Bylined Articles

The Workplace In The Time Of Coronavirus (Part I): Legal Guidelines For Navigating The Upheaval

By Michael Bernick
March 9, 2020
Forbes

Photo of Attorney Michael Bernick

Michael S. Bernick

Photo of Attorney Eve Klein

Eve I. Klein

In the middle of last week, Twitter asked its 5000 employees to work remotely, and soon thereafter LinkedIn, Square and Lyft did the same. Microsoft, SAP, JPMorgan Chase and hundreds of other major employers have imposed sharp restrictions on travel, domestic as well as international. Facebook, Stanford University, and Google have canceled long-planned business conferences and events.

Workplace practices are shifting on a daily basis. So too are employment patterns: Doordash, Instacart, Amazon Prime and other delivery services report increases in demand for workers, while restaurants and entertainment venues are reducing hours and laying off workers. As this is written, United Airlines announces significant reductions to routes, and unpaid leaves of absence and/or reduced schedules for employees.

The other public health emergencies of the recent past—SARS in 2005, The H1N1 flu virus in 2009, and Ebola in 2014—brought only temporary workforce shifts. It’s too soon to say if the coronavirus will bring longer term workforce impacts, and how employers might respond. Employers though now are faced with responding to immediate workforce challenges.

To address these immediate challenges we can bring in Ms. Eve Klein, the head of the 75 attorney Employment Labor Benefits and Immigration (ELBI) Practice Group at Duane Morris LLP. There aren’t many labor and employment issues that Klein hasn’t addressed in the more than 30 years she’s been in practice. She has counseled employers through the previous public health emergencies, as well as other economic disruptions.

Over the past week she and other attorneys in the ELBI Group have received hundreds of inquiries from companies asking about their options and responsibilities in light of the numerous labor and employment laws on the local, state and federal levels (laws governing worker safety, worker privacy, wage and hour requirements, and protections for workers with disabilities to name a few). Coronavirus workplace management today, as might be expected, is the overwhelming employment concern of companies, large and small.

Klein and other EBLI attorneys have drafted a lengthy memo (updated regularly) summarizing the wide range of inquiries, and setting out very general guidelines. Here are five of the topic areas and guideline summaries—indicating the current main concerns, as well as the complexities in balancing business continuity with worker safety and preferences, and the legal edifice.

To read the full text of this article by Duane Morris attorney Michael Bernick, please visit the Forbes website.