SEC Becomes First Federal Agency to Ask Staff to Work From Home Amid Epidemic

March 10, 2020 Updated: March 10, 2020
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The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Monday became the first federal agency to direct employees at one of its offices to work from home over concerns of coronavirus infection, according to reports.

Citing a statement from an SEC spokesman, The Washington Post reported that an unidentified employee at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., was referred for treatment after showing respiratory symptoms. That employee has not tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and has not been in the office since March 5. The SEC’s request that employees at its headquarters shift to a teleworking arrangement is precautionary.

“Late this afternoon, the SEC was informed that a Washington, D.C. headquarters employee was treated for respiratory symptoms today (Monday),” the spokesperson said in the statement. “The employee was informed by a physician that the employee may have the coronavirus and was referred for testing.”

The spokesperson added, “Amongst other precautions, the SEC is encouraging headquarters employees to telework until further guidance.”

SEC officials added that the employee did not exhibit any symptoms while working in the agency’s office.

“To the best of our knowledge, the employee remained asymptomatic during the employee’s time in the building,” the SEC said.

According to NBC, the headquarters of the SEC would be subjected to a deep clean following the incident.

Ten cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in the Washington, D.C. area while the number of cases across the United States stands at 755, according to a Johns Hopkins tally.

Other U.S. employers have requested employees work offsite due to coronavirus concerns.

Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft have all advised their employees in the Seattle area to work from home. The state of Washington has been the hardest hit by the virus, with 22 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

Banks including Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs Group Inc, and Citigroup Inc have triggered contingency plans, sending staff home, splitting up trading teams and activating backup offices in a bid to contain the spread of the virus in one of the world’s largest financial hubs.

A U.S. regulatory body on Monday said it would temporarily waive some of its rules in order to allow thousands of traders to operate from home as the coronavirus spreads in New York.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the self-regulatory body which oversees brokers, said traders could work remotely and recognized that firms may need to implement alternative supervisory systems to make that possible.

“In such cases, FINRA would expect a member firm to establish and maintain a supervisory system that is reasonably designed to supervise the activities of each associated person while working from an alternative or remote location during the pandemic,” it said in a notice cited by Reuters.

FINRA oversees thousands of brokerages, dealing mainly in securities and corporate bonds.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised employers to prepare infectious disease outbreak response plans to protect staff.

“Explore whether you can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (e.g. telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g. staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others if state and local health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies,” the CDC said in an advisory.

Other suggestions include enhancements to IT infrastructure to allow employees to work from home, and transferring business knowledge to key employees ahead of time to minimize the risk of disruption.

The global coronavirus case total has climbed past 113,000 in over 100 countries, with thousands of deaths.

“Now that the virus has a foothold in so many countries, the threat of a pandemic has become very real,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference.

“It would be the first pandemic that could be controlled,” Tedros added. “The bottom line is we are not at the mercy of the virus.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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