Is It Allergies or COVID-19?

Allergy season is here. And so is the coronavirus outbreak, which the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic March 11.

How can employers tell the difference between allergies and COVID-19, and when should they send sick workers home?

While the symptoms of hay fever include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, and itchy eyes, according to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hay fever also can cause coughing, according to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing.

The possibility that employees may only have—or claim they only have—allergies may make sending them home more contentious. But experts say you may need to err on the side of caution and send sick employees home.

‘Hard Judgment Calls’

Allergies are “hard judgment calls,” said Jonathan Segal, an attorney with Duane Morris in Philadelphia and New York City. Employers should talk with their workers, encourage them to be honest and, if employers don’t trust what they are saying, insist on some verification.

Bear in mind, though, that in a pandemic, medical verification may not be possible. The CDC is asking employers not to overburden the health care system by asking workers to show them doctors’ notes.

“It’s not horrible to say, ‘go home for the day,’” especially if you pay the person for the day, Segal said. Employers should be sending the message anyway that if employees are sick, then they should stay home, according to the CDC.


Approval Requirement


Requiring HR to approve the order to send someone home ensures managers are not engaged in conscious or implicit bias, Segal said. For example, if an Asian American who coughs is sent home but a white employee isn’t, that may be conscious or implicit bias.


To read the full article, visit the SHRM website.

© 2009- Duane Morris LLP. Duane Morris is a registered service mark of Duane Morris LLP.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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