U.S. SEC staff stay home after employee treated for coronavirus symptoms

(Reuters) - Staff at the U.S. securities regulator were working from home on Tuesday after an employee at its Washington, D.C., headquarters was treated for coronavirus symptoms, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

The markets regulator also canceled Wednesday’s scheduled public meeting of the agency’s commissioners, after saying earlier on Tuesday that it would go ahead with it while urging attendees to watch it online.

Also on Tuesday, the Practising Law Institute said it and SEC staff had decided to cancel the Washington enforcement conference “The SEC Speaks 2020” at which multiple senior SEC staff were due to speak.

The developments are the latest signs that the fast-spreading virus is starting to disrupt some regulatory functions, after several agencies, including banking regulators, last week started to implement their pandemic contingency plans.

The SEC has been deluged with regulatory enquiries from companies seeking guidance on how to handle coronavirus-related financial disclosures, and amid extreme volatility in the U.S. stock markets which are overseen by the agency.

The coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China last year and causes the sometimes deadly respiratory illness COVID-19, has killed more than 4,000 globally and been reported in more than 110 countries.

Late on Monday afternoon, the SEC was informed that the employee, who has not been identified, was treated for respiratory symptoms and had been referred for coronavirus testing, an SEC spokeswoman said on Monday night.

The agency then issued a memo encouraging staff to work remotely, and most people at the Washington headquarters, where a large proportion of its 4,350 staff work, were following the advice on Tuesday, according to one SEC employee.

“Even with increased telework, the SEC remains able and committed to fully executing its mission on behalf of investors, including monitoring market function and working closely with other regulators and market participants,” the SEC spokeswoman said.

In addition to the SEC, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the top banking regulators have allowed more working remotely, have canceled or limited travel and restricted some external meetings, Reuters reported on Friday.

On Tuesday, SEC chairman Jay Clayton, along with the heads of the CFTC and the banking regulators, convened a call to discuss the fallout of the virus, the U.S. Treasury said.

The SEC staff member said teleworking was not a “major process disruption” but that his team had scaled back onsite compliance visits and examinations, and were conducting them instead by phone.

Reporting by Katanga Johnson in Washington, Lawrence Delevingne in New York and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Michelle Price and Matthew Lewis