25.03.20

Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs for Employers

Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs for  Employers

COVID-19 Symptoms

Q What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

A.  The Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) advises that it depends on the virus, but common signs include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 

Employee Diagnosed with COVID-19 .

Q What should I do if an employee in my workplace is diagnosed with COVID-19?

A.  Get guidance from the MOHW.   Tell employees who may have had exposure that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, but do not disclose the identity of the employee who is ill.  Send co-employees home if they have been in close contact with the employee or are showing symptoms.  Close off areas used by the ill persons and wait as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection to minimize potential for exposure to respiratory droplets. Open outside doors and windows to increase air circulation in the area. If possible, wait up to 24 hours before beginning cleaning and disinfection.

All areas (e.g., offices, bathrooms, and common areas) used by the ill persons, focusing should be disinfected especially  frequently touched surfaces.

Definition of Close Contact .

Q What is “close contact”?

A. The MOHW recommends that you maintain a distance of at least 2 metres (6 feet) distance between yourself and anyone else.

The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) (No 2) Order, 2020 requires that for the period from March, 25, 2020, to  April, 7, 2020, gatherings in any public place shall not exceed 10 persons at a time, and each person at such a gathering shall maintain a distance of  3 feet from other persons.

Symptoms Only, No Diagnosis Yet

Q What should I do if an employee in my workplace is just showing symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), but is not diagnosed with COVID-19?

A. Employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately and questioned about recent travel or contact with persons who have recently traveled or any actual or suspected case of COVID-19.

Q. What is The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) Order, (No 2)  2020 (effective  March 25, 2020) ?

A. This Order revokes The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) Order, 2020. The No 2 Order (like the revoked Order) contains measures directed to be enforced for removing or otherwise guarding against or mitigating the threat, or effects, of the COVID-19 and the possible consequences thereof. These include the following directives:

  1. For the period from the 25th day of March, 2020, to the 7th day of April, 2020, no person shall be permitted to enter Jamaica unless authorized by the Minister responsible for immigration, and subject to the approval of the Cabinet.
  2. A person who landed in Jamaica between March 18, 2020, and the 21st day of March, 2020, from any country where there is local transmission of COVID-19, as published by the MOHW from time to time, is required to remain within that person’s abode or place of residence for the period from the 25th day of March, 2020, to April, 7, 2020 and
    1. shall comply with the quarantine rules outlined by MOHW and shall be permitted to leave Jamaica before April, 7, 2020, if he does not have any symptoms of the COVID-19.
    2. if during the quarantine period develops symptoms of the COVID-19, the person is required to forthwith inform the MOHW.
  3. A person who, has been permitted to enter Jamaica, after March, 21, 2020, shall:
    1. remain in quarantine, at that person’s abode or place of residence, or such other place as may be directed by an authorized officer, for a period of 14 days beginning from the date on which that person was permitted to enter Jamaica; and
    2. comply with all applicable directions given, and requirements imposed, by an authorized officer.
  4. Any person in Jamaica who develops flu-like symptoms and who may have had contact with someone who—
    1. has travelled to a country affected by the SARS – CoV-2 (Coronavirus COVID19); or
    2. is infected with the SARS – CoV-2 (Coronavirus COVID-19) or
    3. has been exposed to a person so infected,

is required to forthwith inform the Ministry.

The MOHW advises you to inform the Ministry by telephone using one of the COVID-19 Contact Numbers. You should not go to the doctor or clinic or hospital. The MOHW will advise you on next steps.

Asking Employees for COVID-19 Information .

Q Can I ask an employee if he/she has COVID-19 or if he/she has symptoms of COVID-19?

A. Yes. If you want to confirm whether your employee has COVID-19 or is exhibiting symptoms for purposes of taking MOHW-recommended precautionary measures, it is reasonable to ask the employee to confirm whether he/she has symptoms of COVID-19 or if the employee has received a diagnosis of COVID-19 and what that diagnosis is.

Once you have the employee’s health information, however, you should maintain confidentiality of the identity of the employee.

Requiring Employees to Self-Report a COVID-19 Diagnosis

Q Can I require employees to self-report their COVID-19 diagnosis to the company?

A. Yes. If an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, it is reasonable to ask them to contact their supervisor or HR Manager and let their supervisor or HR Manager  know.

Asking Employees About Household Members .

Q Can I ask about an employee’s household members?

A. Based on the requirements for disclosure of exposure required under  The Disaster Risk Management (Enforcement Measures) Order, 2020  it is  suggest that employers ask employee to advice employees if they have  recently had close contact with someone who has tested positive or who is exhibiting symptoms of being ill with COVID-19.

