Tack'nTogs is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Sitemap


Articles from 2020 In April


Kensington Protective Products damaged by fire

Kensington Protective Products damaged by fire

Kensington Protective Products announced April 29 that it was closing for business until notice.
 
At 11:30 pm PST on April 28th, firefighters were alerted of heavy fire and smoke at the company's factory in Pomona, Calif.

The factory had no overnight staff and there were no injuries, the building sustained heavy damage from the fire. The cause is still under investigation.
 

BETA survey reveals trading downturn due to COVID-19

A survey of nearly 200 equestrian businesses in Britain has revealed they faced an average 63% fall in turnover in the first 10 days of the coronavirus lockdown. Trade association members – retailers and suppliers – were consulted in the period up to April 2 and given the opportunity to share figures and fears.

“Covid-19’s unique and all-pervading impact is posing the greatest threat to the future of our trade that most of us will have ever experienced,” said Claire Williams, executive director of the British Equestrian Trade Assn. (BETA). “The survey allows us to identify key concerns and consider how we can best support our members through these incredibly challenging times, both during lockdown and the early stages of recovery.”

Last month, retailers said they experienced initial panic buying of feed and bedding, followed by heightened demand for online services as the lockdown took effect.

The survey also showed consumer confusion about the types of business that could stay open to sell face-to-face.

Cash flow was a major concern, often because of invoices falling due for products that retailers have not yet had a chance to sell. Two-thirds of retailers have had no offers of help from suppliers.

Overall, stores saw a fall in turnover of between 20% and 100%. Those not trading at all are mainly saddle fitters for whom social distancing rules make it challenging to do their job properly.

For suppliers, disruption of global supply chains – obtaining raw materials and delays to air and sea freight – were major issues, alongside controlling fixed overheads and managing the health and safety of staff.

At the time of the survey, retailers had already made significant changes to the way they were running their stores. Fewer were combining physical shops and online than before Covid-19 (31% down to 20%), with 28% (up from 2%) moving to online only. By the end of March, only 14% of retailers (down from 50%) were solely working from a shop.

As a result of coronavirus restrictions, 18% of retailers were forced to close all or part of their business. This group comprises mainly saddle fitters and shops without the ability to trade online.

Although 15% of retailers saw increased turnover linked to feed and bedding stockpiling, three-quarters experienced decreases in turnover ranging from 20% to 100%.

There was an average 63% drop in turnover across all types of equestrian retail outlet.

Half of retailers had furloughed staff by the end of March, with a further 13% intending to do so in April. This means that two-thirds are taking advantage of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with nearly half intending to apply for small business rates relief of £10,000 and almost 20% applying for the retail grant of £25,000.

Short- and long-term concerns centered on cash flow and ongoing fixed costs. Retailers indicated they were also concerned about invoices for seasonal stock falling due without the chance to sell it. The overriding long-term concern was keeping businesses going until lockdown ends.

Some retailers reported little proactive contact from suppliers, while others mentioned gestures of payment extensions and drop-shipment offers. Nearly two-thirds reported no offers of assistance from suppliers.

Most felt that BETA’s response to the crisis was positive. Some retailers felt it was important to highlight to riders that they can shop for anything they wish, not just “essential” items.

The immediate impact on suppliers was less dramatic than on the retail sector. Companies making feed, bedding and other items for the upkeep of horses responded more robustly. Those dealing primarily in rider-related items such as clothing, safety equipment and tack saw a drop in two-thirds of turnover.

Most suppliers reduced office staff and hours or changed work roles. In many cases, company directors are now working in warehouses in charge of dispatch.

Three-quarters of suppliers reported serious impacts on supply chains, ranging from delays to raw materials and packaging to issues with air freight and sea freight.

Suppliers’ take-up of government assistance is broadly similiar to that of retailers, although there was a lower proportion claiming rates-related relief. In addition, more suppliers are planning to apply for loans and other measures such as mortgage holidays.

Suppliers’ views differed from retailers with focus as much on supply chains and pricing as revenue generation and cash flow. Concern was also raised about the length of the shutdown and the impact on the future shape of the retail sector.

When it came to measures taken for their retail customers, suppliers mentioned treating debtors sympathetically while simultaneously trying to ensure cash continues to come in.

