COVID-19 RELATED FAQ
Questions about the COVID-19 Virus Back to top
Q: What is COVID-19?
A:COVID-19 is the abbreviation for the specific strain of the novel (new) coronavirus disease 2019 (previously referred to as 2019 N-Cov), which is causing a spread of respiratory illness. It originated in Wuhan, China. For current updates on the spread of the virus, monitor the CDC website.
Q: How Does COVID-19 Spread?
A:It is believed the virus spreads by:
- Close contact to someone who has been coughing/sneezing
- Touching contaminated surfaces
Q: What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?
A:Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure and range from mild to severe. These include:
- Fever (Body temperature above 100.4 F)
- Shortness of Breath
Q: What Are Some Recommended Prevention Methods?
A:Prevention methods include:
- Avoid Close Contact with Others
- Keep a distance of about six feet away
- Consider forgoing handshakes
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth
- Avoid touching common surfaces (i.e. door handles) with bare hands
- Stay home when you're sick – call your supervisor to advise you are not reporting
- Cover your cough and/or sneeze
- Use a tissue or your elbow (Don't sneeze into your hands!)
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects/surfaces with sanitizing wipes and sanitizing spray
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- As recommended by the CDC:
- Wet hands with clean running water (warm or cold)
- Lather hands with soap (including back of hands, between fingers, under nails)
- Scrub for at least 20 seconds (sing ″Happy Birthday″ song twice)
- Rinse your hands under clean running water
- Dry with a clean towel or air dry them
Q: The CDC announced the growing likelihood of COVID-19 in the U.S. How should we prepare in the workplace?
A:It is important to note that there is no need to panic at this time, but it is prudent to be vigilant and proactive. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is a part of the CDC, has a website dedicated to guidance for businesses and employers. Acro will monitor that website for updates. As of this communication, it is recommended everyone consider the following:
- Observe hand washing reminders in restrooms.
- Wash hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% to 95% alcohol
- Use surface disinfectant to curtail the spread.
- Consider adopting a temporary ″no handshake″ policy
- Adopt social distance in meetings (standing three feet from others).
- If you develop symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath, stay home, and call ahead to alert a medical provider if symptoms worsen.
- Remain vigilant and mindful, stock their homes with needed nonperishable food and supplies.
Q: What is the potential impact COVID-19 has on existing work conferences and employee travel plans?
A:If there is an evidence of a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., employers should consider cancelling large work-related meetings or events. Due to the outbreak in other countries, travel restrictions may limit the ability of employees to return home. Employers should closely monitor travel recommendations from the CDC and consider canceling nonessential business travel to additional countries.
Q: If an employee or their family member is suspected of having COVID-19, do we inform our employees? If not, what do we do?
A:A person's health condition is confidential and should not be shared with employees. Managers should be trained to emphasize to employees how to stay healthy (hand washing, covering a cough) and to stay home if they develop symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath. These practices are similar to how the flu would be handled in the workplace. Employees should be encouraged to work remotely if symptoms are present.
Q: What if public health officials order an employee to take specific action?
A:It is important to note that public health orders ″are legally enforceable directives issued under the authority of a relevant federal, state or local entity that, when applied to a person or group, may place restrictions on the activities undertaken by that person or group.″ The CDC provides definitions of specific public health orders and what these mean to a group or individual here. If you have an employee who has been ordered by public health officials to take specific action, you must support the employee in complying with this action. If working remotely is an option for the employee, then allow the employee to do so. Otherwise, follow the NIOSH guidance on leave policy. Since this could be a stressful and frightening time for the employee, provide them with information on supportive resources, such as an Employee Assistance Program.
Q: Is there a vaccine or medication for COVID-19?
A:At this time there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 and no medication approved to treat the virus. The global health community is working diligently to develop a vaccine and anti-viral treatment. A vaccine requires testing and will likely not be available for about 18 months. The rate at which the scientific community has been able to respond is unprecedented. For now, people diagnosed with COVID-19 are being treated with supportive care similar to care for pneumonia or flu.
Q: Are Tamiflu or other anti-viral medications an effective defense against COVID-19?
No. Currently there is no specific drug nor vaccine for COVID-19.
