Coronavirus in Iowa: What Employers Should Be Doing

March 11, 2020

By: Thomas M. Cunningham, Frances M. Haas, Logan Eliasen


As the novel coronavirus has spread, it has established itself as a matter of international concern. This week, the coronavirus also became a matter of local concern for Iowans. Eight individuals in Iowa have presumptively positive diagnoses of the coronavirus. If the coronavirus continues to spread in Iowa, employers will need to grapple with its effects. Below are several policies employers should consider updating in light of the coronavirus outbreak:


  • Travel Policies

    Employers will likely want to update their travel policies in light of the spread of the coronavirus. This will require staying up to date on the spread of the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issues Travel Health Notices based on current health concerns, including the coronavirus. As of March 10, 2020, the CDC has issued Warning Level 3 notices, and recommended avoiding nonessential travel to Italy, Iran, South Korea, and China. Italy has instituted a blanket lockdown of its citizens. Employers should minimize business-related travel to high-risk countries if possible. Employers may also consider quarantining their employees from the workplace after traveling to high-risk cities or countries.


  • Remote Work Policies

    Employers may also consider amending their employee policies to increase the opportunity for employees to work remotely. Remote work may be preferable for employees who have been exposed to the illness or who exhibit symptoms associated with the disease (COVID-19) caused by the coronavirus, which include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.


  • Sick Leave Policies

    Employers should consider updating their sick leave policies to allow for flexibility. This may include eliminating any requirement that employees validate illness with a healthcare provider’s note. Such a requirement may deter ill employees from using sick leave.


While updating these policies, employers should ensure they remain compliant with both state and federal employment legislation, including:


  • The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

    Under the FMLA, eligible employees may take unpaid leave due to a “serious health condition.” The FMLA defines a “serious health condition” as “an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves . . . continuing treatment by a health care provider.” An employee who has contracted COVID-19 may qualify as an individual with a serious health condition. The coronavirus affects people differently. Some may require hospitalization while others may experience the effects of the common cold. Whether an employee qualifies will depend on whether the employee meets the statutory criteria and submits the required FMLA forms and documentation.


  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

    Under the ADA, employers are prohibited from discriminating against “qualified individuals with disabilities.” The coronavirus is typically a temporary, non-chronic illness that produces cold and flu-like symptoms, and thus not a “disability” under the ADA. However, employers should remember that the ADA also prohibits discrimination against perceived disabilities or association with those with actual or perceived disabilities. Employers should continue to apply leave and other workplace policies in a non-discriminatory manner.


  • The Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA)

    The ICRA makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on the employee’s “age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, or disability.” While it may be prudent for employers to develop policies limiting exposure of employees to the workplace after international travel, those policies should be drafted in a way that does not discriminate against race or national origin.


Although the coronavirus continues to spread, employers can stay ahead of the coronavirus by adapting their policies to address health concerns.


Employers with questions regarding their employment policies and compliance with federal and state law should contact one of our labor and employment attorneys at 515.283.3100.