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Coronavirus (COVID-19) - HR guidance for state agencies

COVID SHR

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The information here is to help state organizations to prepare for and respond to issues and questions related to novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We hope this resource helps you make sound decisions in the workplace. We will adjust these guidelines as we learn more about the spread and impacts of the virus. This guidance applies to general government employers. Higher education employers may choose to follow this guidance.

    COVID-19 workforce guidelines

    This memo was sent on 3/10/2020 to HR directors of state agencies and higher education institutions. It describes state policies and forthcoming emergency rules involving major operational HR matters involved in the COVID-19 outbreak, including self-quarantine, remote working opportunities, and expansion of paid leave status.

    This guidance was distributed to HR managers on 3/20/2020 to help state agencies and institutions navigate telework questions.

    COVID-19 response guidance for HR staff and agency leadership

    • Managers and supervisors must encourage employees to remain home when they are sick.
    • Take steps to maximize telework options for as many employees as possible. State organizations should have employees work remotely, if possible, at this time. For employees who do not ordinarily telecommute, ask supervisors to identify tasks that employees can do remotely, or provide alternative options for telecommuting, if circumstances later necessitate an expansion of telework.
    • For areas where state employees significantly rely on mass transit options, please consider options for adjusting start and end work times so that the number of employees using transit simultaneously is reduced.
    • Ensure each of your worksites are taking steps to maintain high environmental hygiene standards by cleaning surfaces with EPA-approved environmental disinfectants. In particular, routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs. If feasible, provide disposable disinfectant wipes so that commonly used services can be wiped down by employees before each use.  
    • For agencies with regular public interface, post signs and resources to address non-pharmaceutical interventions and consider further efforts to mitigate exposure, especially for individuals showing symptoms. Printable posters and factsheets are available on the CDC website:

      CDC educational materials (including posters, factsheets, etc) 

    • Consider, where possible canceling or adjusting non-essential in-person employee meetings and gatherings of 10 or more individuals for the time being. Please work with staff to develop alternatives for conducting these meetings and use good judgment when determining which meetings are essential.

    • Agencies should assess the need for conferences and large gatherings of 50 or more, and whether alternative accommodations can be made to mitigate exposure.  If it is determined a conference is essential and cannot be delayed or conducted by other means, refer to local health authority guidance on strategies to mitigate exposure. 

    • Work with staff to develop alternatives for conducting these meetings to minimize risk, including the use of remote meeting technology.

    • For any questions or concerns with the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), seek legal advice from assigned AAG based on specific factual situations.

    • All business travel to impacted areas on the CDC list Warning Levels 3 and 2 is cancelled. Exceptions must be approved at the Governor level.

      See CDC travel detail and risk assessment by country

    • Limit all non-essential business travel. Essential travel is determined by agency directors.

    Agency director guidance

    When determining what is essential travel, agency directors should consider several factors, including:

    • Is the travel related to the agency COOP?
    • What is the destination and is it currently impacted?
    • What is the mode of travel and does it involve movement through impacted areas described in the CDC link above?
    • What is the mission, and does it take the person into a higher exposure situation (i.e. large conference)
    • Are there alternative methods that can still accomplish the mission (video conference, remote access)?

    While we do not currently have any state office closures, we want to make sure you have guidance should your agency have the need to consider this step. You must consult with the Governor’s Office prior to making a decision to close an office or work location. For offices housed with multiple agencies, impacted directors are to coordinate with each other prior to consulting with the Governor’s Office.

    When determining whether to close an office, agency directors should consider several factors, including:

    • Impact to the mission and public
    • Risk to employees and public of remaining open
    • Alternatives to continue effective operations (remote location, telecommuting)
    • Span of impacted area or potential for further contamination
    • Impact of closure on employees and public
    • Ability to conduct a partial closure of office
    • DOH, CDC, OSHA guidelines

    The steps an organization should take when an employee reports a possible exposure to COVID-19 will depend upon the specific circumstances yet employers are asked to err on the side of caution. When preparing for navigating issues related to exposure, follow the steps below:

    1. Get familiar with existing CDC risk assessment resources:

      Interim Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Persons with Potential Coronavirus Disease 2019 Exposures

      These resources provide details on the factors and customary CDC interventions an organization should take, and should be reviewed immediately. Information in these documents will assist with providing some detail on the factors and possible employer interventions.

