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  • Writer's pictureJennie Tannenbaum

Colds, Flus and Viruses Oh My

Phoebe was wrapped cozily in the blue throw and nodding off to the latest digitized full color version of the Wizard of Oz. She called in sick to work because she had a fever and was feeling fatigue, aches, and overall general malaise. Colds, flus and viruses oh my was the chant she was hearing in her dream. She couldn’t be sure if she was merely still dreaming when she was jarred awake by the Mumford & Sons ringtone of her phone. Her supervisor, Jake, was on the phone asking why she didn’t show up for work.

           

Phoebe told Jake that she had called in yesterday evening alerting him that she was using a day of her earned sick time, because she was not feeling well and was uncertain if she was coming down with the flu or the coronavirus, since it was possible that she had been exposed to someone with the virus. Jake replied that she should stay home for at least 14 days, if she thought that she had been exposed to the later, since this was the amount of time experts had advised employees to stay away from the workplace. He also instructed her to get a fitness for duty/return to work notice from her doctor before returning to work.

           

The Massachusetts Earned Sick Time law allows employees to earn up to 40 hours of sick leave per year for certain personal and family needs. All employers must provide for earned sick time. Whether the earned sick time is paid or unpaid is determined by the number of employees. Employers with less than 11 employees do not need to provide for paid sick time while employers with 11 or more employees must provide for paid sick time. How much sick time an employee is entitled to is dependent on the number of hours worked. For every 30 hours worked a minimum of an hour of sick time is earned.

Employers like Jake have legal obligations to comply with when employees like Phoebe get sick. If, in fact, Phoebe has the COVID-19 virus and exposed other employees she works with to it, Jake would have to take immediate action. If Jake decided that certain employees like the ones who work in Phoebe’s department should be excluded from the workplace until the incubation and transmission period has passed, he could not discriminate on the basis of race, national origin, or disability instead he must send all the employees in Phoebe’s department home not just select ones.


For those employees who are sent home from Phoebe’s department they should quarantine in place at home for 14 days and obtain a fitness for duty/return to work notice from their doctor before returning to work. Also, for these employees leave must be provided consistent with the company’s normal leave of absence policies, such as, that of the Earned Sick Time law as explained above or the Family Medical Leave Act (to be discussed in another article if you can’t wait for that article, feel free to contact me for discussion).


It’s possible that other employees may show up feeling sick with a fever, cough or difficult breathing, if this occurs, Jake should encourage them to use their leave of absence and to seek medical treatment. These employees should get a fitness for duty/return to work notice from their doctor before returning to work. If an employee refuses to use their leave and if a doctor finds that the employee has contracted the virus, Jake should have the employee work remotely at home if the former.


Businesses should review their health and safety policies as well as emergency action plans/policies in their company handbooks to ensure that these policies and plans include infectious disease protocols and comply with Occupational Safety and Health Act.


If you would like assistance in drafting and/or advice about health, safety or emergency policies in the company handbook contact Simply Good Law, LLC for a consult. 


This article is for information purposes only and is not meant to be construed as legal advice. For more information or discussion contact me at jennie@simplygoodlaw.com or at 978-681-0017.

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