Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

Your Business Could Be Liable if Your Employees Test Positive for Coronavirus

Employers can be held liable for workers’ compensation (WC) claims associated with coronavirus. Learn how to curb the risk.


Source: Jarun Ontakrai / Shutterstock

Now that coronavirus has spread to U.S. residents without known exposure to the disease, employers across the country are on high alert—and rightfully so.

For U.S. employers, the issue isn’t if coronavirus will become a business issue but rather how to prevent it from becoming one.

Businesses must know that if an employee tests positive for coronavirus or causes it to spread in the office, they must file a WC claim.

Consider the following scenarios in which an employer would file a WC claim due to coronavirus:

  1. An employee is working overseas and contracts the coronavirus.
  2. An employee contracts the coronavirus and infects others at the office.

WC policies will typically cover lost time, permanent disability, medical expenses, and possibly a death benefit in these scenarios.

What if an employee unknowingly infects his or her spouse and children? Again, this is a covered peril—in this case, under the Employers Liability, or Coverage B of WC coverage. When more than one employee or individual is involved, the WC claim will likely be considered a catastrophic loss or an exposure claim, kicking in full policy limits.

What HR Professionals Need to Know

Coronavirus has, to date, infected more than 100,000 people around the world—and counting. While it’s mostly in mainland China, this number includes a rising number of cases in the United States.

While the United States has efficient and effective disease prevention, there is currently no cure or vaccination available for coronavirus and, therefore, no way to prevent your employees from contracting it. Make sure your business is prepared with the following best practices:

  1. Put a temporary stop to overseas travel. Most businesses have already done this, but make sure this is an official policy made and communicated across the business. Consider foreign travel—both your own domestic employees and those coming from other countries to work in your office—only when absolutely necessary for now.
  2. Take every precaution. Employees arriving home from overseas work who may have been exposed to the virus should be sent straight to a doctor to be tested, even before returning home or to the office. Require clearance for any exposed employees—even those exposed domestically—before returning to the office. Require employees waiting on coronavirus test results to remain at home until a negative result is official. Let the entire staff know they have been tested and that the result was negative.
  3. Stress regular hygiene. Employees need constant reminders. Hang signs around the office, especially in food service and common areas, reminding them to wash their hands frequently and cover their faces while sneezing and coughing. Urge employees who aren’t feeling well to stay home and seek immediate medical attention. If necessary, modify company policy to allow employees to work from home, and remove consequences for doing so.
  4. Create an emergency preparedness plan. If your business doesn’t already have one, now is the time to create a business continuity, an emergency preparedness, and even a pandemic reaction plan. First, identify a working group of employees from across your organization to author the plan. Consider business interruption issues specific to your industry, business, and location, and establish procedures that can be enacted on a moment’s notice.

Now is the time to consider the rise of the coronavirus outbreak an HR issue in your organization—ahead of any employees contracting the disease. Taking the right steps today will help minimize a potential outbreak within your organization and, most importantly, keep your employees and their families safe.

Thomas Steinbrenner is a Senior Vice President at Hub International. He has held insurance company management positions in claims, underwriting, and sales.

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