Q: Where can I obtain additional and updated information?
Links for more information include:
- Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): www.cdc.gov
- World Health Organization (WHO): www.who.int
Acro′s Preparedness and Business Continuity Back to top
Q: How is Acro preparing?
A:As news about the Coronavirus continues to unfold, rest assured that Acro′s Readiness Taskforce is closely monitoring the situation. As always, we are following all standard safety protocols and best practices. We will continue to make changes and improvements as necessary and issue updated communications as developments warrant. To date we have taken the following actions:
- Developed a Readiness Taskforce that meets weekly on such issues as business continuity, travel restrictions, developing required communications (internal and external), etc.
- Developed FAQ which is posted on Acro′s on Website
- Posted notices in general office areas with recommended prevention measures
- Made extra hand sanitizer, disinfectants available in general office areas and established and documented a routine daily disinfecting schedule (3-4 times per day) for all common areas/surfaces in common areas of Acro′s corporate office.
- Instructed branch offices to establish a routine daily disinfecting schedule (3-4 times per day) for all common areas/surfaces in common areas of office.
- Acro has a medical travel assistance program in place in the event an associate is traveling for business and falls ill and needs medical transport home.
- Acro is developing a communication plan to communicate with all associates and candidates regarding:
- Awareness of affected areas and CDC issued travel advisories
- Symptoms of COVID-19
- Actions to take if feeling ill
- Reviewing CDC recommended preventative measures
Q: Does Acro have a written pandemic plan?
A:Acro does have a written disaster plan for business continuity. As a result of this new situation, Acro′s Readiness Taskforce will be developing an addendum to the Disaster Plan with actions to be taken in case of a pandemic.
Q: Has Acro or its suppliers been affected thus far by the virus?
A:To the best of our knowledge as of the date of this inquiry, March 5, 2020 (the date of the response to this inquiry) neither Acro nor any of its suppliers has been affected by the virus. This response may be updated in the event there is a change to this status.
Q: Does Acro have a written communication plan in place to notify clients if one of their employees is confirmed to have contracted the virus? Is this the same for the suppliers, to notify Acro?
A:Acro will follow all required governmental reporting requirements and will notify clients where affected employees may be on assignment. Further, Acro will report to public health authorities. Impacted employees will be required to quarantine as directed by public health authorities. Acro will be aware of the HIPAA protections that may apply in such situations. Therefore, Acro will notify a client if an employee who is directly involved in administering or servicing the account becomes affected by the virus without revealing any personally identifiable health information or other specific information as may be protected by HIPAA and/or as may be required for compliance with governmental directives and regulations regarding direct threats to public health. Conversely, Acro would anticipate that its clients and suppliers would notify Acro in the event of exposure or quarantine of a worker at client′s facility.
Q: Understanding that in some cases Acro relies on suppliers; are there any critical suppliers which if they are unable to support Acro′s clients, will cause an impact to Acro′s clients?
A:Without ability to predict the full scope of community spread, as of the time of this response Acro is confident the supplier pool is strong enough to support continuity in business for all client accounts. Please note however, given the rapidly evolving situation, this is subject to change as the situation develops and to that Acro can comply with all government mandates regarding possible quarantines.
Onboarding Requirements Back to top
Below are insights to changing requirements or concerns for new workers that are impacting business continuity plans.
Q: What impact is COVID-19 having on employment drug testing?
A: Some companies with surging demand for talent will allow workers to start before the results of drug screens are received. There are some drug testing facilities across the country that have been turned into COVID-19 testing facilities. This has caused a greater surge on resources that are leading to longer processing times. Further concerns about the contagious nature of COVID-19 has made some drug testing facilities a concern for individuals who are being tested. For health care workers required to meet the heightened needs, some states, such as Illinois, are hiring on former workers who have previously passed background checks in the last five years for a limited time while they wait to run and receive the results from renewed background checks.
Q:What impact is COVID-19 having on employment background screen?
A: Many federal, state and local municipalities have temporarily closed or reduced access to courthouses and other law enforcement databases that are required to conduct criminal background checks. This will make receiving the results of criminal background checks much slower and will extend beyond current turnaround periods.
Q: How do I complete Form I-9 for new hires in a remote-only environment?
