Workplace Preparations to Take for COVID-19
Each day COVID-19, the official name for the coronavirus issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), grows. Globally, as of March 10, 2020, nearly 110,000 cases have been identified. Of these cases, over 3,800 have resulted in death. While countries in Asia have been hit the hardest, the virus has spread to over 100 countries across the globe.
Outbreaks in Europe are rapidly growing, a key market that many U.S. companies work with and travel between. Italy, France, Germany, and Spain are experiencing the most cases. It’s evident from this that the virus is rapidly spreading. Already, the U.S. is seeing cases multiply. Currently, there are over 700 cases in 34 states and Washington D.C., including Colorado.
In Colorado, 33 positive cases of COVID-19 have already been confirmed. Due to the severity of the virus, Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency on Mar. 10, 2020. Colorado is also the first state with drive-up COVID-19 testing facilities. These facilities are free of charge, making tests for the virus more accessible and lessening the risk of spreading it. Right now, it’s important for Colorado employers to stay up to date on news of the virus, as the numbers are changing daily.
Given the severity of the virus, it’s understandable to be concerned and have questions. One important question that no one has quite figured out an answer to is: How should businesses handle this virus and prepare for its impact? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) have suggestions for what employers should be doing during this crisis.
Protecting Your Employees’ Health
With a healthcare crisis, it’s important to take measures in the office to mitigate the risks of infection. These measures should be communicated to your employees. This will ensure they know what actions to take themselves and feel safer coming to work.
The virus spreads by respiratory droplets, which are typically generated through coughing and sneezing. Therefore, keeping your office clean is paramount. Any measures implemented should focus on the cleanliness of both the office and your employees.
It’s not recommended for every employee to wear surgical masks. Only people who are sick and coughing regularly benefit the office by wearing these. Other employees shouldn’t be encouraged to wear them.
CDC Recommendations to Implement
Policies the CDC recommends implementing include:
- Keeping plenty of soap and paper towels accessible to all employees. It is also recommended that employers provide alcohol-based wipes and hand sanitizer.
- Reminding employees that the appropriate amount of time to spend washing their hands is 20 seconds or longer. Any length of time shorter than that may be ineffective.
- Regularly cleaning your office. This includes cleaning desks, keyboards, break room furniture, and the reception area. Pay careful attention to items multiple people use throughout the day. These include phones, furniture, and kitchen items, as well as others.
- Limiting travel, especially to countries the Department of State Safety and Security Alerts has issued travel advisories for.
The lifespan of the virus on hard surfaces is unknown. It’s thought to be minutes or days at the most. However, several factors can impact this, such as temperature, humidity and the type of surface. To be safe, regular cleaning of all surfaces is recommended.
What to do When an Employee is Sick
If one of your employees is sick, you may be tempted to send them home or ask them to wear a surgical mask. There’s no specific guidance that says an employer can require an employee to wear a surgical mask if they’re coughing or sneezing. You can encourage this, but not require it. You also shouldn’t send an employee home unless you have evidence to suggest they pose a threat to the other employees in the office.
Neither of these is an action you should take without consulting an employment attorney first. They are the best resource to ensure you’re complying with state and federal laws and not infringing on your employees’ rights.
Should you find that one of your employees has contracted COVID-19, you’ll need to contact your state or local health department. They will be the most aware of what’s going on in your community with the virus and how to act. Recommending that every employee be tested for the virus is also a good measure to take.
When this employee recovers and wants to return to work, you may require a doctor’s note clearing them for work before they return to the office. This isn’t recommended by the CDC, though, due to the overwhelming workload of health professionals at the moment.
Offering Remote Work Options
One of the best ways to keep your employees healthy is to keep them out of the office. Many companies have already shifted their workforces to be entirely remote. This may seem like an extreme measure, but it can be helpful to your company for multiple reasons.
- It will ensure everyone’s health is as safe as possible. Without the risk of travel to and from the office and spending eight hours a day in a crowded space, your employees will be safer. Communicating via email or Slack and holding meetings over video conference platforms can help with this transition.
- Your employees’ morale will likely rise. If your employees feel that you’re prioritizing their health and safety, they’ll likely view you and the company more favorably.
- Productivity will rise. We’ve mentioned before that employees who work remotely perform 10% more work overall than regular employees. Also, remote workers have longer tenure with their employers.
Preventing Panic from Spreading
The best way to prevent panic from spreading through your staff is to stay informed and in turn keep them informed. Looking to credible sources for your information is important, especially with a topic that’s being highly misreported on.
Employers should regularly check the CDC’s web page on COVID-19 along with SHRM’s page about how to handle communicable diseases in the workplace. Checking these along with credible newspapers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal will keep you informed and ready to make adjustments as needed as the virus spreads.
- “How Business, Workers, and Workplaces Should Respond to COVD-19.” SHRM, 10 March 2020.
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