As the Coronavirus, or its new namesake COVID-19, sweeps across the nation, the economic effects of the virus are not just being felt on Wall Street. Businesses, both small and large, are now scrambling to find ways to maintain their productivity and, at the same time, to maintain employee health. As the virus proceeds to spread, your business is going to have to make some very important decisions along the way. The following list of recommended strategies represents a brief list of strategies and considerations from both private human resources professionals and the Center for Disease Control ("CDC"):
1. The first and most important thing you can do for your employees is to communicate with them. It is imperative that human resources staff be designated for this purpose and that your business remains on top of ongoing activities in your community as to the spread of the virus and whether any quarantines will be put into effect.
2. The message from your company needs to come from one internal source. As with any crisis situation, the more messages that come from different departments the more confusion and chaos that is engendered. Designate a specific department and individual to handle this situation.
3. If your company does not have any work at home policies this might be a good time to think about starting some.
4. Eliminate all upcoming corporate travel and conferences. Find alternatives to having conferences, conventions and business travel and think about alternatives like Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts.
5. Have sufficient supplies of hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes on hand. Wait for guidance from the CDC or state health officials regarding wearing masks. In some situations, the wearing of masks can create panic in the workplace. If someone is wearing a mask because they came to work sick then they should not have come to the workplace in the first place.
6. It might be helpful to have healthcare professionals retained during this turbulent time period to provide answers to an employee's questions.
7. Scatter the lunch breaks particularly if your company has one main dining area. You want to keep crowds to a minimum.
8. The CDC website is a great place for information. The site has just posted a bulletin entitled Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers. In that bulletin, the CDC has provided much-needed guidance on recommended strategies for employers to use right now. The bulletin emphasizes the need to have sick employees stay at home. Employers should be flexible as to sick leave days and to flex the medical note requirement if an employee is out on sick leave, particularly with regard to an illness that involves acute respiratory illness a hallmark of Covid-19. The keyword for your business is flexibility.
9. If certain employees are showing signs of acute respiratory distress or illness ( i.e. cough, wheezing or shortness of breath) those employees should be separated from the rest of your employee population and then sent home immediately.
10. The CDC recommends that during this critical time those additional steps be taken to keep the workplace clean through ordinary routine cleaning.
The CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers dated March 4, 2020, is available online and covers many additional areas for employer strategy and planning. The bulletin should be shared with your company's human resource department immediately. The CDC suggests that the bulletin be published in an area where other bulletins are posted.