The Benefit Company is eager to share with you helpful tools for addressing employer concerns regarding the coronavirus (“coronavirus disease 2019” or “COVID-19”).
In addition to suggesting the limitation of international travel, the CDC[i] has provided a list of steps businesses can take that may prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. HR leaders and other senior leaders should take the time to review the CDC’s Interim Guidance.
Below are a few key points for employers to consider:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. Employees should be free of a fever of 100.4° for at least 24 hours without the aid of medicine before returning to work. This also includes discussing safeguards with vendors and with companies providing contract or temporary employees to your business. Furthermore, employers are asked not to require a healthcare provider’s notes for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness.
- Separate sick employees. Employees who appear ill should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately.
- Ensure your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidelines.
- Emphasize staying home when sick, as well as respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, to all employees. Communicate through posters, emails, company intranets, and other methods. Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for employees. Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- If employees are traveling, advise them to take precautionary steps. Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance. The guidance includes advising employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness.
- Advise employees on best practices if a family member is sick. Employees should notify their employer if a family member is sick with COVID-19. Employers should then inform fellow employers of their possible exposure — being careful to maintain confidentiality as required by the ADA.
- Plan now in the event of an outbreak. Some news outlets are reporting that it is not a matter of “if” but “when” an outbreak of COVID-19 will occur. Whether or not an outbreak is imminent, the CDC affirms, “All employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations.” Plans and preparations could include:
- Tactics to continue essential business functions if absenteeism increases.
- Decisions on how to accommodate parents should schools be closed to contain the spread of the disease.
- Adjusting current teleworking and flex day policies.
- Empowering local managers at satellite offices with the authority to take appropriate actions.
It is recommended that plans be flexible and should include input from employees. Plans should be shared with employees, with an explanation of what HR policies, flexible work schedules, leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be included.
Employers are encouraged to review CDC updates as more information is disseminated or if the threat of an outbreak increases.