Every business is concerned about the impact of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). While some businesses must grapple with the impact of travel restrictions and global markets, every business must face the impact on employees. The first step in addressing COVID-19 is to stay calm. Assemble a team of key stakeholders to address issues that arise, and use this time to review your state and local laws and company policies. Develop a communications plan and let your employees know that you care about their wellbeing and that you will take appropriate steps to protect their safety in the workplace. We provide here our top ten tips for employers:
- Review federal, state, and local laws and resources unique to Coronavirus. The CDC has published Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), as well as guidance for travelers. OSHA has posted information on its website related to COVID-19 and the Office of Personnel Management has published guidelines. Some states, like New York, have published FAQ’s for businesses and employers. Bookmark your state’s public health sites so you can review them daily for new information.
- Be flexible with sick leave and encourage sick employees to stay home. Per CDC recommendations, allow for flexibility with your sick leave policies and be consistent with public health guidance. Unpaid leave, such as that required by the FMLA, may drive employees to come to work even when they are sick.
- Allow employees to stay home to care for family members. Employees may need to care for a sick spouse, partner, child, or parent. They should be encouraged to follow CDC guidelines for their own risk assessment.
- Consider flexible worksites and flexible work hours. Many employers already have telecommuting policies, which may need to be reviewed or applied flexibly. Those who do not have such policies should consider developing them to be prepared in case quarantine or lockdown measures are imposed or recommended by local, state, or federal governments.
- Promote a safe and healthy workplace. Place health-related posters in common spaces and provide tissues, soap, hand sanitizer, etc. Review and follow CDC and OSHA guidance. Although the CDC has indicated that no additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is necessary at this time, be sure to clean work surfaces, door knobs, countertops, and provide disposable wipes.
- Prepare a plan to reduce exposure. Employers should consider how business operations may need to be modified in the event COVID-19 becomes more widespread in the U.S. Plans will need to be customized for the particular workplace and industry.
- Notify employees of risks while maintaining confidentiality. If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure, but maintain confidentiality as required by federal and state law.
- Enforce anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. Fears about COVID-19 have triggered anti-Asian sentiment. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination and harassment based on race, ethnicity, and national origin. Employers must review and enforce their policies consistently.
- Don’t fuel the rumors and treat employees with care. Direct employees to legitimate sources of information and do not fuel rumors, fears, and racism. If employees appear distressed, provide support and consider referrals to employee assistance programs.
- Decide on a robust communication plan. Employers should plan now for communications in the event that many or all employees are not in the office. An effective communication plan is essential in stressful times and when situations are evolving rapidly.