No matter where you live in the U.S., you’re not far from people infected by COVID-19, the Coronavirus. The nature of the outbreak is changing continually as infection control professionals learn more about the virus. What doesn’t change, however, is the need for wise choices from employers in response to the pandemic. As businesses consider modifying operations, here are some key issues to consider as you find a new normal during these very abnormal circumstances.
Stay up to date on health news for your area.
Events surrounding the pandemic are unfolding quickly and employers need to base decisions on the most current information. Two reliable, frequently updated sources are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Limit business travel to only what is essential.
Use videoconferencing for meetings and presentations whenever possible. And prohibit business travel to high risk locations such as China, Italy, South Korea and other countries with a high incidence of the virus.
Allow employees to work from home when possible.
Have the flexibility to let employees tend to their personal health as needed. Encourage your workers to take company laptops home in case of office closures. Maintain an open dialogue with your employees about what they need to effectively perform their jobs remotely.
Remind employees to regularly wash their hands.
Post signs that remind your staff of simple but necessary hygiene practices like washing hands, refraining from touching their faces, covering their mouths with bent elbows when they cough or sneeze, and disposing of used tissues immediately.
Keep the workplace clean.
Regularly sanitize high-traffic areas of your company and put hand sanitizer in highly visible areas to encourage its frequent use.
Communicate your health and safety plan to employees.
Consider creating a single source of relevant information, whether a website, regular email alerts, or app. If practical, require employees to attend a training course on current safety and health practices.
Prepare for mandated policy changes.
The recent passage of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, effective April 2, requires companies with 500 or fewer employees to implement paid sick leave for up to 80 hours for full time employees. The act describes sick leave as absences due to quarantine or isolation mandated by government directive, advice of a healthcare provider, or absence due to waiting for a medical diagnosis for symptoms of COVID-19. An expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), also effective April 2, requires paid leave in order to stay with a child whose usual place of care is closed due to the virus. Both of these statutes include caveats and ways to apply for exemptions that your employment attorney can help you navigate.
Every company is different, and what works for large companies might be impractical for small businesses. The appropriate response to the COVID-19 outbreak must be formed on a case-by-case basis, with guidance from government agencies, local health departments, and legal counsel. As always, we are happy to help.