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1. Can I ask employees to leave the workplace and stay home if I suspect they have COVID-19?

If an employee is exhibiting symptoms related to COVID-19 (i.e., cough, shortness of breath, fever) you may ask the employee to leave work and stay home until the employee is symptom-free. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a person recovering from the flu stay home until at least 24 hours after the person is symptom free, with COVID-19, the CDC recommends consulting with a healthcare provider and state/local health departments to determine when it is OK to return to work.

2. Do I have to pay an employee I ask to leave work or stay home due to COVID-19?

Non-exempt employees: If the employee reports to work and is sent home before working a full shift, you must pay the employee at least two hours or no more than four hours of reporting time pay. If the employee stays home and does not report to work, you can ask, but not require, the employee if they wish to use paid sick pay. If the employee exhausts sick pay, PTO, or vacation pay benefits and the employee is still ill, we suggest you consider a reduced hourly rate or continue paying the normal hourly rate for a certain time period. This will encourage employees to remain home and not return to work prematurely. However, once all legally required paid time off is exhausted, you are not obligated to pay non-exempt employees if they are not working for you.

3. If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, should I inform everyone at the same workplace?

If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, you should advise other employees who could potentially have had contact with that employee about possible exposure to COVID-19. You may not disclose the name of the affected employee and must take all possible steps to maintain the confidentiality of the affected employee. However, we expect some employees will permit the disclosure of their identity, in order to help their co-workers avoid exposure.

4. What should I do if an employee no longer wants to work with another employee out of fear of contracting COVID-19?

If the fear is based on legitimate factors (e.g., the other employee is exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms), you should assess whether the employee with symptoms should be separated from other employees or sent home. However, if “Sally” doesn’t want to work with “James” because, e.g., James was born in Italy, you should counsel Sally by reminding her your company does not tolerate unlawful discrimination. An employer has a legal obligation to protect its employees against unlawful harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

5. Can I require an employee to provide a doctor’s note if the employee stays home due to symptoms consistent with COVID-19?

California paid sick leave law permits employees to give notice of sick leave either verbally or in writing. This has been interpreted to mean that employers may not condition paid sick leave on an employee providing medical certification. If the request for a doctor’s note is not related to paid sick leave, it is permissible. However, the CDC recommends not requiring a doctor’s note at this time since health care providers are overwhelmed.

If you suspect an employee is not truly ill but using COVID-19 as an excuse to not come to work when healthy, please contact us for advice on how to address this situation.