As the likelihood grows that the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) will not be contained soon, it is important that employers and business owners begin to think about the potential for significant disruption to current businesses practices and the need for policies to safeguard their employees and customers.
About the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China where it is believed that it was initially contracted from animals in a marketplace. Now passed from human-to-human, there have been more than 83,000 cases of coronavirus reported and the number continues to grow. Approximately 82 percent of cases reported are considered mild, with the other 18 percent defined as serious or critical. It is expected that a vaccine will take upwards of a year and a half to be ready. (Worldometers)
While much remains unknown about the virus, experts believe that it spreads in a manner similar to a cold or flu, through coughing, sneezing and physical contact. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It’s currently unknown if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.” Additionally, OSHA is clear to point out that the risk for workers still remains low and their is no evidence of widespread transmission in the United States at this time. Industries who face potentially elevated risks include:
- Airline operations
- Border protection
- Solid waste and wastewater management
- Travel to areas, including parts of China, where the virus is spreading.
What Businesses Should Consider Doing Now
Many health organizations and business advocacy groups are suggesting employers have a plan in place to respond to any future outbreak of the virus in the United States. The CDC website offers a comprehensive guide for businesses that is updated regularly to reflect new information as it is reported. For employers looking for general guidelines, below are what most public health organizations are recommending for businesses large and small to consider having in place now.
Have enhanced protocols in place for keeping sick employees from contacting other employees or customers
– Institute or revisit work-from-home and flexible leave policies so employees will not come to work unwell for fear of lost wages or being terminated
– Set-up platforms for online meetings (Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, etc.) as well as have desktop sharing software that will allow employees to access their files remotely.
– Use the CDC guidelines to outline for employees when they should stay home from work, when he or she will be sent home (e.g. management should send home anyone demonstrating symptoms of acute respiratory illness) and what criteria needs to be met before an employee may return. without the aid of medicine).
– Have a travel policy in place if employees are regularly on the road or are vacationing in areas determined at heightened risk for infection.
Put in place a plan to communicate the importance of employees using hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette (e.g. posters, memos, distributing hand sanitizer, wipes). Establish a schedule of regular cleanings of touched surfaces and provide sanitizer and wipes. Educate employees on proper practices.
Plan for high levels of absenteeism and illness. Anticipate how to manage your business if employees are unable to physically come to work or must care for another family member or a child/ children if schools are closed as a preventative measure.
Determine how you will communicate policy changes to employees. Very much is still unknown about the coronavirus and new information is being presented daily. Trusted sources for information like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC are constantly posting new information to help contain and mitigate this crisis, as well as counteract the misrepresentations that are spreading rapidly through social media.
Additional resources are listed below, and you may want to find industry-specific recommendations and information for your business to consult.
Further Reading and Resources