A:On March 20, 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that due to precautions being implemented by employers and employees related to physical proximity associated with COVID-19, changes are temporarily made regarding this requirement. As such, DHS will defer the physical presence requirements associated with Employment Eligibility Verification (Form I-9) under Section 274A of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). These changes allow employers greater flexibility, to using alternative ways to review documents remotely, via webcam, fax, or email, followed by a later review of original documents.
Q: If new workers are onboarded using remote verification, what happens once normal operations resume?
A:For all temporary associates onboarded using remote verification, they must report to their agency employer within three business days for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Employment Eligibility Verification I-9Form.After physically inspecting the documents, the employer should add ″documents physically examined″ with the date of inspection to the Section 2 additional information field on the Form I-9, or to section 3 as appropriate. All audit of remote verification of I-9 Forms should use the ″in-person completed date″ as a starting point for these employees only.
Q: So what if an employer isn′t operating remotely?
A: If temporary associates are still physically present at the work location, DHS is making to changes or exceptions at this time for in-person verification of identity and employment eligibility documentation for Employment Eligibility Verification I-9 Form. Yet, if newly hired employees or existing employees are subject to COVID-19 quarantine or lockdown requirements, DHS will evaluate this on a case-by-case basis.
Layoffs and Furloughs FAQs – US Only Back to top
Many companies are re-evaluating their financial positions and their current and short-term needs for contingent labor. These FAQs address some of their options to move forward.
Companies face unexpected economic headwinds due to the financial impacts of COVID-19 measures being voluntarily taken and/or imposed throughout the United States. As such, companies are increasingly considering an array of solutions in an effort to keep their employees working as best they can. As always, layoffs and traditional furloughs are only two of those choices. Naturally, those difficult financial decisions will also impact how companies move forward with their contingent workforce.
Q: Are layoffs and furloughs the same?
A:No, they are not. Here are some basic definitions:
- Layoffs:The ″layoff″ of a worker is typically a temporary or permanent suspension or termination of a worker′s employment in order to reduce their workforce. This can apply to both full-time and contingent workers. For contingent workers, Acro partners with its clients to craft the messaging to the worker – and with suppliers in MSP programs, about the execution of off-boarding to ensure that all equipment has been collected, passwords are disabled and more. Due to COVID-19, the fast pace nature of changes to federal, state and local EEO laws, notice requirements, and other laws applicable.
- Furloughs: A furlough is different than a layoff as it is an alternative. For example, automotive companies temporarily furlough workers for two weeks per year and reactivates them into the same positions. The expectation is that the person who is furloughed returns to work on a certain date, resumes his or her previous position, and returns to previous schedules or hours. Acro works with its customers closely as the furlough plan must be made in accordance with federal and state laws.
Q: Are there impacts on worker benefits between layoffs and furloughs?
A: Yes. Benefits of workers who have been furloughed. The employer of record must provide all applicable notices about any impacts to the workers′ benefits. In the case of a termination/layoff, a worker could more quickly apply for state unemployment benefits. (For details contact your local unemployment insurance program. Yet, depending on what type of changes are made, there may be impacts to workers′ abilities to qualify for unemployment and/or other financial resources being made available under new legislation (e.g., the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is applicable to impacted US workers employed by private entities with less than 500 employees).
Immigration – US Only Back to top
In the US, workers and companies alike face delays that could ultimately slow a lawfully employed noncitizen′s start date. Read the latest guidance and check out some legal resources.
Q: Is a worker′s immigration status impacted if they are asked to work from home due to COVID-19 containment efforts?
A: Having people working from their homes could impact their immigration status. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has provided guidance, and some related requirements have been loosened, such as the recent decision to temporarily lift requirements for companies to view identity and employment authorization documents in the physical presence of the worker.
Q: Should I expect paperwork processing delays?
A: While DHS′ US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) staff will provide emergency services for limited situations, companies and workers will likely experience delays in visa decisions and immigration interviews, which ultimately slows a lawfully employed noncitizen′s start date. Applicants and petitioners with scheduled interviews will be contacted by USCIS to reschedule. Monitor the USCIS Office Closure page, and review some known temporary suspensions:
- Routine, in-person services until at least April 1, 2020
- All biometrics appointments
- Premium processing for all Form I-129 and 1-40 petitions until further notice, including new premium processing requests for all H-1B petitions
- Any new requests for premium processing Visit the Check Case Processing Times page and the H-1B page on the USCIS website for further updates.