Claire Williams added: “Many respondents show a real desire and will to survive, albeit based on being given an opportunity to do so. This will not come only from the end of lockdown, government assistance – financial and otherwise – and the equestrian bodies encouraging participants to return to our sport.

“Crucial to a recovery will be the importance of all parts of the equestrian trade working together to help one another. This means manufacturers, suppliers and retailers working through what are going to be challenging times. But, without this joint effort, we risk losing more businesses than we have ever lost before.

“All at BETA will do their utmost to ensure we play a key role in this recovery.”

Meeting COVID-19 challenge: Government agencies lending a hand

Small Business Resources.jpg

Help is on the way.

Retailers large and small, battered by the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak, are seeking assistance from all quarters to deal with mandated closures and quarantines, growing employee illnesses, and reduced customer counts. Employees are also grasping for lifelines to deal with their own illness or that of a loved one or child.

Elected officials have rushed to the rescue. Federal, state and local governments are rolling out grants, offering low interest loans, funding sick pay, and beefing up unemployment insurance programs.

As employers take advantage of government initiatives, they are also being proactive in supporting their staffs while keeping a sharp eye on the company balance sheets.

“Many of our retail clients are leading by example, guaranteeing wages for furloughed workers and offering hazard pay or pandemic wages for workers at those locations that remain open,” says Robin Samuel, partner in the Employment Practice Group of Baker McKenzie's Los Angeles office.

The specific remedial measures differ by where the organizations lie on the incline of customer activity. “Those retailers who are extremely busy are struggling to assure that their employees are safe and that they have enough workers to meet demand,” says Samuel. “The nonessential retailers who are closed are trying to understand the best way they can help their employees while still surviving as going concerns.”

Family first

Of the many government back stops to these grass roots efforts, perhaps the most dramatic is the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), signed into law on March 18, 2020, by President Trump and effective until the end of this year. The FFCRA helps employees weather the Covid-19 storm by mandating—and funding-- sick leave over and above normal levels.

Two components of the law help workers affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. The first, The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act (EPSLA) mandates and funds two weeks of paid sick leave. The second, The Emergency Family & Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA) expands the provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to provide additional sick leave funding for employees under certain circumstances.

“The provisions of the FFCRA allow employers to keep their workers on payroll and ensure that they are not forced to choose between their paychecks and public health measures needed to combat the coronavirus,” says Bill Hagaman, CEO of Withum, an advisory and accounting firm. “The law applies to employers with fewer than 500 workers—effectively putting small- and medium-size employers on the same footing as large ones who have already been providing similar paid leave to their employees.”

More sick leave

The FFCRA mandates two weeks (up to 80 hours) of paid sick leave for full time employees. Part-time workers are entitled to paid leave based on the average number of hours they work in a given two-week period.

“The employee needs to meet one of the designated scenarios to qualify for the emergency paid sick leave,” says Christopher H. Jison, an attorney at Wessels Sherman, Minneapolis, Minn. These conditions include being quarantined, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or caring for a quarantined individual or for a son or daughter whose school or childcare facility is closed due to COVID-19. “There is also a catch-all provision,” says Jison. “If a situation similar to these scenarios comes up, the employee is also entitled to sick leave.”

The sick leave is paid:

* At the regular rate of pay for any employee quarantined or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis.

* At two-thirds of the regular rate of pay for any employee caring for an individual subject to quarantine, or for a child whose school or child-care facility is closed because of COVID-19.

There are limits to the amount of paid sick time. The cap is $511 per day if the employee is quarantined or experiencing symptoms of the virus and limited to $200 per day if the employee is caring for a child whose school or childcare center has been closed due to COVID-19, or caring for a quarantined individual.

One final thing: “Employees who are able to work from home are not entitled to emergency sick leave,” says Jison.

Expanded family leave

The second portion of the FFCRA mandates an additional 10 days of unpaid and 10 weeks of paid family and medical leave (at two-thirds of the regular rate of pay) for workers who must care for a child whose school or childcare center is closed due to COVID-19. Such individuals are only covered if they have worked at their current employer at least 30 days. The law limits this additional leave to $200 per day and $10,000 total per employee. Again, part-time employees are entitled to paid leave based on the average number of hours they work in a given two-week period.

