Coronavirus (COVID-19): DOs and DON’Ts for Rhode Island Employers

The following Coronavirus (COVID-19) considerations for Rhode Island employers reflects the state and federal government’s guidance as of Monday morning, March 16, 2020.

DO

  1. Apply preventive and response measures uniformly to all employees.
  2. Consider flexible work arrangements, including work-from-home or other arrangements, to the extent possible in the interest of social containment. Consider these arrangements particularly for sick employees, employees taking care of sick household members, and/or for employees who are unable to come to work due the closure of their children’s schools.
  3. Require employees to provide immediate notice if the employee or a household member receives a presumptive or confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, or if the employee has known exposure to the virus.
  4. If an employee or his/her household member receives a presumptive or confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis:
    1. Allow the employee to take sick leave as required by Rhode Island state law (up to 5 accrued paid days for employers with 18+ employees, and up to 5 unpaid days for employers with fewer than 18 employees), and by established workplace policies and procedures.
    2. For employers with 50+ employees, also permit eligible employees to take unpaid leave of up to 13 weeks under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and state Parental and Family Medical Leave Act, as supported by medical documentation.
    3. Consider requiring a return to work note from the employee’s treating physician confirming that the employee is healthy and no longer contagious before returning to work.
    4. Encourage the employee to contact the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training (“DLT”) to inquire whether they may be eligible for temporary disability insurance benefits.
    5. Notify other employees of the precautions the employer is taking based on the presumptive or confirmed diagnosis of a colleague or their household member—without identifying the individual by name.
  5. Continue to seek guidance from federal, state, and local public health and emergency preparedness agencies to gather information concerning the spread and severity of COVID-19.
  6. Provide as much advanced notice as practicable to your employees if you are forced to close business operations for reasons related to COVID-19. All notices should be in writing.

 DON’T

  1. Release the identity of the employee or household member who may have been exposed to or has tested positive for COVID-19.
  2. Release the personal health information of any employee or household member who may have been exposed to or has tested positive for COVID-19, unless required by law.
  3. Require employees to undergo medical examinations (e.g., fever checks) at the workplace unless further guidance allowing for such examinations is provided by federal, state, and/or local public health offices is provided.
  4. Answer questions in a way that could inadvertently disclose confidential personnel or medical information of any employee.
  5. Forget to apply established workplace policies and procedures, but allow flexibility as necessary given the current situation.

Employer response and obligations during the COVID-19 outbreak remain fluid.  Continue to communicate with your employees, review your relevant policies and procedures, and consult with legal counsel as necessary.  If you are temporarily ceasing or limiting operations as a result of COVID-19, please contact DLT for assistance: dlt.covid19@dlt.ri.gov or calling (401) 462-2020.  Employees whose workplaces are closed due to COVID-19 concerns may be eligible for unemployment benefits.  Please refer to DLT’s Workplace Fact Sheet for further information.  As always, your Barton Gilman team stands ready to assist with any questions.

For more information

For more information on complying with the state and federal governments guidance on Coronavirus (COVID-19) for Rhode Island employers, please contact Greg Vanden-Eykel at 401.273.7171.

Barton Gilman’s employment law team provides comprehensive legal guidance to a wide variety of employers on all aspects of the employment cycle—from hiring through separation—including personnel policies and handbooks, non-compete agreements, and representation before state and federal courts and agencies. To learn more, please visit www.bglaw.com/services/labor-employment/.