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Coronavirus Preparation: Next Steps for Employers

Posted on March 4, 2020
Kim MoshlakWritten by Kim Moshlak | Email author
coronavirus preparation next steps for employers

As news of the COVID-19 Coronavirus continues to circulate, employers are finding themselves facing questions about the virus and the organization’s response to it. This isn’t the first time in US history business has been faced with this challenge (remember SARS and H1N1 as examples), however, the media coverage combined with the uncertainty about the virus has created a unique opportunity for employers to address this challenge.

The most important thing is not to panic. According to the CDC, “for the general American public… the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low”. That doesn’t mean, however, that planning and precautions shouldn’t be taken.

Make Emergency Plans

Employers are being urged by the CDC to begin to make emergency plans in response. Here are some questions to help you begin to think about how this pandemic could affect your business.

  1. How prepared is your organization for employees to work remotely? What can you do to employ those who are customer-facing, or dependent on being in the office to complete their work?
  2. How much traveling do your employees do? Are they traveling overseas? Can the work be completed without travel? (See the U.S. Department of State for travel advisories.)
  3. Are your employees cross-trained and prepared to take over the role of someone who may go out sick?
  4. How much of your business is dependent on another business working? For example, if you support the education space and schools are closed, what effect would that have on your business?
  5. If your business should begin to lose revenue, where can you cut expenses to ensure your organization maintains financial security through the loss?

Managing Employees

You may decide on any number of responses to manage employees throughout this period. If your business must close, salaried employees must be paid for complete work weeks. So, for example, if a quarantine period begins in the middle of the week, salaried employees should be paid for the entire workweek. Hourly employees do not have a guarantee of pay and therefore may be paid for hours worked.

Employees may be allowed to use PTO during this time if the organization so decides. Consider this decision carefully, as if revenue is a concern, this payout may be too impactful.

Employees should be strongly encouraged to work remotely if they are ill, even if it is not specifically this virus. They and other employees need to maintain their health to the greatest extent possible to fight this virus if they should contract it, so strong immune systems are essential. Employees who come to work ill take a chance of passing an illness to another employee, thus suppressing their immune system. Employees with a fever should NOT report to work until the fever has passed by at least 24 hours. Some employees may require a doctor’s note releasing them to return to work in the event of absence due to illness.

Questions from Employees

Questions employers face can be challenging and because this topic isn’t one that comes up regularly, the answers can seem daunting. Helios recommends taking each question as it comes, researching it, and then creating an FAQ to share on an intranet/Sharepoint site. By using this central location, employers can add content to it regularly to keep employees apprised of changes and to answer questions.

Summary

The key to managing through contagious illnesses like the Coronavirus and the Flu is to maintain constant communication with employees, stay on top of updates from the CDC and/or local Health Department, to take appropriate actions (not extreme measures), and to remain calm. Employers that show a reasonable response to this pandemic will create a sense of trust with their employees.

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