ALERT – Coronavirus - What Employers Need to Know
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Concern about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its potential impact on U.S. businesses has increased significantly. Rising employee angst, stock market volatility, and news of increasing outbreaks around the world have resulted in an increased volume of questions from our clients tied to employee health, safety, and overall productivity.
As such, we felt it was time to provide some critical advice and insight into how businesses should prepare and react to both the current situation and potential further spread of the virus in the United States.
As more countries report cases of Coronavirus within their borders (as seen most recently in Iran, Italy, and South Korea), employee reluctance to travel internationally will continue to grow.
Hesitation to travel even to countries not yet impacted is evident, as employees fear increased likelihood for exposure, as international travel could result in contact with those from areas most adversely affected.
Businesses must be sensitive to employee concerns and respectful of those who wish to limit business travel until the virus is deemed under control or when a treatment is found. It is strongly advised that you are sensitive to these concerns when expressed; that no employee is forced to travel.
If any of your employees travel to "virus hot zones", the CDC has recommended that the employee, upon their return, wait a period of 14 calendar days before returning to the workplace. This step is designed to isolate those who MAY be carriers of the virus. The same advice applies to non-employees who support your firm and spend time in your offices.
Leave Policies / Legal Compliance
It is critical that all businesses keep the following in mind as you address any illnesses or self-imposed quarantines:
In an effort to contain the possible spread of serious illness, businesses often forget the varying laws and protections in place for employees. It is critical that you carefully weigh all contemplated actions against both the lawful rights of your employees and your fiduciary responsibility to maintain and support a safe workplace.
There are many laws that must be considered as the situation continues to unfold, including the Family Medical Leave Act, OSHA, HIPPA, privacy related laws and practices, local sick leave laws, and even the ADA. Any actions you choose to take regarding concern about someone who may possibly be infected must be carefully executed with professional guidance and input.
In short, it is impossible to adequately summarize the many mines in a very large minefield you are trying to navigate. Securing professional advice and input is paramount.
The CDC has advised all U.S employers to immediately plan for the possibility of having to operate with a partial or total remote workforce for an undetermined period of time.
In the worst-case scenario, businesses may have some (or all) of their workforce isolated at home to contain the spread of the virus. Those firms with a plan to effectively operate under these conditions will weather this storm most successfully. The key items to consider implementing include:
- Equipping your team with laptops and / or the ability to remote in to office-based desktop computers.
- Setting up your phone system so that extensions can be redirected to cell phones or home land-lines.
- Engaging a secure, private video conferencing and messaging service designed to allow for seamless remote communication among your employees and clients.
- Asking your employees to check home internet speed and bandwidth, ensuring they have the right setup to optimally perform on a remote basis.
Common approaches to limit the spread of workplace germs need to be revisited and optimized. This includes making products like Purell available, promoting exceptional hygiene, and being diligent about wiping down commonly touched surfaces (e.g. door handles, kitchen counters and appliances, water coolers, etc.).
The CDC strongly recommends encouraging employees to take sick time as needed and discouraging workers from coming to the office when they are ill.
Businesses should prepare for increased absences tied to both employee illness and the need to care for others who may become infected. Erring on the side of caution, employers should strongly consider asking employees to stay home when ill vs. pressing them to come to work.
Until the virus is contained, employees will be fearful. It is critical that businesses encourage employees to remain calm but demonstrate there is a plan to successfully manage the outbreak of illness should it become necessary. As such, regular, measured communication is paramount.
Many businesses are experiencing supply chain disruptions and negative impacts to employee productivity. This could lead to the need for layoffs or furloughs. Again, be sure to secure the proper expert advice on what can be a liability-filled exercise if not properly choreographed.
Overall, it is critical to consider your options and start the planning phase now vs. doing so at a point when the virus is already impacting your operation.
The CDC has established a very comprehensive section of their website designed to provide insight, advice, and direction. We advise that you stay on top of their postings and consider checking this page daily until the virus situation cools down.
Visit the CDC webpage here.