Everywhere you turn today, Coronavirus is the number one topic in the news, on social media and in conversation. From instructions on proper handwashing techniques to appropriate self-containment protocols, there is substantial information (and misinformation) being disseminated. It may be difficult to sort through, but businesses cannot, and should not, turn a blind eye to the possible repercussions of a COVID-19 outbreak. Are you prepared?
If you haven’t already done so, you should consider adopting a contingency plan for your company. You should also assess whether your leave policies will adequately protect both the business and its employees.
It isn’t unusual for employees to come to work sick when, instead, they should have stayed home. Self-containment, however, is the key to slowing down the spread of Coronavirus, which will, in turn, allow more time for development of tests and a vaccine. If the nature of your business permits it, a proper contingency plan will allow your employees to continue working (and your business to keep generating revenue) even if they cannot come into the office. To formulate such a plan, you should consider the following matters:
- Which categories of employees have jobs that allow them to telecommute?
- Does the company have remote work capabilities in place?
- What can the company do now to obtain remote work capabilities?
- If employees are out sick for the 14-day containment period and cannot work remotely, how will their work be covered?
- How will employees communicate with one another during an office shutdown or remote work period?
- How will the company communicate with employees regarding office closures?
Regardless of whether the nature of your business permits telecommuting, the best thing that any company can do now is strongly encourage (or mandate) that sick employees stay home. If an employee comes to work exhibiting possible COVID-19 symptoms, you should send him/her home.
Thus, you should take the time now to assess whether your leave policies are appropriate in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak at your business. The CDC has indicated that COVID-19 has a 3-14–day incubation period. That means that, as a practical matter, anyone who knows or believes he was exposed to coronavirus should remain in containment for 14 days. Does your business allow enough leave time that an employee can take paid leave if he/she is infected with the coronavirus? If not, you should consider implementing an emergency leave plan that allows employees to go into a negative leave balance (i.e., time that can be made up throughout the year). It is also advisable to determine now, rather than later, whether your company’s short-term disability plan (if you have one) will cover absences due to coronavirus. You also could choose to pay employees if there is no other leave available.
Can it Wait?
The key to minimizing the spread of coronavirus is social distancing. Before you or your employees travel or attend a gathering of any size, consider, can it wait? Is there an alternative way to hold this meeting (such as teleconferencing)? Must you really make that trip? Employers should encourage employees to limit their in-person interactions as much as possible. What otherwise may have been a meeting, could now be a video conference or telephone conference.
Provide the Necessary Resources
You can’t just ask employees to limit their interactions, you must also provide them with the sanitization products needed to remain in good health. We recommend purchasing ample amounts of facial tissues, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant sprays and wipes for employees’ use. It isn’t enough, though, to simply have the products on hand; you must communicate to employees that they are available for use and where they can be found.
If you have any questions about whether your employment policies are adequate, or if you need advice on implementing new ones, please feel free to contact Frank Laws or Sima Fried, at 410-752-2468.