Frequently Asked Questions on the
All employers across the United States are implementing guidance from public health authorities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Both the rapid spread of the virus and the prolonged incubation period present unique challenges for the workplace and especially for us at Odyssey where most of our employees are located at client operated work sites and under the contractual direction of the client.
Odyssey has created this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, which will be continually updated as events warrant to address the many additional workplace law rights and responsibilities given the pandemic designation. You can contact Odyssey Human Resources (HR) with specific questions by emailing HR@odysseyconsult.com or calling 781-245-0111.
Below are answers and guidance to some of the more frequently asked questions to employers and several hypothetical scenarios to assist in the management of COVID-19 concerns in the workplace. Please understand that there may be unique circumstances that require fact-specific consideration, in addition to the general answers and guidance provided below.
1. Q: What steps can Odyssey take to protect its workforce?
The most important thing Odyssey can do and has done is to actively encourage sick employees to remain home. For further guidance, see the “COVID-19 Updates” from Odyssey CEO Thomas Portlock. At this time, Odyssey has not modified its sick leave or other time-off policies. However, the Odyssey policies set forth in the Employee Handbook do contain sufficient flexibility to avoid negatively impacting employees who remain home to care for themselves or other sick family members. For these situations, please continue to submit requests to your supervisor and HR for guidance on a case-by-case basis. In addition, to reduce the risk of employee exposure to the virus, Odyssey continues to look at each contract and is working with our government customers to determine whether remote working arrangements should continue, the use of video conferencing and other like technologies, and limitations on employee gatherings in the workplace for meetings. See March 13, 2020 memorandum from Odyssey CEO Thomas Portlock, “COVID-19 Telework Approval”.
2. (A.) Q: Can Odyssey require employees to work remotely as a preventative measure?
Yes. Odyssey may require remote work for indirect employees. For direct-charge employees, the ability to telework is at the discretion of the Government with the formal approval of their respective Program Contracting Officers. Odyssey Program Managers have been directed to continue to operate as usual and coordinate with your customer counterparts to obtain necessary approvals. When deciding to allow employees to work remotely, also consider the security implications of doing so. Managers should coordinate with their IT department to ensure remote work protocols adequately protect sensitive employee and client information.
If Odyssey or an Odyssey’s government customer permits remote work arrangements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are advised that such arrangements do not set a precedent to remote work. To the extent that Odyssey and an Odyssey government customer did not generally permit such arrangements prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are on notice that a work from home arrangement is temporary and limited to the COVID-19 pandemic.
(B.) Q: If telework is unavailable, and an employee is quarantined or there is an office shut down ordered by a government official due to a public health concern, can the employee use PTO?
Yes. Employees may choose to use PTO.
3. Q: What are the wage and hour implications of working remotely?
The implications of working remotely will vary depending on the employee’s Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) classification (exempt or non-exempt).
Exempt employees must receive their regular weekly salary for a week in which they perform any work, regardless of the number of hours worked or whether the work is performed while quarantined at home. If an exempt employee is quarantined for a complete workweek, and performs no work in that week, the employee may not need to be compensated for that week. For a partial work week, an exempt employee can voluntarily take a full day (or days of PTO) for vacation, personal time, or sick time due to illness or disability, provided it is done in accordance with the Odyssey PTO policy expressed in the current handbook. An exempt employee may also request to voluntarily take a COVID-19 related leave of absence without pay (LWOP) in only full day (or days) increments by making a request to their supervisor who will submit the request to HR in order to obtain the proper LWOP charge code from the Odyssey payroll department.
Non-exempt workers need only be paid for hours actually worked. Remember, though, that non-exempt employees must be paid time and a half for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. Non-exempt employees must obtain advance written permission of their supervisor to work in excess of 40 hours in a workweek. Non-exempt employees are required to record their time worked pursuant to the hours they are authorized and permitted to work each day and week. If a non-exempt employee performs any work during a quarantine or similar period, supervisors must ensure that the employee accurately tracks their working time and is paid for that time. Non-exempt employees working from home during quarantine should be directed to comply fully with any and all company policies related to timekeeping and overtime approval. Finally, Supervisors should ensure that the required meal and rest break times are accounted for.
For all questions regarding benefits during any leave of absence without pay, please contact the Odyssey our Benefits Manager, Lisa Wilkinson, at email@example.com who will assist you with any benefits related questions. It is imperative that Odyssey HR is advised of any employee requesting to take LWOP.
4. Q: If I am approved to telework, do I only log mission-essential work performed for the contract pursuant to my scheduled hours?
All employees must log all hours for any work they perform for the contract in workweeks during which they are teleworking (including only minimal tasks, such as checking emails).
