Answers to Frequently Asked Questions Relating to COVID-19

COVID-19 and the Workplace

What if a school employee appears sick?

If any employee experiences a fever or difficulty in breathing, they should seek medical evaluation. The likelihood of an employee having the COVID-19 coronavirus is extremely low and these symptoms can also be associated with influenza, colds, or allergies. Diagnosis from a medical professional is essential.

Can school employees be asked/told to stay home or leave work if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), employees who exhibit symptoms of influenza-like illness at work during a pandemic should leave the workplace. An employer may require workers to go home if they exhibit symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus or the flu. The employee, whether certificated or classified, is entitled to wages for that day.

Can an employer take an employee’s temperature at work to determine whether they might be infected?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits school districts from requiring medical examinations and making disability-related inquiries unless (1) the employer can show that the inquiry or exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity, or (2) the employer has a reasonable belief that the employee poses a “direct threat” to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot otherwise be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.

Districts should rely on the latest guidance from the CDC and state or local public health assessments to determine if the pandemic rises to the level of a “direct threat”. If COVID-19 coronavirus becomes widespread in the community, as determined by state or local health authorities or the CDC, then school districts may take an employee’s temperature at work.

As a practical matter, an employee may be infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus without exhibiting recognized symptoms such as a fever, so temperature checks may not be the most effective method for protecting your workforce.

What should happen when an employee has tested positive for COVID-19?

The employer should send home for a 14 day period of time all employees who worked closely with that employee to ensure the infection does not spread. The employee should identify all individuals who worked in close proximity (three to six feet) with them in the previous 14 days. When sending the employees home, the infected employee should not be identified by name due to confidentiality laws. There should also be a deep cleaning of affected workspaces.

What should happen when an employee has a suspected but unconfirmed case of COVID-19.

The same precautions as noted above should be taken. The situation should be treated as if the suspected case is a confirmed case for purposes of sending home potentially infected employees.

What should happen when an employee self-reported that they came into contact with someone who had a presumptive positive case of COVID-19.

Take the same precautions as noted above.

During a pandemic, may a school district ask employees who do not have symptoms to disclose whether they have a medical condition that the CDC says could make them especially vulnerable to complications?

Not in most cases. However, as the pandemic becomes more serious (according to local, state, or federal health officials), school districts may have sufficient objective information to reasonably conclude that employees will face a “direct threat” if they contract COVID-19. Only then may school districts make disability-related inquiries or require medical examinations of asymptomatic employees to determine which employees are at a higher risk of complications.

Can an employee refuse to work because of fear of infection?

Typically, employees are only entitled to refuse to work if they believe they are in “imminent danger”, meaning they believe that death or serious physical harm could occur within a short period of time.

The National Labor Relations Act does extend broad-based protection to employees who engage in concerted action mutual aid or protection, which can include a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions. Employees are generally protected against discipline or discharge for engaging in such activity.

Local education associations and IEA Region Directors are an excellent resource for assistance in determining if such actions are warranted, how and when they might take place, and if there are other alternatives.

If I were to contract COVID-19, what are my legal and contractual rights to take a leave of absence?

You would have the same rights and protections as you would have for any other serious illness, including the ability to use your accumulated paid sick leave. In the event you have exhausted your accumulated paid sick leave, contracting COVID-19 coronavirus would likely qualify as a “serious health condition” under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Employees requesting leave can be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to the extent the employee meets FMLA-eligibility requirements. Your school district’s internal policies and the collective bargaining agreement (master agreement) may also extend protection to you. However, employees are generally not entitled to take FMLA leave to stay at home to avoid getting sick. Currently, there are many changes to FMLA being discussed in the U.S. Congress that will likely expand the ability of an employee to use FMLA in relation to COVID-19 coronavirus.

If your school district has a sick leave bank, and your health situation meets the requirements of your sick leave bank contract language or policy, that is another potential source of extended paid sick leave. The more difficult cases are likely to be those where employees are especially vulnerable to getting sick, but who are not actually sick yet. Eligibility for paid leave will be an issue likely resolved between the physician and the school district.

COVID-19 and Travel

Can an employer prohibit an employee from traveling to a non-restricted area on their personal time?

