March 10, 2020

Where We Are

As more states report cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19), you should know about your legal rights and the risks associated with coronavirus

Microsoft, SAP, JPMorgan Chase, and hundreds of other employers have imposed restrictions on travel, domestic as well as international. Countless supply contracts are being disrupted by factory shutdowns in the areas most affected by COVID-19. Facebook, Stanford University, SXSW, and Google have canceled long-planned business conferences and events.

Two people have already died in Florida out of at least a dozen Florida residents that state health officials say have tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus that is now quickly spreading across the United States and other parts of the world.  

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke at a press conference at Port Everglades on Saturday where Vice President Mike Pence as well as Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio addressed the spread of the virus and the danger to the state’s elderly population.  “This is a virus that has a disproportionate impact on that community,” DeSantis said.

Legal Matters Involving Coronavirus 

Whether you are a big or small office, and whether you have offices overseas or not, every employer (and employee) should have a disaster plan in place for the coronavirus and other types of health crises as well as natural disasters. Companies should consider how to protect their employees and their productivity without running afoul of employment laws.

As an employer, the most important message to communicate is that employees should stay home from work when they are sick and telecommute if necessary.  With the global spread of coronavirus, companies should focus first and foremost on employee safety. Business continuity plus the well-being of your employees and clients is of the utmost importance. 

Employers can require that an infected or at-risk employee stay home from work if the employer has a reasonable objective belief that the employee poses a direct threat to the workforce.  An employee’s race, color, sex, national origin, or perceived or actual disability cannot be taken into account when assessing risk.

Employers cannot require employees to undergo medical exams and should avoid making unnecessary inquiries into an employee’s medical status.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), along with equivalent state and local laws, restrict an employer’s ability to ask questions about an employee’s medical condition. 

The Family Medical Leave Act provides job-protected unpaid leave for employees and their family members who are suffering from a “serious health condition.” If an employee or his/her immediate family member contracts the coronavirus, the FMLA could be triggered. 

Will insurance cover COVID-19 losses? Losses related to coronavirus could be covered under insurance depending on the type of loss, the type of coverage, and the terms and conditions of specific policies.  Policyholders should review their insurance coverage provisions.

Business interruption insurance could provide coverage for income and other losses.

The scope of coverage for coronavirus and other infectious disease-related losses will ultimately depend upon the specific language of each insurance policy. Remember, too, not every contract and governing law provides for a force majeure defense based on unforeseeable events outside the parties’ control. 

Next Steps

The main challenges in the next few weeks are to become informed on legal options, develop a risk management strategy, keep up with health guidelines, and exercise a certain degree of common sense. It is important that you consult with counsel regarding your legal rights in light of the coronavirus.

Corless Barfield Trial Group advises clients on numerous legal issues relating to the coronavirus and its effects, such as force majeure clauses in contracts, employment law matters, insurance law, negotiating commercial agreements in light of world events, and risk mitigation, among other issues.  For a free, no-obligation consultation, call Corless Barfield at 813-258-4998.