Here's where some smaller retailers get a break. The FFCRA exempts employers with fewer than 50 workers from the need to provide extended leave due to school or child-care center closings, if doing so would jeopardize the survival of the business.

Who decides whether such leave would in fact threaten the business’s future? The statute had stated that the Department of Labor would have the authority to decide on a case by case basis. “The DOL quickly realized that approving individual exemptions would be an insurmountable task,” says Samuel. “So the agency decided to put the burden on each company to certify that it meets the exemption standards.”

Businesses may quality themselves for waivers of the requirement to provide leave due to school closings or child-care unavailability if an authorized officer of the business has determined one of three conditions:

* The requested leave would result in the small business’s “expenses and financial obligations exceeding available business revenues and cause the small business to cease operating at a minimal capacity.”

* The absence of the employees requesting such leave “would entail a substantial risk to the financial health or operational capabilities of the business because of their specialized skills, knowledge of the business, or responsibilities.”

*  The business lacks “sufficient workers who are able, willing, and qualified, and who will be available at the time and place needed, to perform the labor or services” currently being provided by the employees requesting such leave, and these services are needed for the small business “to operate at a minimal capacity.”

“The rule notes that employers should document when they make this determination and maintain such information in their files,” says Susan Gross Sholinsky, Vice Chair of the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice of Epstein, Becker Green in New York. “But employers are not required to submit such documentation to the Department of Labor.”

Financial reimbursement

Providing sick leave is expensive, and that’s where the same legislation lends employers a helping hand. They qualify for dollar-for-dollar reimbursement for all qualifying wages paid under the FFCRA.

When the statute was first passed many businesses were concerned that the time delay required to receive reimbursements would create cash flow issues. But in early April the federal government took steps to ease the burden.

“Businesses can now use the money they have set aside for payroll taxes to pay for the leave,” says Samuel. “If they do not have enough cash on hand they can apply for an advance refund and receive the money in a couple of weeks.” (To receive this refund businesses should use “IRS form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19.” The form can be filed as often as necessary to maintain sufficient cash flow.)

Many employers face a larger challenge: How can they survive without sufficient hands on deck? “In my experience, employers are less concerned with the costs of providing the paid leave than with the number of employees who will seek to take the leave and therefore be unavailable to work,” says Sholinsky. “This is particularly true for businesses exempted from shelter in place orders, so that some or all of the employees are required to come into the workplace.”

Too, as with any new law there is the inevitable confusion about details and resulting administrative disruptions. “The DOL and IRS have been issuing new guidance practically daily,” says Samuel. “Much of the language has been inconsistent, at times even contradicting the language of the statute itself. So employers are often confused as to whether they have to comply with the law, and exactly how to comply.”

Two more important points: Employers may not discriminate or retaliate against workers taking leave under the law. And returning employees must be placed in the same or equivalent job positions.

The above description is a capsule summary of the FFCRA, which has many important qualifications. Details are available on the website of the U.S. Department of Labor, at dol.gov. Search for “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.”

Washington cares

The federal government has introduced another response to the COVID-19 outbreak: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). Signed into law on March 27, 2020, the legislation has received much attention for its tax-free payments of $1,200 for single adults ($2,400 for married couples) and an additional $500 per child. A phase-out of the payments begins at adjusted gross incomes of $75,000 for single taxpayers and $150,000 for married couples.

But CARES also showers small businesses with funds. These include a $10 billion commitment to SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), including emergency cash grants of up to $10,000 per business. There is also a huge outlay of $349 billion earmarked for forgivable SBA 7(A) Paycheck Protection Loans (PPP).

“The CARES act attempts to ease the burden on businesses as revenues decrease from the pandemic,” says Daniel Mayo, National Lead for Federal Tax Policy at Withum. The funds are intended to provide the liquidity required to allow businesses to survive this economic downturn and helps keep people employed.

Loans and grants

The $10 billion devoted to EIDL loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that otherwise would go unattended to because of the disaster’s impact. They are available for businesses with under 500 employees. The maximum loan is $2 million, the term is up to 30 years and the interest rate is 3.75%. They can be approved based solely on credit score and do not require tax returns.

