News about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19 or “the coronavirus”) pandemic understandably can be unsettling, but infectious disease outbreaks need not induce panic.
By being well versed in the facts, business leaders can play a critical role in soothing employees’ concerns, modeling healthy behaviors and keeping their workplaces relatively productive – all while not running afoul of related laws and regulations.
Because public health conditions can change rapidly, it’s critical for employers to know:
- How to help protect employees and customers
- How to continue business operations during a pandemic
- How to rely on official sources to stay informed
- How to manage and mitigate organizational risks
- How to navigate potential legal issues that may arise
With those needs in mind, here’s what you need to know to plan, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. How to help protect employees and customers
During any crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic, safety comes first.
While there’s no guarantee that your employees, customers and business will remain unharmed, there are simple safety measures you can enact to help keep everyone out of harm’s way.
The following strategies are good starting points.
Familiarize yourself with the latest understanding of the COVID-19 virus
In order to protect employees and customers, ensure that you understand the basics of how this virus is spread, some of the common symptoms and recommendations to avoid catching the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19 is spread:
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
- Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- When these droplets land in the mouths or noses of nearby people — or when the droplets are inhaled into the lungs.
Also, according to the CDC, these common symptoms of COVID-19 typically appear 2-14 days after exposure:
- Shortness of breath
The CDC notes that individuals can be asymptomatic yet still carry and spread the virus.
Furthermore, in light of what is presently known about the disease, the CDC recommends the following to reduce the likelihood that you catch or spread the virus:
- Clean your hands often.
- Avoid close contact with others, particularly large groups – a practice commonly referred to as “social distancing.”
- Stay home if you’re sick.
- Cover coughs and sneezes.
- Wear a face mask if you’re sick.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently.
For more information on how the disease is transmitted, symptoms and what to do if you’re sick, please monitor the CDC website.
For business leaders managing workplaces or team members in multiple states, it may be helpful to track the number and geographic location of reported cases nationwide through the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering’s map: Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Adapt your sick leave and other attendance policies
- If someone is sick, encourage them to stay home. Avoid the risk of spreading their illness, whether its COVID-19 or the common cold, to your workforce and customers. An abundance of caution may not only help contain the spread but also reassure everyone that you’re concerned about and committed to their safety.
- If your business is strict about requiring a doctor’s note to validate an employee’s condition or return to work, then temporarily disband that policy — particularly for employees suffering from acute respiratory illness.This choice is as much about encouraging people to play it safe when sick by staying home as it is about being supportive of the local medical community. During a pandemic, hospitals and health care workers can become overwhelmed, making it difficult to obtain such documentation in a timely manner.
- If an employee’s family member is sick, allow the employee to stay home to provide continuous care. Employees who appear well but who live with a family member diagnosed with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor. (Refer to the CDC on how to conduct a risk assessment regarding potential exposure.)
- Consider creating a COVID-19 incubation leave policy to allow employees who are suspected of having the virus to take time off work and isolate themselves.This is another example of how proactive, compassionate care may not only help protect against the spread between your employees and clients but also within the community (or communities) in which you do business. Consult your legal counsel on how to best implement this type of policy.
Sanitation and hygiene
- Position messaging posters in the workplace where they’re likely to be seen to encourage employees to stay home when sick, teach proper cough and sneeze etiquette and reinforce the basics of hand hygiene.
- Provide sufficient soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel, paper towels and other supplies as needed in the workplace to encourage hand hygiene.
- Regularly clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as desks, counter tops, handles and doorknobs. Provide disposable wipes so that employees can wipe commonly used surfaces before each use.
- Encourage everyone to refrain, as much as possible, from behaviors that may spread the virus in the workplace. For instance, eschew shaking hands in favor of a simple nod when greeting others. Minimize the sharing of cups, bowls and other items in common areas.
Travel and events
- Consider canceling non-essential business travel per CDC and Department of State travel guidance.
- Cancel or postpone all non-essential work meetings and large gatherings. When meetings are essential, use technology as much as possible to provide virtual meeting spaces.
- Assess whether in-bound materials coming from an outbreak area should be quarantined to avoid surface transmission to employees.
- Insperity: Your 6-step emergency plan for traveling employees
- CDC: Coronavirus disease 2019 information for travel
- CDC: General travel health notices
- Department of State: COVID-19 information for travelers
Insperity’s commitment to clients
Insperity has supported small to medium-sized businesses for more than 30 years. We understand we are in uncharted territory and want to ensure you that we are prepared and here to support our clients through this time of uncertainty.
Our top priority is the health and safety of our employees, clients and the communities where we live and work.
We have an emergency planning team in place that is closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and the CDC guidance regarding the situation.
Should the impacts of COVID-19 worsen, we are confident in our ability to respond accordingly and continue delivering the premium level of service to which you are accustomed. We have a well-documented business continuity plan that is equipped to monitor and assist with the safety of our team members without interruption to our clients and their employees.
Insperity will continue to monitor the situation and guide its clients accordingly. Clients who have questions are encouraged to contact their HR specialist, account executive or client liaison.