Q: Beyond processing delays, what additional issues are companies that rely on noncitizen, lawfully employed workers facing?
A: Companies that adopt work-from-home policies, close offices, or release workers should do so while also protecting noncitizen workers′ employment eligibility and immigration status. For example, if a person loses their job, their visa may no longer be in effect due to work requirements stipulated in their nonimmigrant visa, yet the person may not be able to fly home due to travel restrictions. Work with your legal counsel and maintain compliance with the US Department of Labor and USCIS. Additional resources include Seyfarth Shaw′s Essential COVID-19 Immigration Planning for US Employers webpage and Ford Harrison′s Coronavirus Taskforce-Immigration webpage, among others.
Work Remote Arrangements Back to top
As more people begin to work remotely, it brings up several questions around how to best enable this shift.
Q: How will the time for WFH contract workers be captured?
A:Customers should continue to use their Vendor Management System (or other designated time-keeping system) for web-based time and expense entry, as normal. To ensure timely pay, contractors should continue to submit their hours worked for approval by their regular deadlines. If the workers have direct deposit or cash pay, this approach to pay will continue for the contract workers as normal. For those programs without an online or web-based Time & Expense tool, please consult directly with your program office.
Q: What types of expenses would a customer have to pay for in a WFH scenario?
A: Several states (e.g., California, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the District of Columbia) have laws that provide that an employer must reimburse expenses incurred by employees for tools, equipment, and the like that are ″necessary″ to the performance of their job duties. Under the current situation, Acro anticipates that, at a minimum, a customer will need to reimburse contract workers for their internet usage. If other materials will need to be reimbursed (i.e., paper, toner, etc.), we can have conversations about these items with the suppliers. We also know that some companies have offered a flat amount to cover these expenses (i.e., Workday).
Q: What types of office expenses may a customer expect to pay for in a work from home scenario?
A:Several states like California, Illinois, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the District of Columbia have laws requiring an employer to reimburse expenses incurred by employees for tools, equipment, and the like that are ″necessary″ to the performance of their job duties. Under the current situation, a customer will likely need to reimburse contract workers for their internet usage. If other materials will need to be reimbursed (i.e., paper, toner, etc.), we recommend clients and suppliers have conversations about these items in advance.
Workplace Preparedness Back to top
Q: Who is an ″essential″ or ″critical″ worker?
A:With efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 both in communities and work locations across the nation, some states and local governments have mandated the closure of certain non-essential or non-critical businesses, in some cases, on penalty of misdemeanor charges. These Executive Orders identify which industries and types of companies are considered ″critical,″ ″critical infrastructure,″ or ″essential″ in that particular state or jurisdiction. Companies or industries that are deemed to be critical may remain open, and their essential workers are exempt from the movement restrictions imposed by the governmental executive orders on non-essential workers. Essential workers are permitted on a work site, so long as that permission is also in alignment with the business′ decision to remain open.
Where there is no guidance about which industries are considered critical infrastructure, a company may look to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS defines critical infrastructure industries as those in food and pharmaceutical supply, as well as healthcare services, among others. Again, workers in these industries are deemed by DHS to have a ″special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.″
Q: Who determines what defines an essential worker?
A: If the customer is deemed to be a critically important business that falls within the definition of a state′s Executive Order, the customer, in turn, must identify who it deems to be an essential worker for its organization in accordance with the applicable state or local definitions.
Again, where there is limited guidance coming from the issuer of the Executive Order, DHS provides some guidance. But in the end, DHS defers to state and local leaders when it says, ″state, local, tribal, and territorial governments are ultimately in charge of implementing and executing response activities in communities under their jurisdiction, while the Federal Government is in a supporting role.″
Q: Do contingent workers, freelancers, or employees need confirmation of their ″essential worker″ status while traveling to and from and working on site for a contracted employer? If so, who provides such documentation?