As for those cash grants, businesses can apply online and can roll the funds over into a PPP loan if desired. Businesses wanting to take advantage of the cash grant program can obtain more information from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Finally, the $349 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans are also available to businesses with under 500 employees. “The whole purpose of these loans is to bring everybody back to work,” says Frank Boutillette, a Partner in Financial Services at Withum. Loans must be obtained prior to June 30, 2020, unless the program is extended.

The PPP funds may be used for payroll costs of $100,000 in wages per employee per year, as well as for other uses such as: mortgage, lease and utility payments, state and local compensation taxes, parental, family, medical or sick leave, group health care, and retirement benefits. (Excluded are payments made to a business’s independent contractors, who can nevertheless apply for their own PPP loans).

Each business can obtain a maximum loan amount of the 250% of the average monthly payroll costs incurred during the one-year period prior to the date the loan is made. The terms, identical for all applicants, are two years for repayment at an interest rate of less than one percent.

Businesses can apply for forgiveness of the PPP loans (turning them into direct grants) if funds are spent for permitted purposes during the eight-week period after the loans are made. “Forgiveness is based on the employer maintaining or quickly rehiring employees and maintaining salary levels – and at least 75% of the forgiven amount must be put towards payroll costs,” says Sholinsky. The forgiveness is reduced if employers reduce head counts or wages by certain amounts.

“The Payroll Protection Program is expected to be oversubscribed so we advise our clients to get their applications in as soon as possible,” says Samuel. “The major banks are struggling to implement the loan process. They say they do not yet have enough guidance from the regulatory agencies.”

Finally, the federal legislation has not overlooked larger employers. “The CARES loan program for mid-sized employers (between 500 to 10,000 employees) will be administered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury but is largely undefined and having difficulty getting off the ground,” says Sholinsky.

Tax credits

The CARES Act offers additional benefits to employers:

* Businesses of all sizes can take employee retention tax credits equal to 50% of the qualified wages paid from 3/13/2020 through 12/31/2020 for organizations either fully or partially suspended due to a COVID-19 related shutdown order; or which experienced a decline in gross receipts of more than 50% compared to the same period the previous year. The credit is capped at the first $10,000 of wages per employee (including health benefits), so the maximum credit is $5,000 per employee.

* Employers may defer payment of their share (6.2%) of the Social Security payroll tax, and 50% of self-employment taxes, for taxes due from 3/27/2020 through 12/31/2020. The deferred amounts must be repaid the following year.

* Net operating losses in tax years 2018, 2019, and 2020 can be carried back five years. Amended returns need to be filed.

Many of the above provisions have important qualifications so businesses should consult their tax advisors for details. Employers may also benefit from additional CARES provisions which modify various accounting rules.

Workshare programs

State and local governments are introducing more comprehensive “workshare” or “employee retention” programs designed to help employers avoid layoffs by bolstering the amount of unemployment insurance available for workers whose hours have been reduced. The programs allow employees to collect such insurance even when their hours have not been reduced enough to take them below the statutory maximum to collect traditional unemployment.

“Workshare programs are intended to let businesses cut their labor costs without incurring the stigma and disruption of layoffs,” says Samuel. “The CARES Act incentivizes states that don't have workshare programs to put them in place, as well as making the terms of existing programs more attractive to employers.”

Workshare programs have pitfalls of their own. “States often have restrictions on their use,” says Samuel. “For example, many states disallow use of the programs as transitions to layoffs. That presents potential problems, because many employers are trying to figure out what they are doing as they go along, and they know they might have to go to layoffs at some point down the road. So they fear being penalized if they utilize the workshare program.”

States and municipalities are also providing employers with low interest loans and outright grants to keep workers on the payrolls. “Many cities are enacting emergency sick leave or granting stipends to employees who have been laid off, says Samuel.” To qualify, businesses must usually show that the pandemic is causing a demonstrable reduction in revenue or serious business harm.

Things can get a little chaotic because all levels of government are trying to put their fingers in the dike and their efforts often do not match up very well, says Samuel. “It can be difficult for businesses to understand their obligations. It shows that sometimes rushed legislation can create bigger problems. But you can’t fault governments for trying.”

