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HREM Bulletin on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

We have been closely monitoring the rapidly changing situation related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 – known throughout the world as COVID-19. As a brief background, on January 31, 2020, the U.S. Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency (PHE) for the United States. On March 3, 2020, North Carolina identified its first positive test for COVID-19 in the state. On March 10, 2020, Governor Cooper issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in North Carolina. Notably, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 is the first pandemic known to be caused by the emergence of a new coronavirus.

On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency. Also on March 13, 2020, North Carolina Chief Justice Cheri Beasley directed that local courts postpone most cases in district and superior court for at least 30 days, and that any person who has likely been exposed to COVID-19 cannot enter North Carolina courthouses. Recognizing the increasing numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina and the emergency declaration by President Trump, on March 14, 2020, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper prohibited mass gatherings of 100 or more people and closed public schools for students throughout North Carolina’s 100 counties from March 16 to March 30, 2020.

As these events have rapidly unfolded, employers face a number of decisions with regards to their workforce and COVID-19. Based on guidance for pandemics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the CDC, the ramification of WHO’s designation of COVID-19 as a pandemic is significant for employers and their obligations towards their employees. As the pressure to act in response to COVID-19 increases, employers should keep in mind a number of legal liabilities and considerations when making decisions related to:

  • Sending employees home
  • Excluding employees from work
  • Requiring employees to report to work
  • Requiring employees to work from home
  • Medical exams or inquiries of employees
  • Confidentiality of employee medical information and records
  • Returning employees to work
  • Employee attendance
  • Employee use of vacation, sick, and other forms of leave
  • Employee wages and hours
  • Employee leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act
  • Reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Workplace safety
  • Workers’ compensation

COVID-19 has provoked a number of difficult and unprecedented legal challenges for employers and their workforce. Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland L.L.P. and our labor and employment team is ready to evaluate your situation, advise and assist you in protecting your business and workforce during this unique and challenging time. Given the evolving nature of the situation, we encourage you to contact a member of our team with questions about a specific situation.  Our offices are continuing to remain open on our usual schedule, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.