Employees Who Live with Individuals Diagnosed with COVID-19 .

Q What should I do if an employee in my workplace is not showing symptoms, but tells me he/she lives with person who has COVID-19?

A. The MOHW’s recommendation is that this person should be sent home immediately and remain at home and practice social distancing. Co-employees should be reminded to closely monitor their symptoms and call the MOHW and their employer  immediately if they develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 (i.e., fever, cough, shortness of breath).

The MOHW advises you to inform the Ministry by telephone using one of the COVID-19 Contact Numbers. You should not go to the doctor or clinic or hospital. The MOHW will advise you on next steps.

Informing Co-Employees but Maintaining Confidentiality

Q If the employer sends an employee home who was showing symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), but he/she has not yet been diagnosed with COVID-19. What should other employees be told?

A. Employees who may have close contact with a person who has symptoms but is under investigation for COVID-19, should maintain confidentiality but inform co-employees that an employee may be ill, and that they should monitor their health and should contact the MOHW immediately and then their employer if they develop symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 (i.e., fever, cough, shortness of breath).

Requiring Good Hygiene

Q Can I require employees to thoroughly wash their hands or use hand sanitizer before entering the office or workplace?

A. Yes. Based on the MOHW’s recommendations employers  should instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol based hand rub that contains at least 62% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Confidentiality and Privacy Considerations .

Q What about confidentiality and privacy of medical information?

A. Medical/health information should remain private.   Though employers should inform other employees about possible exposure, do not identify the specific person or his or her health condition (COVID-19) unless with the person’s permission (written permission strongly preferred) or as specifically directed by MOHW or relevant authority or officer.

If someone is on self-quarantine, in the hospital, undergoing testing, or possibly ill, only inform other employees that an employee “may be ill” or “is working from home.” As the case may be.

Medical Note or Certificate

Q If an employee says he or she has tested positive for COVID-19, does the employer have the right to require the employee to provide a doctor’s note or other objective evidence of that diagnosis?

A. Yes, but we recommend against disciplining the employee if they are unable to produce a note.

Practically, doctors and other health care professionals are going to be focused on the response to the pandemic and may not at this time be able to promptly provide fitness-for-duty documentation. Employers may wish to consider creating a form, or an e-mail to certify that an individual does not have the pandemic virus or contact information for someone a the MOHW who can provide confirmation.

Possible Customer Exposure .

Q If an employee working in a customer-facing role was diagnosed with COVID-19, should the report to MOHW and/or customers that may have come into contact with the employee?

A. A report should be made to MOHW reporting the potential contact and the employer should cooperate with and follow the MOHW’s  authorities in identifying contacts, but letting the public health authorities conduct contact tracing (i.e., contact the customers that were potentially exposed).

Taking Employees’ Temperature .

Q Can an employer  require employees to report or provide their temperature before entering the office or workplace?

A. An individuals can have COVID-19 and at the same time be asymptomatic for a number of days before having a fever. Therefore the absence of a fever is not conclusive that a person does not have  COVID-19. Employees must be told that if they develop a fever they must immediately report it to their employer.

If you determine that temperature testing is warranted, you should maintain the information as a confidential medical record. It would also be prudent for you to maintain some documentation  about the basis for testing and the declaration of Jamaica as a disaster are ain the light o the COVID-19 threat in the event that an employee seeks to allege any violation of his/her right to privacy.

Travel 

Q Can I require employees to notify the company of any personal travel plans (e.g., an international flight or a vacation cruise)? Can I ask about their prior travel?

A. Yes. It is reasonable to require employees to notify you of international travel. Although you generally cannot prohibit employees from domestic or international travel on their personal time, there are several important reminders that you can and should provide to employees, particularly in light of the current Order .

Employers should inform employees about the recommendations and directives issued by the MOHW  and the Orders regarding travel from time to time.

Employers may ask employees questions about exposure to COVID-19 and whether they have visited specified locations.

Other Recommendations and Reminders

Employers should engage in more rigorous routines for cleaning and disinfecting particularly surfaces and objects and provide alcohol based rubs and soap and water as recommended.

Non Compliance

If any person fails to furnish any information required by the Order or knowingly furnishes false information, he/she commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000,000 (are which fines are likely to be increased) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months.  The Public Health Act and Quarantine Act also provides that persons who fail to provide information required under those Acts will be guilty of offences, the sentences for which also include fines or imprisonment.

GINA PHILLIPPS BLACK

March 24, 2020