Lessons learned

The federal government continues to introduce innovative programs to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. In early April the Federal Reserve set up a “Main Street Lending Fund” to offer $600 billion of four-year loans through commercial banks to small and mid-sized businesses. Terms will be 2.5% to 4% above the current secured overnight funding rate, which is close to zero. Principal and interest payments will be deferred for one year.

While all these efforts continue, retailers are learning important lessons that may help transform the future workplace. “The silver lining to the outbreak is that we have learned to use technology a lot quicker than we thought we would,” says Hagaman. “We have figured out how to be very productive working remotely.”

The outbreak has also highlighted the importance of caring for one’s fellow human beings. “On the whole I have been impressed by how far retailers are going to protect their workforces,” says Samuel. “It was a far different case in the great recession of 2008-2009, when everyone seemed to be calculating only how to reduce business expenses. Now the human angle is much more prominent. There is a feeling that we are all in this together.”

FDA approves inhalation spray for severe equine asthma

Shutterstock horse silhouette at sunset_shutterstock_62315617.jpg

The Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) announced April 13 that it has approved Aservo EquiHaler (ciclesonide inhalation spray) for the management of clinical signs associated with severe equine asthma in horses.

CVM said the Aservo EquiHaler has not been evaluated for safety and effectiveness in other equids, such as donkeys or mules.

Severe equine asthma — which has also been known in the past as heaves, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD) and recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) or summer pasture-associated obstructive pulmonary disease (SPAOPD) — results in the narrowing or obstruction of a horse’s airway passages, causing exercise intolerance, labored breathing at rest, wheezing and coughing, CVM said.

Severe equine asthma is associated with exposure to specific environmental triggers (e.g., dust, hay, etc.), and an affected horse may have a familial history of equine asthma.

According to CVM, Aservo EquiHaler is a non-pressurized metered dose inhaler and drug cartridge combination. The drug cartridge contains an inhalation solution that is dispensed by the inhaler into the horse’s left nostril as a spray. Each inhaler is labeled for 10 days of administration and contains sufficient drug to provide 140 actuations (puffs) to the horse. Once the inhaler has been activated, it must be used within 12 days.

CVM said the sponsor evaluated the safety and effectiveness of the product in horses with severe equine asthma in a multi-site field study involving 26 veterinary clinics in the U.S., and the data collected during the field study demonstrated that Aservo EquiHaler, when used according to the label, is safe and effective for management of clinical signs associated with severe equine asthma in horses.

The most common adverse effects found were coughing and nasal discharge. A small number of horses involved in the studies also experienced an elevated level of white blood cells (leukocytosis and/or neutrophilia), sneezing, nasal irritation or bleeding and laminitis (a painful inflammatory condition of the horse’s tissues in its hoof).

CVM said Aservo EquiHaler is available by a veterinarian’s prescription only because professional expertise is required to properly diagnose severe equine asthma and monitor safe use of the product, including treatment of any adverse reactions.

Aservo EquiHaler is manufactured by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA Inc. in Duluth, Ga.

COVID-19: Have a plan B

Every business needs a road map for surviving with slimmer staffs when employees stay home because of the coronavirus. “The most important thing is to have a plan and communicate it to employees and customers,” says Brian Baker, Vice President of Hagerty Consulting, an emergency management consulting firm based in Evanston, IL (hagertyconsulting.com). “The plan should answer two questions: What functions does the organization need to perform to stay in business? And how can those essential functions continue, given a possible uptick in employee absenteeism and a decrease in the customer base?”

Employers may consider these steps:

* Allow teleworking for those employees able to perform their duties from home.

* Establish flexible work hours for employees who must stay at home at certain times to care for family members.

* Share best practices with other businesses in the region and with the local chamber of commerce.

Additional ideas are available in the document “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers” located at www.cdc.gov.

No plan will work if it remains unheeded. “We recommend that employers clearly communicate their rules and policies regarding the coronavirus,” says Susan Gross Sholinsky, Vice Chair of the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice of Epstein, Becker Green in New York (ebglaw.com). “Companies with intranet sites should link them to all virus-related communications and tell employees to check the site frequently for updates and guidance.”

