All industries have been uniquely impacted by COVID-19 and its dramatic change to our everyday. Access to paid sick leave, the ability to work remotely and industry-wide shutdowns have affected different sectors of the workforce.
According to MarketWatch, consumer-reliant industries will be the first to feel the hit of the new coronavirus strain. This classification includes entertainment, food service, and travel industries, among others. From CEO to hourly employee, this impact will be felt. An example of how this impacts all levels of an industry is the suspension of National Basketball League, Major League Baseball, and National Hockey League events. While it is most visible that championship events have been cancelled and we’ll be missing our favorite athletes, the sports industry goes deeper than the game itself. The hourly stadium, food and other support staff have had their source of income squashed. In other industries where hourly staff dominate, many don’t have access to paid sick leave. According to an article published by the Wall Street Journal, “more than 33 million U.S. workers didn’t have access to paid sick leave in 2019, with several being food service or cleaning staff.” This forces the employee to decide between receiving a paycheck and possibly spreading or contracting an illness. A report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates those who went to work while sick with H1N1 in 2009 infected as many as 7 million coworkers. With the thought in mind that history tends to repeat itself, employers, law makers, and the Trump Administration are considering how current policies on sick leave may need to change to accommodate COVID-19 and future economic impediments of this nature.
With the rapid spread and vast uncertainty of this strain of coronavirus, employers are reassessing their sick leave policies. Of course, employment law on these considerations vary from state to state or by federal law. Some industries have the ability to work outside the workplace; this opens up options to self-quarantine without taking time off work. The technicalities of working remotely are being addressed by employers and employees alike. An employer may not have to allow an employee to work remotely, unless they have a disability requiring them to do so or it is considered an imminent danger to come into the office. On the other hand, employees may have to work remotely if told to do so. However, the way in which an employer advises this may be restricted. An employer may tell anyone who has traveled to a Level 3 Risk country to work remotely. However, an employer may not be able to tell anyone over the age of 65 to work remotely, as age is a protected class under federal law. As COVID-19 continues to spread, the communication of cases in the office begs to be addressed as well. Is an employer required to let staff know if an employee has been affected, without disclosing the name of the employee infected? In fact, this could violate confidentiality requirements under the ADA. If you have been or suspect you are infected, do you legally have to inform your employer you have COVID-19? However, you would think it is ethically responsible to inform anyone you come in contact with.
No matter your job title or industry, the effect of the new coronavirus strain will economically impact everyone. Unfortunately, the impact will be negative for a vast majority. Job loss, foreclosure, bankruptcies, and other unfortunate events will increase substantially. Furthermore, and not to anyone’s surprise, the above mentioned issues leave more questions than answers at the table. Overnight, the employee-employer landscape is changing drastically. Like the other issues that have arisen regarding COVID-19, time will sort out the matters to some assemblance of order.
Amid the constant change, it remains constant to prioritize your health and the health of those around you.