Handling Coronavirus in the Workplace: How a PEO Can Help

March 6, 2020 Written by Oralie Chapman

You’d have to be living in total media isolation to be unaware of COVID-19 (more commonly described as Coronavirus.) On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus as an International Public Health Emergency.  Business owners and employees are surely wondering about how to handle Coronavirus in the Workplace.


At home, Americans have headed to the stores in droves to buy masks, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes in order to protect themselves from the virus. Others are buying toilet paper and non-perishable foods in large quantities out of fear that we will be quarantined and unable to leave our homes for a period of time. One of the biggest worries in the United States is that there will be people infected by the virus who do not have health insurance and therefore cannot afford to get tested. As a result, they could end up infecting many others without knowing that they have the virus.


What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)? 


According to the Hawaii State Department of Health, COVID-19 is a new respiratory virus that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, in Hubei Province. Since its discovery, the virus has spread to other cities across China and to at least 27 other countries around the world, including the United States.


Am I at risk of contracting Coronavirus in Hawaii? 


At this time, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii, making the health risk low. Federal, state and local officials in Hawaii recognize the threat that the virus could cause within the state, however, and are working with federal officials to prevent the spread of the virus here.


Coronavirus in the workplace


Employers and employees in Hawaii are likely concerned about how the Coronavirus could impact them. The Hawaii Employers Council (HEC) has provided some sound guidance on handling concerns about Coronavirus in the workplace. Their first piece of advice is to “…be wary of overreacting and avoid taking rash or drastic measures.” They recommend that any decisions made to protect employee health should also consider effects on employee morale and public relations as well as compliance with labor laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


Can I require medical exams to ensure my employees aren’t carrying the virus?


Mandatory medical exams are only allowed in certain circumstances and the ADA prohibits employers from making disability-related inquiries and mandating medical exams unless they are job-related and in line with business needs. The employer must have objective evidence that gives them a reason to believe that an employee is not able to perform essential job functions because of a medical condition or that an employee is posing a “direct threat” because of a medical condition. Whether or not the coronavirus rises to the level of a “direct threat” depends on the latest information from the CDC and state or local public health officials.  An employer can, however, send an employee home for the day who is showing signs of illness.


How should employers protect themselves and their employees from Coronavirus?


The following recommendations are from the HEC:

  • Send information to your employees about your sick leave and PTO policies and remind them to practice good hygiene including coughing into their elbow and washing their hands with soap regularly.
  • Ensure that computer keyboards and desktops are disinfected regularly.
  • Consider other options for business travel to China – the epicenter of the outbreak - such as video-conferencing.
  • If you have employees on business in China, it may be reasonable to ask them to work remotely for 14 days to ensure that they do not develop symptoms before returning to the workplace.
  • Whatever policies are implemented, ensure that you avoid discrimination and harassment lawsuits by carrying them out consistently. Be extra aware to avoid enforcement in a way that could be perceived as discriminating against persons because of disabilities and/or a person’s race, sex, nationality or sexual orientation, etc.


Why partnering with a PEO can help reduce issues with Coronavirus in the workplace


Don’t leave your employees without health care coverage while a public health emergency is unfolding! A PEO provides small businesses with affordable options for health insurance plans that they wouldn’t normally be able to access. When small business owners partner with Makai HR they also gain peace of mind that they are complying with all of Hawaii’s labor laws, which is especially important when decisions are being made about how to handle a health crisis.


With the reality that business owners are having to decide whether to have employees work remotely, we can help keep your office running smoothly because we offer a 100% paperless, cloud based solution.  

  • Our cloud based platform means that your employees can manage their HR needs through a computer, tablet or phone. 
  • Our cloud based HRIS platform means that your HR team can manage HR remotely if they are sick or everyone is working remotely.


Pro tip: this is a good time to encourage all employees to update to Direct Deposit to reduce in person bank transactions and continue timely payroll payments. Do not delay. Contact us today to get started!