COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
Municipalities and school districts have been addressing novel issues in responding to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in their communities. While all of us have been closely monitoring guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and state and local public health organizations, this guidance often does not address pressing questions needing immediate attention and practical decisions.
This memo addresses some of these questions and provides practical guidance and information that we hope you will find useful. This is not, however, legal advice.
|How can we obtain information from our employees about the locations where they have recently traveled and about their future travel plans?
|You may request that employees disclose the countries or areas from which they have recently returned. You may also ask employees to disclose travel plans to countries at Level 3 and Level 2 in the CDC’s list and inform employees that if their future travel plans include any of the countries on the CDC’s Level 3 list they may be subject to quarantine by the government upon their return. The list of Level 3 countries is on the CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html
|If an employee discloses that the employee has been or may have been exposed to COVID-19, what leave can the employee take if the employee has no symptoms and is not ill?
|The employee may self-quarantine and may use the employee’s paid leave, such as accrued vacation time or personal leave, in accordance with the employer’s policies and any applicable collective bargaining agreement or contract. Sick leave may not be appropriate in this situation, absent agreement of the employer.
|If an employee has COVID-19, is the employee covered under workers compensation or Massachusetts General Laws chapter 41, section 111F?
|Absent a direct connection between the work-related exposure and the employee’s illness from COVID-19, the employee will likely not be entitled to 111F or workers compensation benefits. Employers should follow their policies and procedures in responding to claims for 111F or workers compensation. If the employee is ill with COVID-19, the employee may use sick leave.
|If an employee has a disability that includes a medical condition which if the employee contracts COVID-19 may result in serious illness or death, is the employee entitled to a reasonable accommodation?
|The employer should engage in an interactive dialogue with the employee to identify potential reasonable accommodations which would enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the position.
|What actions should we take to reduce exposure and spread of COVID-19 in our municipal buildings and schools?
|Municipalities: Cancel town events such as festivals, concerts, parades, and sporting events.
Schools: Cancel school trips and cancel school events that include large numbers of attendees such as concerts, plays and sporting events.
|How can our town boards and school committees continue to hold meetings without increasing the potential exposure of COVID-19?
|Governor Baker issued an Executive Order on March 12, 2020 modifying the requirements of the Open Meeting Law, G.L. c. 30A, § 20. The order allows public bodies, including boards of selectmen, school committees and public agencies, to permit remote participation by all members in the public body. A quorum may now be achieved with members participating remotely.
Public bodies are not required to conduct meetings in a public place. However, if a public body chooses not to conduct a meeting in a public place, it must provide adequate, alternative means of public access to its deliberations. This includes, but is not limited to, meetings via telephone, internet, or satellite enabled audio or video conferencing or any other technology that enables the public to clearly follow the proceedings of the public body while they are occurring. The public body may not charge for access to proceedings conducted through these alternative means.
If a public body faces economic hardship and cannot provide such alternative means despite best efforts, the public body may instead post on its municipal website a full and complete transcript, recording, or other comprehensive record of the proceedings as soon as practicable after the meeting concludes. This exception does not apply to proceedings that require the allowance of active participation by members of the public pursuant to a general law, special law, regulation, local ordinance or by-law, such as a public hearing or Town Meeting.
The order remains in effect until it is rescinded or the state of emergency is terminated, whichever happens first.
|If our school district closes, will our teachers continue to be paid?
|Teachers are paid a salary for a defined number of work days. Their salary is spread evenly across the teacher work year but is earned on a per diem basis. When school is cancelled because of inclement weather or for any other reason, the work year for teachers is extended in June to make up for the missed days when school was closed. Most teachers’ contracts prohibit the work year from extending past June 30th. The school committee must bargain with the teachers’ union if it wants to hold make-up days during the April vacation period and/or on Saturdays and holidays.
|If our school district closes, will our paraprofessionals, custodians, food service employees and other employees continue to be paid?
|Contracts with school employees differ from district to district. Most hourly workers in schools receive pay for the hours worked. Some contracts provide pay for certain employees when school is canceled because of inclement weather, for example. Please refer to the applicable contracts.
|Are there any issues with operating schools using distance/on-line learning for students?
|Yes, there are a number of issues that arise including the following:
· Access for all students to a computer/tablet and the internet.
· Providing the requirements in IEPs and 504 plans.
· Supervision of students.
· Providing the required breakfast and lunch for students.
· Requirements for funding and reimbursements.
· If teachers are to provide the lessons and engage with students using distance/on-line learning, the school committee needs to satisfy its bargaining obligations with the teachers’ union before implementation.
|Has DESE changed the requirement in 603 CMR 27.03 that school be in session for a minimum of 180 days for students?
The regulations have not been changed; however, DESE has the following posted on its website as of 3/13/2020;
180 School Day Requirement:
In light of concerns about possible school closings for public health reasons, [the Commissioner has] updated DESE’s guidance about the requirement for 180 days of school to provide relief to districts. (Note: The Department will continue to revisit this guidance if the situation warrants it.):
This change means that if you have already canceled school for five days before March 15, you do not need to schedule additional make-up days for any days that school is closed after March 15. The longest that any school district will be required to go is its scheduled 185th day. No schools will be required to be in session after June 30. This policy applies to the current (2019-20) school year only. Anyone who feels that they have special circumstances should contact Associate Commissioner Helene Bettencourt at Helene.H.Bettencourt@mass.gov or 781-338-3120.
We will be updating our client communications as new information becomes available.
This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.