Coronavirus: An Employer’s Guide
If you feel uncertain about addressing the coronavirus, don’t feel bad, you have lots of company.
However, don’t let your discomfort prevent you from acting. A plan, subject to updating—and trust us, it will need updating—is better than no plan at all, or attempting to fill a blank slate on the fly.
In fact, for most employers it’s fair to say, “you’ve been here before.” Go back a decade or more, think SARS, swine flu, H1N1, even Superstorm Sandy, among others.
All have elements present again today. And the business strategies that enabled survival then, should put you in good shape to get past coronavirus 2020.
Don’t misjudge the potential severity of today’s crisis, but don’t discount your capacity to assess, plan, and survive.
Here is a high-level perspective on elements of recommended strategies to develop, update and flesh out as necessary.
Monitor News from Credible Sources
Ignore the more extreme politically tinged commentary.
Recommended sources of authoritative, up-to-date advisories include: CBIA, SHRM, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Connecticut Department of Public Health, OSHA, Ready.gov, and local public health authorities.
These include information suitable for the scientists among us, as well as the layperson, focusing on the business perspective, as well as personal/family concerns.
There are daily updated reports on diagnosis data, globally and domestically, and detailed travel advisories searchable by locale.
Develop/Update Your Business Continuity Plan
Businesses function through PEOPLE–EQUIPMENT–PROCESSES.
When one or several of these are disrupted by external forces, business continuity and personal well-being are threatened.
Assign responsibility, and then select a backup team to draft or update your BCP.
You may have a BCP from past events that have threatened operations. Even if it was for a hurricane or hazardous substance incident, it likely has some useful elements applicable to a human health event.
Delegate the task of preparing or updating your BCP, including people from all areas and levels of operations. And select alternates to the task in the likely event members of the “A” team are sidelined by illness.
There are some good starting points or guides for BCPs, including:
- CDC Coronavirus Disease website
- OSHA COVID-19 website
- U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division guidance
- Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety guidelines, which focus on weather-related disruptions but still provide valuable structure and direction.
Commit your plan to writing, keep it in draft form, easily editable, and store copies online and offsite with team members.
Your BCP will need to be tailored to your organization, but some key provisions should include:
- Identify essential business functions
- Who performs (and who’s cross-trained) critical activities
- Emergency communications plan, responsibilities
- Legal, contractual, regulatory, financial obligations
- Key customer/vendor contacts
- Financials: accounts receivable, accounts payable, payroll
- Facilities maintenance
- Remote work capacities, data security
- Absence tolerance, when will operations be significantly compromised, shutdown potential
- Travel standards: approval, disclosure, restrictions, quarantine, global, domestic, personal.
Additional Planning Issues
Encourage/mandate sick employees stay home, go home. Be flexible on sick leave policies and medical documentation requirements. Decide how you will respond to employee decisions to remain at home (personal anxiety, own or family member illness).
Hero warrior workers are unwelcome. When/how will you require an employee to go home/stay home (quarantined), produce a fitness-for-duty release to return to work?
Generally if an employee has been out due to their own illness or if there’s concrete evidence of family illness or exposure, documentation may be required.
Be mindful of the likely difficulty in obtaining documentation from overwhelmed doctors’ offices.
Plan for notice to employees of coronavirus exposure/diagnosis among your workforce, but guard against undue disclosure of affected employees’ personal identities (HIPAA privacy, ADA discrimination concerns).
Plan for the impact of school closings on employee attendance. You will have to address the differing status/availability of employees with or without children.
Emphasize respiratory etiquette, hand/facial/E-device hygiene, social distancing strategies. Distribute reminders (print, online, display posters). Avoid crowded events, consider when virtual gathering suitable substitute. Discourage hand shaking, encourage elbow bump greeting—fist bumps out, fist pumps in.
Increase routine environmental cleaning. Keep work surfaces, door handles, device touch surfaces, furniture, appliances clean. Ensure adequate supply of soap, sanitizers, and disposable wipes.
Employee relations: increase communications, invite discussion, questions. Management should share the BCP with employees, reassuring that while not all issues are addressed, you are equipped to build it out as needed to maintain stability and protect individual health and well-being.
- The company should commit to fulfill its OSHA obligation to provide a safe workplace.
- Depending on company size, FMLA may be applicable to leaves.
- Workers’ compensation is unlikely to apply if a worker claims a personal illness arose from a work exposure, but anticipate the question, and check with your carrier about filing a first report of injury/illness.
- Decide on wage payment practices for absences, exempt/nonexempt workers may be treated differently, or the same. PTO strategies: maintain/revise/set aside policy.
- Watch for EEO, ADA issues: improper attitudes towards colleagues based on ethnicity, race, illness. Consider accommodations, added protections for employees at increased risk of infection due to compromised health status.
- Plan for possible temporary layoffs: be prepared to manage, and answer questions. Unemployment benefits may be available.
- Review with managers attitudes towards remote work arrangements, realistic productivity standards, how to ensure completion of required documentation of working time, production, maintaining safety standards, office v. manufacturing activity.
Hopefully, many of the above points are answers to key questions.
Many are as yet to be answered issues, but may serve as key placeholders to be filled in specific to your organization, or to the situation as it evolves, for better or worse.
As Mike Tyson famously noted, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Consider a 10-minute ringside huddle to start and end each day, checking on individual and operational health, who got punched, where, and what needs attention.
Think how much better off you will be having a plan to revise rather than attempting to devise a plan from scratch in a weakened state after taking a blow to the corporate body.
Be safe, be wise, stay tuned…
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