Is your employer ready for coronavirus?

Members of Congress are urging major employers and businesses to take immediate steps to make sure that workers don’t lose pay, benefits or even their jobs for following health recommendations related to the coronavirus.

“Business needs to lean into this,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. “This is enough a challenge as it is with the health care challenge. We don’t need the economic burden as well coming onto families.”

Warner is among 14 senators who have reached out to major U.S. employers, calling on them to make a commitment that employees won’t be punished if they become ill from the virus and go along with what doctors and medical experts recommend. The senators have written a letter to industry groups, telling them they have “an opportunity, and an obligation, to lead in this moment.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., speaks during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Among the other lawmakers who signed the letter are Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.; and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

Maryland has three confirmed cases of coronavirus, all of which involve residents of Montgomery County.

“What we’ve got to really make sure is that families don’t miss a paycheck, don’t lose a job,” Warner said in an interview with WTOP. “And that they have a little financial forbearance so they don’t miss their rent or their mortgage payment.”

The senators are making the following recommendations to employers:

  • Ensure that workers will not lose their jobs if they are forced to self-quarantine or stay home to care for a sick family member;
  • Not require employees under quarantine to deplete sick or annual leave;
  • Offer flexible scheduling options, including telework and unscheduled leave, if employees are unable to report to work;
  • Ensure workers have access to financial assistance in the event of a sustained or widespread disruption due to coronavirus;
  • Work with insurance providers to ensure that workers can affordably access preventive care and treatment for coronavirus.

Warner, who was a tech entrepreneur before he got into politics, said he met this week with business leaders of startup companies in Northern Virginia. He noted that it’s in their best economic interest to get ahead of this health crisis.

“If they see an economic shut down for a month, many of those businesses will go out of business,” he said, noting some firms may eventually need short-term loans to help deal with the situation.

The $8.3 billion emergency spending plan approved by Congress and signed into law Friday by President Donald Trump would allow for loans from the Small Business Administration to go toward businesses affected by the virus.

Also Friday, lawmakers announced proposed legislation that would require employers to provide workers with 14 days of paid sick leave that could be used during a public health emergency, including the current crisis.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. — Washington state has had the most deadly cases of the coronavirus.

“This bill would immediately give workers the ability to care for themselves, their families and help keep their communities safe,” Murray said in a statement. “We need to pass it without delay.”

Vice President Mike Pence visited Washington state on Thursday and pledged federal support.

Major employers, such as Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, have been scrambling to deal with the coronavirus and adjust to the spread of the illness.

Facebook has asked its San Francisco-area employees to begin working from home, as of Friday.

At least 20 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Santa Clara County, California. The county’s health department has advised companies to suspend nonessential travel by employees and recommended telework when possible.

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