The same rules apply to telework as apply to working in an office or government location. If an employee is unable to log all their scheduled workweek billable hours, the employee must use accrued PTO (inclusive of up to 40 hours of advanced PTO), accrued bank time; or other approved leave to fulfill their weekly scheduled hours.
If a non-exempt employee is working a compressed work schedule, their telework compressed work hours must remain unchanged unless approved by a supervisor in accordance with the guidelines set forth in Section 8.6 of the Odyssey Employee Handbook located on Project Odyssey.
5. Q: Can Odyssey send home employees who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19?
Yes. The CDC currently recommends that employees exhibiting symptoms of acute respiratory illness and/or a fever (greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) stay at home.
6. Q: Can Odyssey require an employee to notify the company if they have been exposed, have symptoms, and/or have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus?
Yes, you should require any employee who becomes ill at work with COVID-19 coronavirus symptoms to notify their supervisor. Employees who are suffering from symptoms should be directed to remain at home until they are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
While outside of work, if an employee begins experiencing symptoms, has been exposed to someone that is exhibiting symptoms, or has tested positive, the employee should contact your company by telephone or email and should not report to work.
7. Q: Can Odyssey send home employees who have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?
Yes. The CDC recommends that asymptomatic employees be excluded from work if they have close contact with, sat on an aircraft within two seats of, or live in the same house as a symptomatic individual diagnosed with COVID-19. The CDC defines close contact as “being approximately 6 feet (2 meters) of a COVID-19 case for a prolonged time” or “having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case.” Caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a healthcare waiting area is close contact.
8. Q: Can Odyssey prohibit employees from traveling to certain countries on their personal time?
No. An employer cannot prohibit an employee from personal travel. However, an employer may require an employee to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to returning to work. Odyssey may request documentation of travel dates and travel locations to verify the proper quarantine period. If the employee exhibits no symptoms during their quarantine period, they should be allowed to return to work after 14 days. If telework is available, the employee should resume their normal work schedule while self-quarantined.
9. Q. Can Odyssey require employees to report personal travel?
(Amended February 1, 2021)
In all states and the District of Columbia, an employer may inquire if an employee has traveled to any locations identified by the CDC as a Level 3 risk area. Additionally, employers may ask employees if they have traveled to any areas where state or local public health officials recommend that visitors self-quarantine after visiting. However, Odyssey will not require employees to report personal travel to any non-affected areas or other forms of travel. The CDC is regularly updating its website for non-affected areas, so employers should check periodically for updates at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html.
10. Q: Is Odyssey required to provide employees with face masks?
(Amended February 1, 2021)
No. However, current CDC guidance strongly recommends and State public health regulations of Executive Orders may mandate the wearing of face masks.
11. Q: If Odyssey learns an employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19, can and/or must Odyssey notify all other employees at the location?
Yes. Currently the CDC recommends that employers notify employees that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, without identifying the individual employee by name. Any employees working within close proximity of the infected employee (within 6 feet), should stay home for 14 days. If Odyssey becomes aware that a government or other vendor employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, Odyssey employees should be informed. Do not disclose the name of the potentially infected employee(s) to other employees.
Odyssey Program Managers, Directors, and Team Leaders should keep in mind that there are privacy implications to such notifications. Odyssey must maintain all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition to the ADA, there are other federal and state legal protections afforded to employee privacy and confidentiality of medical information. Odyssey may notify co-workers or others that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 at a particular place and time to an individual who has tested positive, or has been exposed and subject to quarantine, without specifically identifying the individual or personal circumstances. Odyssey will provide only as much information as is necessary to protect employee and public health. A general statement that an unnamed employee has decided to self-quarantine or is home as a result of a positive test or exposure should not be problematic under the laws of most states. Before notifying any employees that they may have been exposed, Program Managers are requested to coordinate such notification with the HR which will involve the Odyssey Manager of Labor and Employment Law Compliance.
12. Q: What if an Odyssey employee directly asks if another employee was exposed to COVID-19?
Odyssey may inform other employees that an employee recently traveled to an outbreak area or if an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19. Odyssey may also inform other employees what steps Odyssey or our customer is taking to mitigate possible transmission. However, maintaining employee privacy and confidentiality is required and you may not disclose the name of the exposed employee. Follow the guidelines in paragraph 11. Before notifying any other employees of Odyssey or members of your workplace that another employee, teammate, or customer was diagnosed with COVID-19, or that they may have been exposed, Program Managers are requested to coordinate such notification with the HR which will involve the Odyssey Manager of Labor and Employment Law Compliance.
