By: Kim Moshlak on February 11th, 2020

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How Employers Can Prepare for the COVID-19 Pandemic

News | Best Practices

Authors: Kim Moshlak, Principal Consultant & Connie Maniscalco, Practice Leader, Helios HR

As business and HR leaders, we have an obligation to our employees to ensure a safe workplace for everyone. Recently with the Coronavirus outbreak, our consultants at Helios have been having discussions with our clients about the outbreak and what we can do to ensure a safe workplace for all. Here are a few of the tips we are sharing on safe workplace practices below.

Let’s start with the facts:

  • The U.S. invoked a National Public Health Emergency based upon the actions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the recommendations of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control (HHS/CDC).
  • As of February 3, 2020, under the Health and Human Services Public Health Emergency, enhanced screening began taking place at 11 designated airports. Enhanced screening of travelers has been expanded to international airports including HNL, SEA, SFO, LAX, DFW, ORD, DTW, ATL, IAD, EWR, and JFK.
  • The U.S. has temporarily suspended entry into the United States for any foreign nationals who have traveled to China. The action will restrict all foreign nationals who have been to China — other than the immediate family of American citizens and permanent residents — from entering the United States. The temporary ban took effect at 5 pm ET on Sunday, February 2, 2020.
  • If you still have staff in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and have not begun repatriation operations, consider implementing a robust sustainable shelter in place with life support requirements for your staff remaining in PRC. The U.S. Department of State recommends stockpiling food and self-isolation as they cannot assure providing any further assistance. After February 9th, there will be no U.S. carrier flights between Hong Kong and the U.S. until at least February 20th.

Now that we have the most up to date facts and have a source to ensure we continue to get the most up to date information about the spread of the virus, let's discuss a few other important scenarios.

What happens if an employee reports to work with an infectious disease?

Many leaders feel there is a need to report someone who comes down with any sort of infectious disease, however, it is the doctor’s responsibility for reporting this to the Department of Public Health. Once contacted, the Department of Public Health will contact the employer and conduct their own investigation.

For those that may have contracted or have been exposed to an infectious disease, here are some factors for HR to think about:

  • It should go without saying, if someone believes they are ill, they should go the doctor to be tested.
  • If an illness is contracted while on company travel then follow your procedure for reporting workers’ compensation claims.
  • If you offer Short Term Disability insurance, coverage may apply depending on how long the employee will need to be out of the office.
  • FMLA should be granted for those who qualify.
  • Employees who have concerns about the possibility of being exposed without any actual proof may be permitted to go home without pay or use their own PTO. There is no legal obligation to permit them to work remotely, however good business sense should prevail.
  • If exposed, we recommend using a remediation company to clean the workspace. (Keep in mind, most cleaning services do not have the means and experience to clean a biohazard exposure.)
  • Practice good hygiene and wash hands frequently. Keep your hands away from your face.

As HR professionals, our best defense is a good offense. Be proactive and continue to monitor the situation.