      To help assess the appropriate employer interventions, review this decision matrix from the CDC:

      Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Risk Assessment and Public Health Management Decision Making [PDF]

    2. Consult with your local health jurisdiction to assess next steps:

      Washington State Local Health Departments and Districts

    3. Based on the advice of the local health jurisdiction, take appropriate action, if any.

      If an employee is required under the CDC guidelines to self-quarantine but is otherwise healthy and the employer has determined there are no telework options for the employee, the employee will be released with no loss of pay for no longer than 14 days. The employee is not permitted to report to the worksite during the time they are in self-quarantine.

      An employee may be directed to telework during the self-quarantine period. If an employee is directed to telework and declines to do so, the employee must use their own accrued leave or be in a leave without pay status for the time in self-quarantine, which may include a signed affidavit from an employee.

    Maintain confidentiality

    If working with an employee confirmed to have COVID-19 infection, agencies should inform employees of their possible exposure in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed by Congress on March 18, 2020. It includes two different employee leave acts:

    • The Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provides paid leave to employees based on their own COVID-19 health related issues -- individuals who are caring for someone with COVID-19 issues, or who need to care for a minor child due to a COVID-19-related school or child care closure.
    • The Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act provides paid and unpaid leave to employees who need to care for a minor child due to a COVID-19-related school or child care closure.

    Read more about how these laws apply to state employees.

    COVID-19 response guidance for supervisors

    What health and medical organizations strongly recommend

    How Human Resources should respond to each issue

    Employees should stay home if they are sick.

    Encourage employees to stay home if they are sick. Employees may be allowed to telework if feasible based on type of work and if the employee is well enough to telework. If telework is not an option, employees may use leave in accordance with the civil service rules or collective bargaining agreement.

    If an employee has a fever and cough or shortness of breath you should send them home.

    Employers should engage in a conversation with the employee to explore whether they can telework. If the employee cannot telework – and after the employer gives extensive consideration for workplace safety – direct the employee to go home immediately. Employees may use leave in accordance with civil service rules or CBA.  

    For represented employees, many CBAs contain language in the Safety and Health article related to directing the use of sick leave when an employee self-reports a contagious health condition. Please refer to the applicable CBA for further information.

    If an employee is sent home because of the above symptoms, you should ask them to remain home for 72 hours after their temperature gets backs to normal and their symptoms are improving.

    Allow an employee to telework. If telework is not an option, employees may use their leave in accordance with the civil service rules or CBA.

    If an employee has reason to believe they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, they should use the CDC guidance on how to self-monitor and when to contact their health care provider.

    Allow an employee to telework. If telework is not an option, employees may use leave in accordance with civil service rules or CBA.

    If an employee is required under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to self-quarantine but is otherwise healthy and the employer has determined there are no telework options for the employee, the employee will be released with no loss of pay for no longer than 14 days.

    The employee is not permitted to report to the worksite during the time they are in self-quarantine. An employee may be directed to telework during the self-quarantine period. If an employee is directed to telework and declines to do so, the employee must use their own accrued leave or be in a leave without pay status for the time in self-quarantine. The employer retains the right to request written verification confirming the circumstances warranting the self-quarantine, which may include a signed affidavit from an employee.

    What health and medical organizations strongly recommend

    How Human Resources should respond to each issue

    The employer should follow their local public health department and CDC guidance on next steps and direct the employee to go home.

    If an employee is required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to self-quarantine but is otherwise healthy, and the employer has determined there are no telework options for the employee, the employee will be released with no loss of pay for no longer than 14 days. The employee is not permitted to report to the worksite during the time they are in self-quarantine.

    An employee may be directed to telework during the self-quarantine period. If an employee is directed to telework and declines to do so, the employee must use their own accrued leave or be in a leave without pay status for the time in self-quarantine. The employer retains the right to request written verification confirming the circumstances warranting the self-quarantine, which may include a signed affidavit from an employee.

    At the advice of the local health jurisdiction, the employer may consider cleaning the area the employee used with CDC recommended supplies.

    At the advice of the local health jurisdiction, take steps to clean the worksite.

    The employer may recommend that the employee contact their local health department for guidance on next steps, visit the CDC website or call their health care provider.

    The employer should recommend that the employee contact their local health department for guidance on next steps, visit the CDC website or call their health care provider.

    What we recommend

    • If the employee asks to take time off to protect their health and cannot telework, you should allow them to do so.
    • If an employee is unwilling to report to the worksite, the employer should work with the employee to explore options. Allow an employee to telework if telework is an option. If telework is not an option, employees may use leave in accordance with the civil service rules or CBA.

     

    What health and medical organizations strongly recommend

    How Human Resources should respond to each issue

    You can recommend that the employee review what the CDC and DOH recommends and consult with their health care provider by phone.

    If the employee asks to take time off to protect their health and cannot telework, you should allow them to do so.

