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USA: Jackson Lewis Reports on Coronavirus Concerns in the Workplace

Jackson Lewis has just published a special report on the labour and employment law implications facing employers worldwide, in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. A summary of the report is provided below.

  • To read and download the complete report click here.

We would like to thank the following Jackson Lewis P.C. attorneys for contributing to this report: Francis P. AlvarezTressi L. CordaroJoseph J. LazzarottiPatricia Anderson PryorKatharine C. Weber and Tara K. Burke.

News of an outbreak of a new coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China raises issues for employers and employees about the appropriate workplace responses. Reported cases are expanding quickly to other countries, including the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains a list of locations with confirmed cases throughout the world. Both the CDC and the State Department have issued travel advisories, and the CDC asks everyone who traveled to Wuhan in the last 14 days and experiences symptoms to seek medical care immediately. The CDC recently expanded this request to all travelers returning to the U.S. from anywhere in China. The CDC provides this advice for returning travelers:

  • First, watch for any changes in your health for 14 days after leaving China. If you get a fever or develop a cough or difficulty breathing during this 14-day period, avoid contact with others. Call your doctor or healthcare provider to tell them about your symptoms and your recent travel. They will provide further instruction about steps to take before your medical visit to help to reduce the risk that you will spread your illness to other people in the office or waiting room, if that is what has made you sick. Don’t travel while you are sick.

Many employers are seeking guidance on how best to respond to workplace concerns, especially those with employees engaged in international travel, as well as employers in the healthcare, airline, and border protection industries.


According to the CDC, the new coronavirus, named 2019-nCoV, is a respiratory illness and is related to, but not the same as, MERS and SARS, both coronaviruses. The CDC reports that some infected persons have shown no symptoms, but others have become severely ill and deaths have been reported. It is not yet clear how easily 2019-n-CoV spreads from person to person. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports, “Based on how other similar viruses spread, infected people may be able to spread the 2019-nCoV through their respiratory secretions, especially when they cough or sneeze. Previous outbreaks of coronavirus have been associated with spread from ill people to others through close contact, such as caring for or living with an infected person.”

China authorities have reported spread of the virus from infected patients to healthcare workers. They also have reported that the virus may be transmitted before an individual shows symptoms. However, CDC officials advised in a briefing on 27 January that they have “no clear evidence” that people can transmit the virus before the onset of symptoms.

Travel Advisories

On 27 January, the Department of State issued a Level 3 Travel Advisory for all of China, recommending that individuals “reconsider travel.” It also issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory advising against travel to Hubei Province.

The CDC has issued Warning Level 3 Alert advising against all nonessential travel to China. The Chinese authorities have suspended travel in the area around Wuhan and imposed strict travel restrictions.

Employers should monitor closely these advisories and provide employees guidance if the advisories cover locations where employers have operations or locations where employees may travel.

Employment and Labour Law Considerations

Along with workplace safety and health issues, employers must consider other significant employment and labour law issues that will be raised by concerns about 2019-nCoV.

Most employment laws were not written with an outbreak of a deadly virus in mind. Perhaps because of this, in dealing with these issues, employers may find there is no effective “risk-free” approach. Rather, employers may need to evaluate all options and adopt a “risk-management” mindset, choosing the business and legal strategy with which it is most comfortable.

Employers Should Prepare to Respond

Experiences with other outbreak suggest that employers should adopt protocols to: 1) guide their responses to individuals who are seeking to return to work after traveling to and from affected regions; 2) manage the risks faced by employees traveling internationally; 3) respond to employees who express concerns related to their own business or personal travel; and 4) respond to employees who express concerns working with employees, customers, or others who have returned from overseas travel or are otherwise suspected of being infected with the 2019-nCoV virus.

Some employee concerns will be reasonably based and consistent with guidance from the World Health Organization, CDC, and OSHA; other concerns may be driven by unfounded fear or speculation.

This is an emerging and rapidly evolving situation and employers should continue to monitor the information and recommendations from the CDC, OSHA, the State Department, along with information from other federal, state, and local government agencies involved in the response.

Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to assist you with these and other workplace issues. For more information, visit