Surviving COVID-19: Planning can minimize workplace disruptions

wildpixel Coronavirus outbreak and coronaviruses influenza background as dangerous flu strain cases as a pandemic medical health risk concept with disease cells as a 3D render
BE PREPARED: To help farmers and ranchers prepare for the spread of the coronavirus, the Nebraska Farm Bureau has developed a list of things for farmers and ranchers to consider.

Businesses face daunting operational challenges as the rapid spread of COVID-19 causes employees to call in sick and customer counts to dwindle. Managers can reduce workplace disruptions with measures such as revisiting sick leave policies and allowing some employees to work from home. Whatever the details of an organization’s response program, though, it must begin with the maintenance of a virus-free environment.

“An employer’s general duty is to maintain the health and safety of the workplace,” says Joseph Deng, an employment law partner at Baker & McKenzie in Los Angeles. “A business must be free of hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. In light of the virus, employers should pay close attention to what the national, state and local authorities are advising.”

At the national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continually updates a website with advice about reducing the chances of infection. (To access the information go to www.cdc.gov and search for “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers”).

State and local authorities may also provide information on their own websites. “Advice at the local level is especially important,” says Deng. “It will be directly related to what’s happening with the virus in the area where a business is located—just as a recommended response to a hurricane will depend on the proximity of the storm to a business.”

Much of the guidance from all levels deals with the proper sanitation of the work environment. “The most significant thing businesses can do is make sure employees engage in proper hygiene practices,” says Susan Gross Sholinsky, Vice Chair of the Employment, Labor & Workforce Management practice of Epstein, Becker Green in New York. “They should keep their premises clean, disinfecting doorknobs, elevator buttons, and community equipment such as printers, and commonly used kitchen items such as refrigerator handles.”

Employers are also taking steps such as the following:

* Limiting travel. “Most of the companies I am talking to are limiting or prohibiting all future international travel,” says Sholinsky. “They are also asking employees if they have traveled internationally, whether for business or pleasure, and are requiring them to stay home if they have visited countries with elevated risk. When feasible, audio and video conferencing is taking the place of in-person visits.”

* Restricting outsider visits. “Some companies are limiting third parties who can come into the offices, separate and apart from their own employees,” says Sholinsky. “Visiting clients and vendors are being asked where they have traveled in the last few weeks, and whether they are exhibiting any flu-like symptoms.”

* Coordinating with vendors. The CDC website suggests businesses “talk with companies that provide contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.”

Sick workers

Despite management’s best efforts, some employees may fall sick. Anyone who comes down with symptoms of the virus (fever, coughing, and shortness of breath) should be separated from the workplace and required to remain at home. That will protect their coworkers from infection, helping to contain the spread of the disease.

Afflicted individuals should contact their healthcare provider, or the state or local health department, for advice on what to do next. “Infected individuals should not go straight to the doctor’s office or to the hospital emergency room, because they are not equipped for infectious disease control,” says Deng. “Instead, they should call ahead to determine whether symptoms are consistent with a COVID-19 infection. If they are, the individuals will be directed to the appropriate testing facility.”

Employees with the relevant symptoms should stay away from the workplace even if they have not been definitely diagnosed with the coronavirus. “Traditionally in our country’s culture people come to work sick,” says Brian Baker, Vice President of Hagerty Consulting, an emergency management consulting firm based in Evanston, IL (hagertyconsulting.com). “But the novel coronavirus is extremely contagious, and we do not have the diagnostics to tell us who has the virus and who doesn’t.”

A business may need to change its traditional sick leave policies in light of the coronavirus. “Sometimes a liberal sick leave policy is tough for employers,” says Baker. “But it is much better to lose a portion of your workforce than to lose all of them.”

The employer must decide whether to pay people who are out sick. While no national law requires they do so, some states and cities have passed legislation touching on the matter.  Jurisdictions with some type of sick leave laws include California, Washington, Michigan, Vermont, San Francisco and New York City.

Even companies which are located outside of such protected areas should consider reimbursements for quarantine time. “Employers should avoid being penny wise and pound foolish,” says Deng. “They should establish non-punitive leave policies, and that includes loosening requirements that employees provide doctors’ notes to prove sickness. Bear in mind that local health workers will likely be overwhelmed with live cases and may not be able to provide such notes.”