An employer generally cannot prohibit otherwise legal activity, such as travel abroad by an employee. Travel bans issued by government agencies might make travel to certain restricted areas illegal

What are the conditions for the return of those who have traveled to a restricted location?

All U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and their immediate families who are returning from a restricted country must self-quarantine in their homes for 14 days after their arrival. In order to ensure compliance, local and state public health officials will contact individuals in the days and weeks following their arrival

What should happen if an employee has recently traveled to an affected area or otherwise may have been exposed to the COVID-19 coronavirus?

If the CDC or state or local public health officials recommend that people who visit specified locations remain at home after traveling, an employer may ask an employee what locations they have traveled to, even if the travel was for personal reasons.

COVID-19 and Employee Compensation

Must a school district keep paying employees who are not working?

Certified Educators are working under a written contract and have a right to the wages outlined in the contract itself. Such employees are also covered under the local association’s collective bargaining agreement. If the school district decides to shut down, the certificated employee will have the right to continue to receive the wages in the contract. Much like “snow days,” the school district may require a certificated employee to make up those days later in the year, but in no case later than August 31. There are provisions in the law that allow a school district to request a waiver to the number of instructional days in the school year.

Employers are not obligated to pay Classified employees (or ESP members) who are told to stay home from work. If a classified employee is told to go home after reporting for work, the district is obligated to pay the employee for that day.

However, there are several compelling reasons why school districts should continue paying classified employees while the district is closed.

  • Districts have already received their appropriations from the state for classified positions.
  • Classified employees are members of their communities and need their wages to support their families. And communities rely on people to buy goods and services to keep the economy running.
  • The virus and the resulting school closures are beyond the control of these hard-working employees.
  • Districts will need these employees once schools reopen. Refusing to pay them potentially burns a bridge that will leave a hole in their workforce in the future. Classified employees who are not being paid are likely to seek alternative employment.

If your school district is indicating that they will not pay classified staff during a shutdown, contact your local education association and/or IEA Region Director to discuss strategies for getting the district to reverse its stance.

Can a School District force ESP staff to perform tasks outside of their job description when the School District shuts down for COVID-19?

Classified staff are “at-will” employees under the law. It is in each classified employee’s own interests to continue to receive wages and benefits through a shutdown situation. Employees are within their rights to decline re-assignments, but that opens the door for the district to refuse to pay them.  This is, of course, assuming that such reassignment does not put the employee’s health and safety in jeopardy, or the health and safety of others.

Typically, employees and districts can reach accommodations on the re-assignment issue. Should your district create a hostile atmosphere on this issue, your local association will be in your corner and can provide assistance.

How should a local association respond to unilateral changes in wages, hours or working conditions by a school district in response to the coronavirus or after a declaration of a public health emergency?

If a school district unilaterally changes working conditions or directs an employee to perform an action in violation of the collective bargaining agreement, the local association should advise members to do as the school district directs. The local association should then file a grievance and fight to make members whole for any lost wages or force the school district to come into compliance with the collective bargaining agreement

What discrimination concerns are related to the COVID-19 coronavirus?

An employer may not base a decision to bar an employee from the workplace on the employee’s national origin. Again, contact your local education association if you believe such discrimination is occurring.

COVID-19 Transmission and Symptoms

What are the symptoms of the current COVID-19 coronavirus?

The virus symptoms manifest as a mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. The CDC believes at this time that symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. The virus can create more severe problems for people in at-risk categories, such as those over 60 years of age and/or with underlying health conditions.

How is the current COVID-19 coronavirus transmitted?

People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus. The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets also land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

Therefore, it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick. The CDC recommends as much as 6 feet. It is possible to catch the virus from someone even before they have symptoms, but little is known about this aspect of the virus at this time.

Can the virus spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects?

It is possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads

COVID-19 Instructions and Testing

Will missed instructional days need to be made up at the end of the year?

This is still to be determined, largely based on how long schools remain closed. The state of Idaho has the authority to grant waivers related to the minimum number of instructional days.

What is going to happen with standardized testing during this crisis?

The Idaho State Department of Education has postponed or extended deadlines for statewide testing. The ISAT has been postponed until May 29.

The date for students in Idaho to take the SAT has been moved from April 14 to April 28. The College Board has moved the ACT testing day from April 4 to June 13. There is also an ACT testing day July 18