As the world comes to grips with the Coronavirus (officially named COVID-19), employers are considering the potential impact upon their workplaces.
The past few days have brought numerous unprecedented developments, including closing of many colleges and universities, discontinuation of large gatherings in the State of Ohio, and travel limitations from Europe.
The best current advice to the workforce in our area is to exercise caution, practice common sense hygiene, encourage employees to stay home when sick, and prepare for alternate work strategies such as telecommuting. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration advises employers, in the event of any widespread virus, to do the little things that prevent transmission, such as:
- Encourage employees to wash their hands frequently with soap and water
- Have hand sanitizer available in lobbies and public areas
- Encourage employees to cover their coughs and sneezes with tissues and to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer after sneezing or coughing
- Minimize shaking hands and always wash hands after contact with others
- Discourage employees from using other employees’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment
- Minimize meetings, and avoid close contact in meetings while ensuring proper ventilation in all meeting rooms
Employers should consider appointing a coordinator or team with defined roles and responsibilities for communication and preparedness. This person or team should be familiar with equal employment opportunity laws to ensure that the Family Medical Leave Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, or other anti-discrimination laws are not infringed during the response process. For example, employers must maintain confidentiality if an employee contracts the Coronavirus. Employers may inform fellow employees of their general possible exposure risk, but must maintain confidentiality as required by the ADA.
Employers should educate workers on the signs and symptoms of the Coronavirus and the precautions that can be taken to prevent the spread of the virus. Employers should send employees home if they show respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath or breathing difficulties. Employers should consider adopting a telecommuting policy, if practicable, as well as making exceptions to office absence or PTO policies. Finally, employers should remain informed of developments on the Coronavirus and continue to circulate new information to workers as it becomes available. Sources of information include the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
While it can be hoped that the Coronavirus avoids coming into our homes and businesses, hope is not a strategy. Employers should be prepared to act proactively, making sure employees receive the information and accommodation they need with a minimum of business disruption.