13. Q: An Odyssey employee has tested positive for COVID-19. What should we do?
You should send home all Odyssey employees who worked closely with that employee for a 14-day period of time to ensure the infection does not spread. You should also notify our government customer if the employee works in a government site. Before the employee departs, ask them to identify all individuals who worked in close proximity (three to six feet) with them in the previous 14 days to ensure you have a full list of those who should be sent home. When sending the employees home, do not identify the infected employee by name or circumstances. Follow the guidelines in paragraph 11 to maintain employee privacy and confidentiality.
Information regarding the infected employee can be transmitted to Odyssey only through the HR. You may also want to consider asking a cleaning company to undertake a deep cleaning of your affected workspaces. If you work in a shared office building or area, you should inform building management so they can take whatever precautions they deem necessary. Do not disclose the name of the potentially infected employee(s) to other employees.
14. Q: One of our employees has a suspected but unconfirmed case of COVID-19. What should we do?
Take the same precautions as noted above. Treat the situation as if the suspected case is a confirmed case for purposes of sending home potentially infected employees. Communicate with your affected workers to let them know that an employee has not tested positive for the virus but has been exhibiting symptoms that lead you to believe a positive diagnosis is possible. Do not disclose the name of the potentially infected employee(s) to other employees.
15. Q: One of our employees self-reported that they came into contact with someone who had a presumptive positive case of COVID-19. What should we do?
Take the same precautions as noted above. Treat the situation as if the suspected case is a confirmed case for purposes of sending home potentially infected employees. Communicate with your affected workers to let them know that an employee is asymptomatic for the virus but you are acting out of an abundance of caution. Do not disclose the name of the potentially infected employee(s) to other employees.
16. Q: What if an employee with an underlying health condition wants to stay home from work for fear of being exposed to COVID-19 (even if there is no known diagnosis at the workplace)?
Older adults and those with an underlying chronic health condition are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19. If approval for an employee to work remotely can be obtained, then Odyssey has a process in place for reasonable accommodations which allow the employee to work from home. If working remotely is unavailable, Odyssey will permit an employee to take an unpaid leave of absence or to use their accrued paid time off (PTO) if the employee can provide a medical note documenting the underlying health condition. If the employee does not provide a medical note, then Odyssey will deem the employee to be self-quarantining as a preventive measure and the employee must use PTO or other paid time off if working remotely is unavailable.
FMLA is not available solely because an employee fears contracting COVID-19.
17. Q: Is Odyssey required to let an employee self-quarantine merely as a preventative measure?
No. If working remotely is unavailable, and an employee refuses to come to work, Odyssey will permit the employee to exhaust their accrued PTO, advanced PTO, and/or bank time in full day increments before a COVID-19 related leave of absence without pay will be considered in only full day (or days) increments.
If working remotely is unavailable, an exempt employee may request to voluntarily take a COVID-19 related leave of absence without pay (LWOP) in only full day (or days) increments by making a request to and receiving the approval of their supervisor in coordination with HR in order to obtain the proper LWOP charge code from the Odyssey payroll department. The exempt employee will also be permitted to exhaust their accrued PTO, advanced PTO and/or bank time in full day increments.
FMLA is not available solely because an employee fears contracting COVID-19.
18. Q: When can an employee diagnosed with COVID-19 return to work?
Employees diagnosed with COVID-19 must remain in isolation. The CDC states that when a person is released from isolation is determined on a case-by-case basis. At minimum, release from isolation requires that the patient be fever free, present no respiratory symptoms, and have two negative COVID-19 tests.
19. Q: When can a previously symptomatic employee (not diagnosed with COVID-19) return to work?
The CDC guidelines state employees may return to work 24 hours after remaining fever-free without medicine.
20. Q: Can Odyssey require medical notes for absences?
Yes, Odyssey may handle such requests as an FMLA request and may, in our discretion, request that the employee provide a medical note documenting the underlying health condition.
Under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law, employers can request medical documentation if an employee misses three workdays.
Further, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers can request medical certification of a serious health condition. But the CDC recommends that employers relax these policies to avoid overwhelming medical providers who must direct their limited resources and time to caring for the extremely sick. Should Odyssey determine to waive the medical documentation policy, it must be applied uniformly to all employees.
21. Q: Is COVID-19 considered a disability under the ADA or state laws?
COVID-19, like the seasonal flu, is generally considered a transitory condition and not a disability under the ADA. However, COVID-19 might cause significant impairments with respect to major life functions, including, most notably, breathing.
