The first step for employers is to obtain information on the risks in the light of the currently available knowledge, so that any action they take can be tailored to the levels of risk specific to the situations actually encountered.
Where can employers get information?
- By calling the freephone number: 0800 130 000;
- On the Ministry of Health website.
Note: At the time of writing, the coronavirus outbreak has not reached the 'pandemic' stage. In anticipation, however, it is advisable to consult the action plans already in place for influenza A/H1N1:
- the national plan for the prevention and control of the influenza pandemic (updated in 2011); and
- Direction Générale du Travail (DGT) circulars of 18 December 2007 and 3 July 2009.
At the present stage of the coronavirus epidemic, several scenarios can be envisaged, described below.
Scenario 1: An employee returns from a region considered to be a source of infection (Wuhan city in China)
The employee must comply with the quarantine measures put in place by the public authorities. A decree dated 31 January 2020 allows him or her to be paid a daily allowances on the advice of a Regional Health Agency (ARS) doctor (decree n°2020-73). The employer must of course consider the employee's absence as legitimate, and if necessary consider whether additional compensation should be paid, depending on the provisions in force in the organisation. If the employee is proved not to be infected, there is nothing to prevent him or her from returning to work.
Scenario 2: An employee returns from another part of Asia (such as China, Hong Kong, or Macao)
Travellers returning from these areas are subject to a specific reception procedure since 25 January at Paris Charles de Gaulle and Saint-Denis de la Réunion airports. The public authorities recommend that for 14 days (the incubation period), the individual remains vigilant with regard to potential symptoms. From the employer's point of view, depending on the function the employee performs and in particular the degree of contact with third parties or the public, certain measures can be envisaged, such as remote working, taking leave or rest days or introducing an obligation to wear masks (provided free of charge by the organisation), among others.
Scenario 3: An employee has to go to China
At the time of writing the French Government has not prohibited visits to China but advises against them, 'unless there is a compelling reason'. Any decision to organise a trip must therefore be weighed according to various criteria: the necessity of the trip, the impossibility or otherwise of taking alternative measures, the employee's personal circumstances, the level of risk specific to the destination, etc. The employee must be informed of the measures to be taken while they are in China (measures recommended by the French and/or local authorities), and given the means to comply with them. Employers should anticipate than an employee may exercise his or her right of withdrawal if he or she has reasonable grounds to believe that the trip may create a serious and imminent danger to health.
Scenario 4: An employee who has returned from Asia or who has been in contact with an infected person shows symptoms of infection
Symptoms of coronavirus are those of a respiratory infection and will become apparent within 14 days of infection at most. If symptoms are noted, the authorities recommend calling 15 (the medical emergency number). If there is a risk of contamination, surgical masks should be worn and contact should be avoided. While awaiting a diagnosis, it is therefore advisable that the employee not be in contact with his or her colleagues (by remote working, taking leave or rest days).
An infection that occurs during work (in the workplace, during a work trip or assignment, etc.) is potentially an accident at work ('AT'). In case of doubt, the employer must, as a precautionary measure, declare an AT to the health insurance administration (Caisse Primaire d'Assurances Maladie, 'CPAM') within 48 hours of becoming aware of it, as far as possible.
Depending on the level of exposure and the evolution of the epidemic, it is recommended employers remind employees of the usefulness of basic 'barrier' measures: coughing into your elbow; using disposable tissues, washing hands regularly and avoid non-essential contact.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.