A: Yes, any worker deemed essential who needs to work on site at a customer′s location should be provided with the appropriate letter, stating the need to physically be present in the workplace. Such documentation helps to avoid any confusion while traveling to and from work, and addressing questions from security guards or other company staff as part of efforts to keep facilities maintained in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, the US Department of Labor, and other related organizations.
We are seeing many staffing suppliers create such letters for contractors that expressly name the essential workers at their locations. This is a similar effort to what customers are doing for their own employees. Ultimately, each company that falls within the critical infrastructure definition will need to develop its own form of documentation that reflects the Executive Order under which it is operating.
In advance of that, the end customers who are in critical industries should identify a list of their essential suppliers/vendors to whom that document will be provided. In turn, suppliers/vendors to those critically important companies will need to implement a similar process for their workers. Whichever way the lists of essential workers are gathered, suppliers and clients are encouraged to work with their AGS Program Office for support in pulling together names of essential workers, so that customers can account for contract workers who need to be physically present on their sites.
Q: As the number of symptomatic and diagnosed COVID-19 cases increases, can I keep my company open for business?
A: It depends. Companies need to follow all state and local government mandates concerning closures. Several states such as California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, as well as local jurisdictions, have issued state and local mandates, requiring non-critical businesses to close during the pandemic. For example, California has issued guidance concerning which industries fall within its definition of critical infrastructure.
Where your state has not defined ″critical infrastructure,″ the recommendation is that you look to the federal government′s definition, which is determined by the US Department of Homeland Security. Once you have determined whether you can remain open, assess whether non-business-related or non-essential visitors should still be permitted to enter your facility. If your business is open, seek to minimize spread by following the Centers for Disease Control and Protection′s (CDC) Guidance for Businesses and Employers and 15 Days to Slow the Spread documents.
Q: If my business is open and operating in some capacity, may I conduct temperature checks to monitor workers′ health?
A:Yes. Measuring an employee′s body temperature is considered a medical examination temperature check, which is not typically permissible under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, conducting temperature checks is currently permissible in the US following the March 19, 2020 issuance of Pandemic Preparedness Guidelines by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). But with conditions evolving, the federal government′s guidance can change, so be prepared to follow updates from your state and local public health authorities, and the EEOC, as well as ensure compliance with the most current information on health safety from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In addition, companies should establish clear protocols around temperature checks, including what to do if a worker/visitor refuses a temperature check (i.e., sent home without pay, refused entry, or otherwise disciplined). Please consult the various resources referenced above for further information. Visitors who present themselves at your facilities with a fever may be refused entry. Relatedly, it is permissible to post a notice at the designated point of entry, advising those seeking entry of the company′s requirements before access is granted.
Q: Who should conduct temperature checks?
A: It is up to the business to determine whether to hire an outside healthcare vendor to retain a traveling nurse or other healthcare professional to conduct the checks, or to use current employees to manage this process. If employees are conducting temperature checks, they should be given instructions and be trained in the protocols you put in place. For example, permit access via one entry point and use forehead thermometers that do not touch the skin as best practices. Also, be sure to follow social distancing, preventing workers/visitors from standing close together while awaiting testing.
Whoever is conducting temperature checks should also be provided guidance and trained in how to manage and resolve situations that involve fevers, the refusal of temperature checks, maintaining confidentiality, and following the company′s applicable policies. Follow or create best practices that are consistent with CDC guidelines.
Q: What do I do if a worker/visitor has a temperature?
A: It is essential to develop a protocol for the business in consultation with your HR team and your internal and/or external legal counsel. This is inclusive of whether you must or will pay workers while waiting to get their temperatures checked and if they are sent home. The CDC states that employees who become ill with symptoms of COVID-19 should leave the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not interfere with employers following this advice. (See our Sick Workers and Related Pay Issues FAQs for further recommendations.)If you record temperatures, there are regulatory issues under federal and/or state OSHA laws that may be required regarding the storage and destruction of this information. See Littler′s OSHA Recording and Reporting of Cases of COVID-19 for details.
Q: What should a customer do to clean the area where an infected worker was in the building?
The CDC has issued recommendations for U.S. community facilities with suspected/confirmed coronavirus disease. View the CDC′s Environmental Cleaning and Disinfection Recommendations.