March 25, 2020
Scientific and medical authorities have declared that the coronavirus is not a food-borne agent and thus foods as well as dietary supplements are not carriers.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is COVID-19 is transferrable from person to person. And that means employees can spread the disease.
“The FDA, from the perspective that this is not a food-borne illness and transmittable that way, has said that facilities will not have to shut down,” said Miriam Guggenheim, a lawyer in the food, drug and device practice group at the Covington & Burling law firm. “The emphasis is on other employees, not the products you produce.”
Guggenheim still recommends employees at food and supplement facilities redouble their cleaning practices, with a focus on high-touch areas.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have both produced websites that show disinfectants, antiseptics, and other sanitizers that have been approved for use on the coronavirus.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can survive up to four hours on copper, up to three days on plastic and stainless steel, and a day on cardboard.
“The coronavirus can persist on walls and floors for many days or weeks,” said Matt Schlesinger, in the insurance practice group at Covington, on a call produced by the Council for Responsible Nutrition trade group. “That constitutes physical damage.”
Schlesinger said that if companies want to file insurance claims, the appropriate staffers must collect and review all relevant policies to see if the company might be covered.
“The wording of these policies matter,” said Schlesinger. “I wouldn’t take no for an answer. You really need to parse the language to see what coverage you have and what you don’t.
He said it is important for companies to document their losses. If there’s a presence of the virus in a facility, note it, document it, as well as documenting the expenses a company is incurring.
“You don’t need to know all of your losses,” he said, “but to the extent you think you’re covered it’s good to let insurer know, and you can supplement it later.”
Cleaning and disinfecting is important, especially for visiting third parties.
“Check to determine if you’re under legal obligation to provide face masks or protective clothing to employees,” said Lindsay Burke, in the Covington employment practice group.
If visiting customers ask if anyone in a company has tested positive for COVID-19, Burke said a company’s employee should respond to the best of his or her knowledge.
“Do not disclose the identity of the affected employee,” said Burke. “And if you have just a sick employee with no other indications of coronavirus exposure, you don’t have to tell other employees unless they were in a coronavirus area.”
For workers sent home to work while the country is in shut-down mode, it’s important to note that worker’s comp also applies for homes.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law on March 18, has two components with companies that have fewer than 500 employees. One grants up to two weeks of sick leave. Funds companies have to pay for the sick leave are regained with a tax credit. Also, employees get job leave for 12 weeks for closed schools. The first 12 are unpaid, though parents can use paid sick leave. The next 10 weeks are paid by the employer but with a cap and employers can get that money back with a tax credit, according to Burke.
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