COVID-19, Employee Benefits Compliance

COVID-19 Updates and Q&A

Legislative Update: 3/16/2020

Two legislative updates occurred in the last week:

  1. The IRS issued Notice 2020-15 which allows high deductible health plans (HDHP’s) to pay for COVID-19 testing and treatment without a deductible. This change does not impact the employee’s ability to contribute to a Health Savings Account (HSA). Employer with HDHPs should check with their plan’s issuer or benefits administrator regarding their plan’s coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment. The following article provides more information about this:

https://news.leavitt.com/employee-benefits-compliance/covid-19-testing-treatment/

  1. The House of Representatives is anticipated to pass a revised version of legislation that will create both mandated paid sick time and mandated emergency paid leave, which the Senate, after cancelling their scheduled recess, may take up this week.

 

Q&A:

Keep in mind that policy language varies greatly between organizations and insurance carriers. Carriers will not guarantee coverage without having received and reviewed a specific claim. The answers below are based on very limited information and should not be taken as a guarantee of coverage.  

 

Is COVID-19 covered under my health insurance plan?

  • This virus should be covered under your health insurance plan, just like a cold or flu. If complications arise and hospitalization is required, it would be similar to if an employee contracted pneumonia following a bout with the flu. We are not aware of any constraints at this time but will continue watching policies for developing exclusions.
  • The CDC and many health plans have announced that telehealth should be the first line of defense for covered individuals who suspect they may have ANY infection. With the concerns about COVID-19 spreading quickly, the healthcare system can become overwhelmed with patients. Waiting rooms can also be a breeding ground for spreading germs. To reduce the risk of both of these scenarios, it is best to advise your employees to contact a doctor via their telehealth program first, whether they think they have COVID-19, the flu, or some other illness. The telehealth doctor can provide advice on whether physically going to the doctor is necessary. They may also provide advice regarding the best place to go for testing and how to reduce the risk of spreading germs.

What is the incubation period for COVID-19 and how long does a person remain contagious?

  • The estimated incubation period based on limited information is 1-14 days. The median timeframe when symptoms begin to appear is 5 days but can appear sooner or later.
  • Because the virus is so new to humans, it is unclear how long an individual may remain contagious. One study has shown that the pathogen remains in the respiratory system as long as 37 days but is unclear how long a person may remain infectious.

What can an employer do to reduce the risk of an outbreak within their organization?

  • If employees have the capability to work remotely, it is advisable to require everyone to work from home and self-quarantine until the risk of infection/contagion is gone.
  • If employees are required to travel as part of their job, it is advisable to suspend travel until the risk of infection/contagion is gone.

If an employee contracts COVID-19 and must be off work for some time, would this be covered by a short-disability policy?

As of this time, there are no exclusions for COVID-19 in standard disability contract language. Once the elimination period has been met, this should be covered like any other illness. Please refer to your specific plan document for more information. Again, we cannot guarantee coverage as every contract is different and may have specific exclusions for this type of event. We will continue watching policies for developing exclusions.

If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, are they required to tell their employer?

No, employees are not required to inform their employer if they test positive for ANY illness or disease, unless it is per their employment contract/agreement.

If an employee appears sick or exhibits symptoms of COVID-19, can their employer ask that they stay home or leave work?

Yes, employers are permitted to ask them to seek medical attention and get tested for COVID-19 and, under most circumstances, can ask that they leave work.

If an employer knows someone has tested positive or has been in contact with someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19, is that employer required to contact the CDC (Centers for Disease Control)?

No, the healthcare provider treating that person would be responsible for reporting to the CDC.

If an employer knows someone has tested positive or has been in contact with someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19, what are the employer’s responsibilities?

  • It is advisable to send home all employees who worked closely with that employee for at least a 14-day period of time to ensure the infection does not spread. When sending employees home, do NOT identify by name the infected/potentially infected employee as this would be a violation of confidentiality laws.
  • It is also advisable to consider asking a cleaning company to undertake a deep cleaning of the affected workspaces. Make sure to let them know it is related to COVID-19 so that they may take necessary precautions.
  • If you work in a shared office building or area, you may also want to inform building management so they may take additional precautionary measures.

If an employer requests employees to self-quarantine themselves, is that employer required to continue paying them?

Under FLSA, the answer would most likely be no. However, you will want to consult your attorney on these matters. There are many factors at play, and we cannot advise in a blanket statement all of the aspects to be considered. We do caution employers to consider public relations when making these decisions. A decision to not continue pay could damage employee morale and/or catch the attention of the media.

Would an outbreak of COVID-19 be considered a work comp claim?

At this time, we are being advised that no, this would not warrant a worker’s compensation claim. However, as this situation develops, there may be some circumstances that would warrant a worker’s compensation claim.

Should I send all of my employees to be tested for the virus?

At this time, there is some concern about overloading our healthcare system. If an employee has no symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) and has not been in close contact with someone who has the virus, they most likely do not have the virus. We strongly encourage anyone who is feeling ill or running a fever to stay home, so as not to spread their germs or be exposed to other people’s germs. The CDC is recommending that anyone with symptoms use telehealth as the first line of defense. If your organization does not currently offer telehealth, you may want to consider adding that coverage.

 

Disclaimer: This document has been provided as an informational resource for Leavitt Group clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Due to the dynamic nature of infectious diseases, Leavitt Group cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage you to seek additional safety, medical, and epidemiologic information from credible sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization. In regard to insurance coverage questions, such as whether coverage applies or if a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the policies and contracts at issue and underwriter determination.

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