News about the increasing threat of coronavirus have employers wondering how to prepare their businesses and their employees for corona-related impact. It’s up to employers to advise employees and protect against the spread of illness in workplaces, including COVID-19*:
Advise Employees About Preventative Measures:
- Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends singing "Happy Birthday" twice to approximate 20 seconds of washing time.
- Consider sending out handwashing guidelines, like the CDC’s handwashing website.
- Use hand sanitizer when handwashing isn’t possible. Use a formula with at least 60% alcohol (per the CDC). Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands, but they are not effective against all viruses.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then dispose of the tissue.
- Advise employees to stay home if they are experiencing a fever or other symptoms of illness.
- Advise employees to seek immediate medical attention if they experience flu-like symptoms or believe they have been exposed to coronavirus.
- If employees become sick at work, send them home.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as copiers, elevator buttons, and door handles with a cleaning spray or wipe.
- The CDC does not recommend the general use of a facemask for people who are well. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms.
- Consider distributing hand sanitizer to employees and making sanitizers available in common areas such as conference rooms, lunch and break rooms, restrooms, reception areas, etc.
Implement Calm, Regular Employee Communications:
- Provide helpful resources from known sources:
- Remember that the hype of the 24-hour news cycle can create panic. The news coverage isn’t designed to take a long view and can cause overreaction.
Review Your Disaster Preparedness Plan and Policies:
- Review and share your disaster preparedness plan in case employees must work from home.
- Ensure that those who may work from home have up-to-date remote access information and tools. Management, in particular, may wish to be prepared to work from home.
- Ensure you have accurate personal emails and mobile phone numbers. Remember: if non-exempt employees work during non-working hours, including responding to emails or texts or phone calls, they must be paid in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- Consider limiting travel, particularly by air. If traveling, see the CDC’s Coronavirus 2019 Disease Information for Travel.
- Remember: under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), these and other highly communicable diseases count as “known hazards” under that law which means employers have an obligation to protect their workforces from those hazards.
- Review OSHA’s Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, COVID-19 website, and COVID-19 standards.
- Any type of influenza, including COVID-19, could qualify as a serious health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or state-specific family leave regulations. Generally, companies with 50 or more employees are covered by FMLA and states have differing requirements.
- Influenza and other viruses could rise to the level of a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act and state disability statutes. Care must be taken not to discriminate on this basis.
*There are many types of human coronaviruses, some of which cause mild upper-respiratory illnesses. The current threat which was initially identified in Wuhan, China is coming from a newly identified coronavirus named COVID-19 for Coronavirus-19.