COVID-19 Update: Frequently Asked Questions

As we continue to receive updates and navigate the changing circumstances day-to-day, we would like to brief you about some of the questions we have been receiving from schools around the State:

Can we continue to pay hourly staff members if on extended closure?

R.C. 3319.081 provides that “All nonteaching employees…shall be paid for all time lost when the schools in which they are employed are closed owing to an epidemic or other public calamity. Nothing in this division shall be construed as requiring payment in excess of an employee’s regular wage rate or salary for any time worked while the school in which the employee is employed is officially closed for the reasons set forth in this division.”

Accordingly, those non-teaching employees covered by R.C. 3319.081 can and should be paid for “all time lost due to the closure of school” under the current circumstances.

R.C. 3319.08 provides the same rights for teaching employees. Keep in mind that neither statute provides a premium rate of pay. Only regular wages are required by the statutes. However, some collective bargaining agreements provide for premium pay for work performed during “calamity days.” Unions are likely to assert that premium pay should be provided for employees who report to work during the time that the schools are closed to students. You should consult with legal counsel about how to proceed if the union demands premium pay.

Can I require self-reporting of staff? 

You can request staff self-report if they are ill, under self-quarantine, or mandated quarantine. 

Employers must generally be careful in inquiring about medical conditions of employees. The ADA prohibits employee disability-related inquiries or medical examinations unless they are job-related and consistent with business necessity. One condition under which an employer may ask such questions is where the employee constitutes a “direct threat” to the health and safety of other employees. A “direct threat” is “a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation. 

The EEOC has previously opined during the H1/N1 pandemic that where the CDC or state or local public health authorities determine that the illness is like seasonal influenza or the 2009 spring/summer H1N1 influenza, it would not pose a direct threat or justify disability-related inquiries (e.g., Do you have a compromised immune system?) and medical examinations (e.g., temperature readings). However, if the CDC or state or local health authorities determine that pandemic influenza is significantly more severe, it could pose a direct threat. COVID-19 appears to be more severe than previous influenza pandemics and outbreaks both in terms of the rate of infection and the number of deaths and critical cases. Therefore, you are permitted to make inquiries about symptoms and susceptibility and to require self-reporting of employees.

Can I require self-reporting of students?

Since students have been ordered home, it is likely not necessary to issue a directive to families at this time.

Can employees use sick leave if self-quarantined?

It is understandable that employees would request sick leave while under self-quarantine. The sick leave statute, R.C. 3319.141, provides that employees “may use sick leave for absence due to personal illness, pregnancy, injury, exposure to contagious disease which could be communicated to others, and for absence due to illness, injury, or death in the employee’s immediate family.”  A strict reading of the statute could be interpreted to mean that the employee was actually exposed, and not just avoiding the possibility of being exposed.  Therefore, sick leave could be denied to an employee who has not actually been exposed to the disease.  Also note that FMLA is not available for employees who fear being exposed to a virus, as such fear does not constitute a serious health condition.

Additionally, employees not reporting to work due to the closure to students will receive pay for all time lost due to the closure as discussed above. Such employees would not need sick leave.  

Employers are permitted to be more generous than the law permits so there is a basis to allow the use of sick leave in these circumstances.  You should check your policy manual and the collective bargaining agreement to see if there is any language that differs from the statute. It is not clear whether the auditor follows a strict reading of the statute due to the unique nature of this situation. If you wish to grant sick leave for employees who wish to stay home as a matter of self-quarantine who are otherwise not exhibiting any symptoms, you should discuss it with your legal counsel before proceeding.

Can I discourage international travel … or ask about international travel?

You can both inquire about and discourage international travel, but any directives regarding those matters would not necessarily have a lot of weight from an enforcement standpoint. You can also inquire with families of whom you know have traveled internationally recently.  However, in light of the closure of school to students, and its potential extension to the end of the school year, this is likely not necessary in most circumstances.

Employees returning from international travel may be subjected to mandatory quarantine. Under these circumstances, sick leave would be appropriate.

Can I restrict an employee who appears sick/has a fever or wants to wear a mask?  I have an employee with a weak immune system, can they wear a mask?

R.C. 3313.71 provides the authority to send home an employee or student who is suffering from a communicable disease.  The statute provides that the school physician is to order such employees to be sent home.  There are not any court interpretations determining whether it must be a “school physician” which makes the call.  However, the Board has the authority to protect the health and safety of persons coming on to its premises and can, therefore, exercise such authority in these circumstances. Employees should be permitted, within reason, to wear appropriate safety equipment such as masks and gloves if they desire to. You should not send an employee home simply because the employee wishes to wear a mask or because an employee is of an age that is more susceptible to the disease. 

Keep in mind that discrimination laws regarding ADA accommodations are still in effect during this time. During a pandemic, especially one which constitutes a direct threat, as COVID-19 likely does, certain ADA protections are relaxed in order to balance public health and safety with individual rights.

During a pandemic such as this one, employers may:

  1. Send employees home if they display influenza-like symptoms;
  2. Inquire about the exact symptoms an employee is experiencing who reports feeling ill;
  3. Check employees’ temperatures (keep in mind that some people infected with COVID-19 may not have a fever);
  4. Inquire about potential exposure to persons returning from business or personal travel;
  5. If the employer has sufficient objective information from public health authorities to conclude that employees will face a direct threat if they contract COVID-19, the employer may ask an employee, without having exhibited any symptoms, whether the employee has a medical condition that the CDC says could make them especially vulnerable to influenza complications;
  6. Encourage remote working (where possible) as a prevention strategy; and
  7. Require the adoption of infection control practices at work including hand washing, handling practices, and wearing masks and gloves.

Remember that other ADA requirements are still in place. Accommodations that are already being provided unrelated to the pandemic must continue. For example, An accountant with low vision has a screen-reader on her office computer as a reasonable accommodation. In preparation for telework during a pandemic or other emergency event, the employer issues notebook computers to all similar employees. In accordance with the ADA, the employer must provide the employee with a notebook computer that has a screen-reader installed.