    If an employee is unwilling to report to the worksite, the employer should work with the employee to explore options. Allow an employee to telework if telework is an option. If telework is not an option, employees may use leave in accordance with the civil service rules or CBA.

    Download a printable PDF of the table below

    Scenarios when telework is not an option after a manager carefully considers an employee’s telework options

    Sick Leave

    Vacation Leave

    Shared Leave

    Leave without Pay

    No loss in pay for up to 14 days

    Employee tests positive for COVID-19.

    Employee has a fever, cough or shortness of breath, you should send them home.

    Work with your HR to determine

    Employee is caring for a sick household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

    Employee returns from international travel from a country that is close-to but not listed on the CDC impacted areas and is not required to self-quarantine and is otherwise healthy, not showing symptoms.

    Schools are closed and worker has no care available for kids.

    Employee is at high or medium risk (described in this CDC risk assessment flow chart) and is required to self-quarantine but is otherwise healthy, not showing symptoms. *Verify countries identified as level 3 on the CDC website.

    Work with your HR to determine

    Employee fears congregate areas and refuses to come to work (self-distancing). This includes employees who are at “higher risk” of getting sick from COVID-19 (listed in CDC guidelines).

    Work with your HR to determine

    Employees who are in a category of increased risk or severe illness and death listed in CDC guidelines. Work with your HR to determine

    More on leave

    • Personal holiday, compensatory time, recognition leave and exchange time may be used subject to agency policy and applicable collective bargaining agreements.
    • Reasonable accommodation exceptions may be made on a case by case basis. Work with your HR office to determine these outcomes.
    • If you are subject to screening and refuse, you will be sent home on leave without pay.
    • For questions about the interaction between unemployment insurance, paid family and medical leave, and L&I workers' compensation:
    • COVID-19 Scenarios & Benefits Available [PDF]
    • For how to apply for unemployment insurance: 

    Can I ask my employee if they are experiencing symptoms of fever and cough or shortness of breath?

    Yes, you may ask them this question. Don’t ask them to disclose if they have an underlying medical condition. If they are experiencing these symptoms, they need to stay home and not come to work for 72 hours after fever is gone and symptoms get better, whichever is longer.

    Can I ask my employee if they are returning from travel in the CDC defined Level 3 travel zones.?

    Yes, you may ask them this question. Check the CDC website for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which employees may travel.  

    Do I have to provide telework options for my employees? We’ve never done that before.

    You should explore every possible option for teleworking.

    Is it ok for me to tell my employees that they should follow proper hand washing techniques? What about cough and sneeze etiquette?

    Yes. This is something you should be actively encouraging in your workplace. See the Department of Health’s website for cough and sneeze etiquette and hand hygiene.

    Download a printable checklist of the steps below a supervisor should take when an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19 [PDF]

    If someone you supervise gets diagnosed with COVID-19, there are several steps you can take to help with the administrative side of this event.

    1. Get more information to make decisions about the workplace:

      • Make sure the employee is in contact with the local health department and they follow the health guidance/direction.

      • Contact your local health department to receive specific guidance to confirm the employee’s status and how to best clean or close your workplace.

    2. Next, identify and notify people they’ve been in contact with at work:

      • If possible, ask the employee to review their schedule for the few days before they showed symptoms. Specifically identify those people that could be considered close contacts.

        • Tip: Look for someone the infected person had face-to-face contact with within 6 feet for more than 10 minutes.

      • Locate contact information for the people you identified as possible close contacts.

      • Contact your local health department and give them names and contact information for the possible close contacts.

        • Tip: Your local health department will make the official determination on who you will need to consider a close contact

      • After you talk to the health department, you or your HR department can begin calling the close contacts to notify them.

        • Tips: Keep the name of the person who tested positive confidential.

      • Tell them their local health department will be in contact with further instructions.

      • Ask that they go home and telework. If telework is not an option, the employee will receive no loss in pay for up to 14 days for self-quarantine.

      • Ask that they follow any guidance that the health department gives them.

      • Refer them to any internal resources or guidance available within your agency.

    3. Communicate this event to your workplace:

      • Notify your agency’s leadership. You can do this any time in the process, usually, the sooner the better.

      • Notify your Human Resources department and they will determine how best to notify the rest of your agency, possibly using one of the statewide notification templates provided on the HR Portal. Make sure this communication goes out after you have notified the identified close contacts.

    Finally…take a breath and know you did your best to manage and minimize the health situation.

    See our guidance on continuing active recruitments, freezing or suspending recruitments, and how to interview candidates during the COVID-19 outbreak:

    Last updated
    Friday, March 13, 2020