As the world health community continues to closely monitor the Coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19 companies are wondering how this will impact their employees and business. At this time, no one truly knows how severe this outbreak will be, however, given the uncertainty of Coronavirus’s path, we recommend taking proactive steps in your workplace. This is not only to prevent the spread of illness but also to establish policies which define how you will handle long term illnesses.
Protect Yourself and Those Around You
First and foremost, ask your employees to assist in taking steps to reduce the transmission of communicable diseases in the workplace. Employees should be reminded of the following:
- Stay home when they are sick.
- Wash their hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
- Cover their mouth with tissues whenever they sneeze or cough, and immediately discard used tissues in the trash. If a tissue is not available, use the “vampire sneeze” by sneezing or coughing into their elbow versus their hands.
- Avoid people who are sick.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces, including their phone, keyboards or remote.
Within the workplace, employers should take measures to routinely clean common surfaces like door handles, coffee pots or copy machines or possibly provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the workplace and in common areas. You may even elect to offer cleaning sprays or wipes for employees to use to disinfect objects that often get overlooked like their telephone, monitors and keyboards.
Alternate Work Options
This is also a good time to evaluate travel and determine if it is really necessary. Although it may not always be possible, encourage employees to use telephone or video conferencing versus traveling to a remote worksite – not only could this save the company money, but it could also prevent key employees from becoming sick and missing time. Furthermore, review which positions, if any, can work remotely. You may not have a policy that routinely allows work-from-home, but this could be something that your organization may want to consider, especially if someone does show symptoms of illness. Allowing employees to work from home may prevent the spread of illness through the department. Establishing a remote work program can be done by informing employees telecommuting will be considered on a case-by-case basis for positions with primary job duties that can be performed remotely.
Even with all these measures in place, it’s still very possible that employees will get sick. Take this opportunity to review your sick time or PTO policy and examine the option of granting additional time, or allowing employees to borrow time from next year, in the event of a serious health threat. Reminding your employees of the company’s sick or PTO policy is recommended because it is important employees understand these policies are designed for them to stay home for short-term illnesses. These policies are in place not only so the employee can stay home to get better, but also so they don’t spread their germs throughout the office. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employees remain at home until they are fever free (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C) for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. Also remind employees they should not report to work if they are experiencing symptoms such as fever (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C), cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue. If you choose to send employees home who exhibit these symptoms, we would recommend advising your staff in advance that employees who report to work ill will be sent home in accordance with these health guidelines.
FMLA Guidelines and the WARN Act
Cornerstone also recommends familiarizing yourself with appropriate state or federal laws and your company’s policies concerning long term illnesses. If your organization has 50 or more employees FMLA guidelines prevail, but if your company falls under that threshold or certain employees do not yet qualify for FMLA, we recommend establishing a leave policy for employees who will be out longer than just a few days. Your policy should define whether the leave is paid or unpaid, how long the company will hold the employee’s job and how long the employee will be allowed to remain active on benefits.
In the event COVID-19 escalates so greatly that it impacts business operations or global commerce, you may be faced with temporary shut downs, layoffs or even permanent downsizing. Before making any decisions regarding layoffs, closures or terminations, familiarize yourself with laws that may protect employees in these instances like the WARN Act, which requires a minimum of 60 days’ notice in advance of plant closure or mass layoff. In addition to the federal WARN Act, there may be similar state or local laws defining notice requirements that must be adhered to.
We recommend establishing these preventative measures so that your organization has a procedure in place in advance of anyone getting ill.
For additional information, contact Bethany Holliday.
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