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Wilson Sonsini Tech Subsidiary Offers Free Covid-19 Policy Tools

March 25, 2020, 6:01 AM

SixFifty, the technology and automation subsidiary of Silicon Valley powerhouse law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, has turned its attention to coronavirus with new, free digital tools that will help companies draft virus-related employment policies.

The product launched Wednesday also has an automated system to help employees report if they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, if they’ve had close contact with others at work, and to tell them it’s safe to return to the workplace.

The tools allow companies to quickly draft policies related to extended sick leave, telecommuting, travel, and reimbursements during the coronavirus pandemic. And a customizable questionnaire allows employers to gather information from workers related to their exposure to the virus.

Employers are navigating all kinds of legal minefields as their workforce goes remote and some workers get sick. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has been issuing regular guidance along with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on issues such as taking employees’ temperatures or when employers can ask if an employee is sick.

While asking employees about their health status may typically run afoul of health privacy laws and employment regulations, the EEOC this month categorized the virus as a “direct threat,” which allows employers to collect medical information related to the virus from employees.

SixFifty’s tool is the latest example of a legal technology company plowing ahead in an uncertain business environment.

SixFifty’s automated policies, and questions that determine what populates them, were drafted by Wilson Sonsini employment lawyers. That is the same arrangement the law firm and SixFifty have used to provide automated products to assist companies complying with the California Consumer Privacy Act, a project that has reaped millions in revenue.

“You really need a system like this to collect information on your employees’ health right now,” said Kimball Parker, president of SixFifty. “You need all this info. But hopefully you wouldn’t have to go to a technology vendor, buy a ticketing system, and have an employment lawyer set it up for $50,000. We’ve taken care of all that for you.”

Parker said small businesses have especially struggled to respond to the workforce complications presented by the coronavirus pandemic, but the tool can be used by companies of any size.

One crucial task companies now face is understanding who in their workforce has been exposed to the virus and which have been diagnosed with the illness. Some companies have used a scattershot approach to what amounts to a corporate epidemiology study: determining who is sick, who that person has contacted, and communicating that information with employees through text messages, phone calls, and e-mails.

A screenshot of SixFifty’s Covid-19 automated questionnaire.
Credit: SixFifty handout

The SixFifty questionnaire tool automates that communication system and allows companies to track their employees’ health status in a single dashboard. Companies using the tool can also build their own questions and workflows into the tool. The law firm will keep the policies up-to-date as federal regulations around these issues change.

“Basically any business would need these policies,” Parker said. “Because either their employees are working from home or they are shutting down for an extended time—and you probably need a policy for that too.”

Read More: Bloomberg Law is tracking the latest updates about the pandemic on our coronavirus news channel.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roy Strom in Chicago at rstrom@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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