At the direction of Governor Brad Little, the Director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has issued an Order to Self-Isolate for the State of Idaho that became effective on March 25, 2020. The Order is intended to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 public health emergency by ensuring the maximum number of people self-isolate in their places of residence while enabling essential services to continue. The Order is effective until April 15, 2020.
The Idaho Self-Isolation Order provides that individuals within the state can leave their residence to engage in certain defined Essential Activities. Essential Activities include the performance of “work providing essential services at an Essential Business.” In addition, individuals may leave their self-isolation to provide services or to perform work necessary to operate and maintain Essential Infrastructure, which includes commercial construction and construction of housing, mining, refining, as well as various utility and transportation related services. Essential Activities must comply with social distancing requirements. Not surprisingly, individuals who perform Essential Government Functions are also excluded from the Order.
A lengthy list of businesses, services, and governmental and other related enterprises are defined by the Order as Essential Businesses. The list includes grocery and other retail stores that sell products necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operation of residences. Food cultivation, processing and other agricultural services, gas, auto repair and related facilities, banks, trades, media, educational and cleaning services are also included. There are limitations placed on how restaurants may serve food (by take-out only), but bars are closed along with gyms and other indoor and outdoor recreational and sporting activities. Employers are encouraged to consult the list of such Essential Businesses and consult with their attorney to determine if they are included or whether they “supply other Essential Businesses or Essential Government Functions.” All businesses except Essential Businesses are required to cease all activities at facilities located in the state except for Minimum Basic Operations, which is defined to include actions to preserve the value of the business, process payroll and benefits, or maintain related functions, or if they facilitate employees working from home.
Although section 8.a. of the Order states that individuals may leave their residence to perform Essential Activities, “people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and people who are sick are urged to stay in their residences to the extent possible except as necessary to seek medical care.” Employers should be prepared to address the situation where an employee who is not in the “high risk” category refuses to report to work based solely on a generalized fear of being infected. While discipline may be appropriate, requiring the employee to use accrued PTO/vacation or sick leave might be an option to consider. Employers should be mindful that employees will know whether appropriate social distancing practices are being addressed at work and the failure to comply with that requirement could support an employee’s decision to leave work without repercussion or discipline.
Nothing in the Order indicates that employers must provide workers with notes explaining they are deemed employed by Essential Businesses in order to facilitate their travel to and from work or to assuage a landlord. We see no basis to encourage or decline such a request. As with all communications about an employee’s status, care should be taken to avoid any reference to “permanent employment” or other terms that contradict the at-will relationship.
Violation of the Order is deemed to constitute an imminent threat to public health.
For advice on how the Order affects your business, please contact us.