As Phase 1 of Florida’s reopening plan is now underway, employers are beginning to transition their operations back from telework back to the office space. As an employer, you must do everything in your power to stop the spread of COVID-19. Some employees with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of severe illness if infected with COVID-19.
In this editorial, a South FL contractor lawyer offers advice to employers on how to manage employees with pre-existing conditions during a pandemic. Remember, for any of your employment legal needs, including drafting employment agreements, consult the Hillsborough County construction lawyers at Cotney Construction Law.
Individuals At High-Risk of Serious Illness
As we continue to learn more about the disease, public health organizations like the CDC are consistently updating their website to provide the public with the latest information to help prevent exposure of the virus. One consistent piece of information we have known for several months is that individuals with pre-existing conditions are at a higher risk for severe illness.
Based on the information that has been collected by the CDC, we know that certain individuals are at high-risk of severe illness, including individuals:
- 65 years of age or older
- Suffer from chronic inflammatory lung disease
- Experience moderate to severe asthma
- Have a serious heart condition
- Are obese
- Have diabetes
- Have a chronic kidney or liver disease
- Are immunocompromised
- People undergoing cancer treatment
- Habitual smokers
- People that have undergone bone marrow or organ transplants
- People with immune deficiencies
- People with HIV or AIDS
What Makes These Individuals High-Risk?
There are a variety of reasons why these individuals are more at risk of a serious illness. According to Verywell Health, adults ages 65 and older are at a higher risk of serious illness or death if infected with COVID-19 because:
Weakened Immune System: As you get older, your immune system grows weaker, making it more challenging to fight off an infectious disease.
Inflammation During Infection: The majority of older individuals have some form of impairment of their immune system. When fighting an uncommon infection like COVID-19, the immune system can over respond, resulting in inflammation. Significant levels of inflammation can impact multiple organ systems.
Multiple Health Problems: It’s common for older individuals to have multiple health concerns. For example, a severe respiratory infection can impact a pre-existing heart, lung, or liver condition.
Reduced Lung Function: With time, the elasticity of the lungs decreases, and older individuals infected with COVID-19 may struggle to breath without ventilation. As a respiratory disease, many individuals experience pneumonia-like symptoms and struggle to sustain breathing.
As reported by the CDC, adults 65 and older that are infected with COVID-19 have a much greater chance of suffering a serious illness or death from the respiratory disease, including:
- Eight out of every 10 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 have been to individuals 65 and older.
- For individuals that are between 65 and 84 years of age, there is between a 31 percent and 59 percent chance they will need hospization if they are infected with COVID-19.
- Of those individuals that need hospitalization, four to 11 percent will not survive the effects of COVID-19.
- For adults that are 85 or older, 70 percent will require hospitalization and up to 27 percent will die from the disease.
Until public health groups and scientists can learn more about the new virus, older adults and individuals with pre-existing conditions need to take extra precautions to ensure their safety. Employers need to be mindful of which employees have pre-existing conditions and do everything possible to prevent exposure in their workplace.
Preventing Exposure to At-Risk Employees
With the assistance of our South FL contractor lawyers, employers can implement the following strategies to help protect individuals with pre-existing conditions from exposure:
The best prevention tactic for individuals with an underlying medical condition is to stay home as much as possible. In fact, the CDC is encouraging these individuals to consider ways to get food, medicines, and essentials delivered to their home. If the employee can perform the essential functions of their position remotely, consider having the employee continue to telework.
Cleaning and Hygiene Initiatives
Employers need to continue to promote personal hygiene initiatives, such as regularly washing their hands. Provide hand sanitizer at different locations throughout the workplace. Encourage employees not to shake hands and thoroughly disinfect surfaces throughout the day.
Maintaining Social Distancing Requirements
All employees should avoid close contact with their co-workers. Employers should limit the size of any in-person meetings or work gatherings to only a few people at a time. When possible, conduct meetings on a video conferencing system like Zoom.
Providing Travel Restrictions
For any employees with a pre-existing condition that are required to travel for work, it’s best to prohibit traveling for the time being. In general, employees with pre-existing conditions should avoid all non-essential means of travel, so encourage your employees with underlying medical conditions to remain home for their safety.
Bolstering Company Policy
Employers should continue to monitor the news in their community and adjust company policies accordingly to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Many businesses have extended their hours of operation and rotated employee shifts to limit the number of employees present at one time. Whether it’s providing more flexible schedules, extending sick leave policies, or providing telework when possible, these adjustments can help protect employees that are at higher risk of infection. Consult a Hillsborough County construction lawyer to update your employee handbook.
COVID-19 Enters Uncharted Territory
Despite entering into uncharted territory, there are some things we know for certain. We know that employees that experience a COVID-19-related issue are entitled to at least two weeks of paid time off through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Furthermore, we know that workers’ compensation claims are expected to increase in the coming months, so it’s important to continue to focus on training your workforce to prevent injuries from occurring. We also know that there could be an increase in lawsuits related to COVID-19, including exposure cases and discrimination claims.
It’s critical that employers protect themselves against liability today, so there isn’t an issue tomorrow. Employers must show that they took reasonable care in providing a safe work environment for their workforce by following the most recent public health guidelines, complying with social distancing requirements, and reducing the risk of COVID-19 in their workplace. They must also show that they treated their employees fairly and consistently regardless of their age, race, gender, or national origin. If lawsuits do commence, employers will need to show that they implemented processes to mitigate the spread of the virus and that they did everything in their power to protect their employees, clients, and bystanders.
For legal assistance with any COVID-19-related matter, consult the Central FL contractor lawyers at Cotney Construction Law.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.