As cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to grow, public health groups, such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are monitoring the situation and posting updates on their websites.
We also have been receiving calls into our MRA Hotline that shows concern is high, and employers are asking what they can do.
The key is for employers to be prepared and to always have a contingency plan in place. A crisis or catastrophe in the workplace, whether the result of pandemics, natural disasters, threats, fires, violence, cybercrimes, etc., can be devastating to an organization and its employees. Being proactive, prepared, and offering clear communication is essential to maintaining the top priority which is the safety and security of your employees.
With concerns about coronavirus top of mind, we recommend employers communicate with their employees the following information:
What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)?
According to the CDC, COVID-19 is a new disease, and they are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread in the United States. However, in general the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) when an infected person coughs or sneezes or from contact with infected surfaces or objects and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
Symptoms and Prevention Methods
The CDC recommends paying attention to how you are feeling. Symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. To help prevent the spread of germs, handwashing with warm, soapy water is recommended. If water is not available, use 60 percent alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Ultimately, we encourage everyone to make responsible decisions and stay home if they are sick. Asking an employee who is showing symptoms of a contagious illness to leave the premises is an acceptable and reasonable request. Continue to communicate regularly with the employee and allow the employee to return to work when they are free from fever for 24 hours. Employees who are diagnosed with Coronavirus should follow guidance from public health officials and their doctor before being released from isolation and thus returning to work.
Employers are encouraged to post signs as reminders to wash hands and cover your cough. Have hand sanitizer dispensers and disinfectant materials available for use through the facility by employees, suppliers, and customers.
In addition, an employer may restrict business travel. Employers should continue to consult the CDC's website: "Coronavirus Disease 2019 Information for Travel" for travel notices concerning risk.
MRA recommends encouraging employees to work from home if possible. The ability to work remote will depend on the nature of the work and company culture. In general, if the employee can work remotely, we recommend the employee be provided the opportunity to continue working. In this situation, this would not be considered a "leave."
We suggest employers look at their FMLA options, Personal Time Off, and other sick leave options available to employees. Consider what business contingency plans you have in place to maintain necessary levels of operation. What are your communication protocols to keep your internal and external stakeholders informed?
MRA has put together a Contagious Diseases and Pandemic Toolkit that can be downloaded from www.mranet to help organizations inform their employees on best practices. The toolkit also offers state links to help stay on top of the current status of public health. A sample business continuation plan is also included.
Having a plan and being ready is the best way to be prepared for any situation that arises. Taking precautions, such as washing hands, are the best way to stay protected and hopefully remain healthy through this potential COVID-19 crisis.
• Michael Hyatt is HR government affairs director at MRA - The Management Association.