How to Deal with COVID-19 in the Workplace
August 11, 2020
We have received multiple questions about interacting in a business setting with those who have tested positive for COVID-19. Here are some best practices for how to handle these situations. NAR has additional guidance on its website here. The Alabama Department of Public Health (DPH) put together guidelines for businesses here, and guidelines for close contact personal service businesses here.
Q: An agent just tested positive for COVID-19 but is asymptomatic. Can he or she still show properties and participate in closings?
A: No. Under the current Public Health Order, all persons with a positive test for COVID-19 must be quarantined for 14 days, unless otherwise directed by the State Health Officer. Contact the agent’s qualifying broker if the agent refuses to stay home. Real estate companies should put in place policies that comply with health orders and guidelines, especially for offices that are open to agents and/or clients. Employers, such as real estate companies, can request agents to disclose symptoms related to COVID-19. Any policies should include what an agent can or cannot do upon testing positive for COVID-19.
Q: I am a listing agent. A selling agent just tested positive for COVID-19 but is asymptomatic. Can I or my sellers refuse to let the agent show our properties?
A: Yes. Someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for the 14 days required by the Public Health Order, or for the time period otherwise specified by the State Health Officer, before showing houses or attending closings in person. When a positive diagnosis is known or disclosed, the best practice is to offer a reasonable accommodation with virtual participation or another reasonable accommodation with which the seller is comfortable. If the party declines, request the party get back in touch after the quarantine period is over.
Sellers might ask parties interested in a home if they are exhibiting symptoms or have a high temperature before showing the home. However, when asking someone who is not a client these questions, the risk of discrimination is high because COVID-related symptoms are so varied, and it is difficult to make a reasonable determination based on these varied symptoms. Sellers will then be asking invasive health questions and making potentially discriminatory decisions on inconclusive information. The best practice is for agents to ask their own clients about symptoms and temperature and make the determination on whether in-person viewings are wise on a case-by-case basis. If a seller is concerned about showing his or her home due to COVID-19, recommend virtual showings only to avoid these situations and decisions.
Q: A REALTOR® tested positive for COVID-19 but wants to attend an event at the local board or association. Can the association prohibit attendance?
A: Yes. Someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for the 14 days required by the Public Health Order, or as otherwise directed by the State Health Officer, before going to an event. Prohibiting persons with COVID-19 from attending an event protects the other attendees, guards against potential liability to the association, and follows the Public Health Order. For large events, consider setting a policy of asking attendees if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and checking temperatures at the door, prohibiting entry to those with temperatures above 100.4 degrees.
Q: I am a listing agent. The buyer says he tested positive for COVID-19 and is requesting an extension for the closing date. What can my seller do?
A: This answer largely depends on the provisions in the purchase agreement. At this point, most purchase agreements should include a provision providing for interruptions caused by COVID-19. In these situations, follow the purchase agreement.
If the purchase agreement does not include a provision on point, the seller can certainly agree to an extension as many did earlier this year, or the seller can say no to the extension. Here is a COVID-19 Addendum form published by the Alabama REALTORS® for this purpose. Another option for the buyer is to close virtually or have the closing attorney’s office drop off the documents at or mail them to the buyer’s place of quarantine.