Sick leave reimbursement decisions may be based on the circumstances surrounding the event. “In some cases, an individual who is out sick for an extended period of time because of COVID-19 may be entitled to short term disability,” says Sholinsky. “An employee who was infected while on business travel to an affected country may be eligible for workers compensation.”

Some states have paid family leave laws that mandate partial pay for employees who are out of work because they are caring for sick family members, says Sholinsky. “Some states’ and cities’ sick time laws provide for paid sick time when an individual’s workplace—or a child’s school or day care center—is shut down due to a declared public health emergency.”

On occasion it is not the employee who becomes sick, but a child, parent, or a loved one. Or a child must stay home because of the closing of a school or day care center. Or an employee may express fear about using public transportation to commute to work. In all such cases employers must decide whether to grant paid sick leave.

Protect customers

Employees are not the only people subject to health risks from workplace infection. Businesses need to also protect anyone who comes into contact with staff members.

“To the extent the business is a place of public accommodation, employers need to be mindful of the risks to customers, vendors and other visitors,” says Sholinsky. “If asked what the company is doing to protect against the spread of the virus, an employer can inform individuals that the premises are being cleaned and maintained consistent with CDC recommendations.”

Strictly from a public relations perspective, employers may wish to advise customers if a staff member has been diagnosed with the disease. “Customers will likely not take kindly to finding out they were at a business where an employee had been impacted and they were never informed,” says Deng. At the same time, employers should be mindful of not identifying which employee was affected. “You need to maintain the delicate balance between getting the information out in a manner that will protect everyone, while also complying with privacy laws about disclosing medical information.”

Indeed, concerns of employee privacy should be paramount for any business dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. “Generally speaking, if you are asking questions about an employee’s life outside of the workplace there should be a legitimate, business-related reason for doing so,” says Sholinsky. “You need to balance the important information needed about someone’s health in light of COVID-19 concerns against the individual’s right to privacy regarding their personal medical situation.”

There is only a limited number of health-related questions employers are permitted to ask employees, says Sholinsky. “If someone was quarantined after traveling to a country with elevated risk, for example, and shortly after returning to the office they are out sick, it would be appropriate to ask whether they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, and if they are whether they have visited a doctor or been tested for COVID-19.”

Once obtained, personal medical information should be kept safe from dissemination. “If you are requiring employees to make declarations about their travels or their health conditions, you need to be careful about how the information is collected and disclosed,” says Deng. “Handle the information with respect to COVID-19 in the way you would handle any other personal information.” That means restricting information to those with a need to know. “If you send someone home with symptoms, the only people who should know about it are those individuals who have come into direct contact with the person.”

All actions must conform to state and city employee privacy laws, which vary widely. Some Federal laws may also apply. “Bear in mind that under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are generally not allowed to make disability related inquiries about preexisting health conditions or other private medical information,” says Deng. The law also prohibits giving a medical exam. “It’s allowable to ask employees if they have a cough or fever, or shortness of breath. But you may have issues under the ADA, or under state laws, if you take their temperature or do any other screening that might be construed as a medical exam.”

One exception to this rule, says Deng, is if there is a "direct threat" to the workplace, such as development of a pandemic in your area. “You are allowed to make medical inquiries and ask about disability related matters if there is no other way to get information that will protect the workforce. Assessment as to what constitutes a direct threat should be based on objective factors. Be informed about what CDC guidelines and what local and state authorities tell you. That will inform your duty and level of care with respect to workforce.”

Avoid discrimination

In carrying out the policies and procedures described in this article, businesses must avoid any actions that are discriminatory, consciously or otherwise. “Although it is okay to ask employees if they have traveled recently to high risk locations, and to tell them to self-quarantine for a two-week period, you have to apply the policy without reference to race, ethnicity or national origin,” says Deng.

The need to avoid discrimination speaks to a practical issue: The novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 can strike any individual regardless of background. “Just because people are of a certain race or national origin does not mean they have a higher chance of infection with the virus,” says Sholinsky. “Companies should be careful not make such assumptions.”