What You Can and Can’t Ask of Your Employees During the Coronavirus Pandemic
During this pandemic, both employers and employees are figuring out how to navigate their newfound relationship. Both parties are attempting to determine what their rights are in light of this unprecedented situation. To aid you in learning how to communicate with your employees and what you can request of them during this time, we’ve outlined some basic guidelines.
Personal Travel Outside of Work
- Canceling Your Employees’ Vacation Time
Vacation time or any form of personal paid time off (PTO) isn’t guaranteed under federal law. So you do have the right, if you choose, to cancel your employees’ planned vacation time and have them work instead. However, this may not be a good choice to make from a business standpoint.
It would likely lead to a decrease in employee morale and cause your employees to become dissatisfied with your leadership. And during the current crisis, it’s more important than ever to maintain a positive working relationship with your employees.
If you do decide to cancel an employee’s scheduled vacation, offer to reimburse them for all or part of the trip. Or offer to grant them extra days of PTO equivalent to the canceled time when the crisis is over. This is a good way to boost employee morale and satisfaction.
- Canceling Your Employees’ Personal Travel Plans
You cannot dictate how your employees spend their time outside of work. If they’re planning a trip over the weekend or over hours they are not scheduled to work, it is out of your jurisdiction as their employer. All you can do is recommend that they not travel to certain regions, for example, those that have been particularly hard hit by the virus.
Changing Your Work Location
- Requiring Your Employees to Work In-Office
As the employer, you have the right to require your employees to work in-office regardless of their comfort level. It is a good gesture, however, to allow certain employees to work remotely if they’re at high risk of having complications from COVID-19 or are nervous about continuing to work in-office.
It’s important to note that this changes if a city, state, or federal mandate requires people to stay at home. Colorado is currently under one of these, so employees cannot work in-office at the moment unless the business is deemed essential.
- Requiring Your Employees to Work Remotely
Even if there isn’t a city, state, or federal mandate requiring people to stay at home, you can require your employees to work remotely if you wish.
Just make sure you’re not applying a policy that could be deemed discriminatory. It’s not acceptable to require only Asian or Italian employees to work remotely. It is acceptable, however, to require employees who have recently traveled to a high-risk region to work remotely for a given period.
- Requiring Your Employees to Take a Business Trip
You are well within your rights to require employees to take any business trips you deem necessary. However, it’s smart to listen to your employees’ concerns and take them into account. Consider if the meeting intended via the trip can be done remotely. Most importantly, listen to any suggestions your employees have to solve the issue.
Your Employees’ Privacy
- Requesting Your Employees to Share Health Information
There is no legal requirement for employees to share any health information with their employers, even under these circumstances. However, you can and should encourage employees to share this information with you, for the sake of the health and safety of the office as a whole.
- Revealing an Employee Has Caught COVID-19
Employers should tell everyone in the office if someone has tested positive for COVID-19. There is a strong moral reason for this, and employers are obligated to protect the safety of their workforce. You should, however, refrain from identifying the employee by name unless they give their consent. Revealing their identity without their consent could violate confidentiality requirements under the ADA.
- Feintzeig, Rachel, et al. “The Coronavirus and Your Job: What the Boss Can – and Can’t – Make You Do.” The Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2020.
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