22. Q: What is Odyssey allowed to ask employees who are asymptomatic?
Generally, an employer cannot ask employees who are not exhibiting symptoms to disclose whether they have a medical condition. However, given the obvious health concerns implicated by COVID-19, Odyssey may require employees to disclose if an immediate family member has tested positive for COVID-19, or the employee has tested positive for COVID-19. This is basic information necessary to protect other employees in the workplace. Odyssey also has the right to ask basic information about other activities which might constitute an elevated risk to others in the workplace, such as an employee’s travels to a Level 2 or 3 country. Like any other medical issue implicating an extended leave, an employer may require a doctor’s note indicating that it is safe for the employee to return to the workplace after they have recovered from COVID-19.
23. Q: Are Odyssey employees entitled to additional sick time or other protections under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) and the law’s Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act?
No. The FFCRA does not apply to Odyssey since the law applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees.
(Amended April 2, 2020)
Q: Are Odyssey employees entitled to any additional paycheck, unemployment insurance, or tax relief protections under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act?
No. The CARES Act does not apply to Odyssey since the law applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees.
24. Q: Are employees entitled to coverage under FMLA?
If you have been with Odyssey for over a year, and you or a family member is diagnosed with COVID-19, it may be considered a serious health condition under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and COVID-19 would qualify as a serious health condition depending upon the specific situation. Accordingly, an otherwise eligible employee with COVID-19 or an employee who is taking care of a qualifying family member with COVID-19 would be permitted to take protected FMLA leave.
However, if an asymptomatic employee is required to quarantine themselves, FMLA would not apply. If you have not been diagnosed by a medical professional, you are considered asymptomatic. If asymptomatic you may still use PTO or other paid time off if working remotely is unavailable.
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, then Odyssey will work with you to determine if disability benefits will apply. You should immediately contact the Odyssey Benefits Manager, Lisa Wilkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be glad to assist you with any questions.
25. Q: Are employees eligible for Short Term Disability (STD) coverage?
The answer is scenario dependent. A Physician would still need to validate that the employee has contracted COVID-19 and/or that the employee’s symptoms would qualify them as disabled and limit their work capacity. An employee who self-quarantines because they believe they have been exposed or as a preventive measure is not sufficient to support disability. Odyssey’s STD insurance policy does not support self-reported illnesses.
If you have not been diagnosed by a medical professional, you are considered asymptomatic. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, then Odyssey will work with you to determine if disability benefits will apply and you should immediately contact the Odyssey Benefits Manager, Lisa Wilkinson at email@example.com. We will be glad to assist you with any questions.
26. Q: If my state has a Paid Family and Medical Leave law, will a positive COVID-19 test qualify me for paid medical leave?
(Amended February 1, 2021)
There is not a straightforward answer for whether COVID-19 qualifies under a State Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) law for benefits. The question is whether an employee with a COVID-19 positive test who is asymptomatic and who has been instructed to quarantine would be considered to have a serious health condition for purposes of PFML? The answer is dependent on what is filled out in the medical certification of a serious health condition form that is submitted to the state by the employee. The existence of a positive test is not necessarily enough, by itself, to establish a serious health condition for PFML purposes. As with any other medical condition, your individual state agency that administers the paid family and medical leave benefits would need the healthcare provider form to be filled out and signed by the provider.
27. Q: Are COVID-19 related health insurance costs covered under Odyssey’s Health Insurance plan?
Our Medical Insurance (both the PPO and Saver Plans) will cover the full cost of diagnostic tests for COVID-19. Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) will also waive co-pays for members with access to Well Connection, Odyssey’s telehealth platform. The 24/7 nurse hotline (1-888-247-BLUE (2583)) offers a safe and convenient clinical resource for minor ailments or questions and is available free to all members.
Our plans will cover the cost of vaccination when a COVID-19 vaccine is available and waive copayments for medically necessary COVID-19 treatment at doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, and urgent care centers.
There should be no prior authorizations and referrals required for members receiving medically appropriate care for COVID-19.
Members will have access to early refills of 30-day prescription maintenance medication.
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 you should notify your supervisor who will contact the Odyssey HR Director for further instructions.
28. Q: What is the impact of new COVID-19-related work from home and remote hire policies on the on-boarding process for new hires?
Under the I-9 rules, employers must review original identity and work authorization documents for every new hire in the physical presence of the employee within 3 days of the start of work. In light of the current national emergency, the agency has announced that it will defer the physical presence requirement associated with the I-9 and permit employers to comply with the process using remote technology. This option is only available to employers that have instituted remote work arrangements and, therefore, Odyssey will use this process. For I-9s executed during this time, employers will be required to conduct physical inspection of the original documents after normal operations resume.
GChat: Lisa Wilkinson