must pay him/her for all time spent working for the company, even if the work was done from home. Exempt employees must be paid their full salary for every week in which they perform any work for the employer. Again, there are several “but-if’s” to this, so if in doubt, ask.

Q: What should I require from someone, if they have flu-like symptoms or COVID-19, for them to return to work?

A: Any employee experiencing or showing flu-like symptoms such as a cough, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nasal congestion, diarrhea, low-grade fever, or shortness of breath, may not work until his/her approved medical provider provides a return to work note stating that the employee is not demonstrating any flu-like or other communicable symptoms.  (Note that per the CDC, a fever is a temperature of 100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C).

Any employee experiencing these symptoms must report immediately to his/her supervisor that the employee is experiencing flu-like symptoms.  The supervisor will send the employee home until the symptoms are no longer present.  If possible, the employee can work from home.

Regarding HIPAA:  HIPAA covers what information is shared outside the business (generally speaking).  Asking employees to inform you of flu-like symptoms does not violate HIPAA.  The supervisor should not share that information outside the company – and should limit it to those with a need to know inside the company.  Simply saying “flu-like symptoms” is enough information to understand that the employee should go home and remain there for 14 days. 

Q: What do I do if an employee has been to Europe or a coronavirus ‘hotspot’ (which now includes several states/cities in the U.S.)?

A: You may require the employee to work from home for a 14-day quarantine period. The same pay provisions (above) regarding an employee with flu-like symptoms apply here.

Q: Should immunocompromised employees be permitted to stay home?

A: You can ask for a doctor’s certification that the employee is actually immunocompromised; however, medical offices are inundated right now.  The employee can work from home, if at all possible.

Q: Is COVID-19 a disability?

A: It could be if it meets the definition of disability: A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; OR A record of such impairment; OR Is regarded as having such impairment.

Q: How do I protect counter employees?

A: If customers are coming into the counter, we recommend that the employee stand 6 feet back from the counter to engage with the customer.  Wearing latex or nitrile gloves is an excellent precaution.  Be sure your employees are up to date on prevention protocols:

  • Frequent handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds (“Happy Birthday” sung twice)
  • Do not touch your face, nose, eyes, mouth or ears
  • If washing isn’t available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Sneeze into tissue or, if all else fails, into your sleeve. Dispose of tissue properly and promptly.

We are recommending that if you continue to have food service at work, you restrict it to box lunches.

If an employee with flu-like symptoms want to come into the office, we strongly recommend that you do not allow that.

Stay healthy and stay tuned!


If you have more COVID-19 related questions, please feel free to ask them by filling out this form and we will answer them as soon as possible.