We recently updated our systems. If you’re having trouble or something isn’t working quite right, please tell us about it.

COVID-19 (coronavirus) guidance for employers

By Larry Morgan, MAIR, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, GPHR

Have you turned on the TV lately? How about the radio? Has your phone displayed anything of particular interest concerning the state of the world?
 
COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, has flooded the news in recent weeks — and for good reason. In addition to its widespread affects globally, where more than 126,000 people have been infected and more than 4,600 people have died in more than 110 countries (as of March 12, 2020), the pandemic is having adverse effects on the stock markets, economies and workplaces both domestically and abroad. Schools and universities are closing, large-scale events are being canceled and sports contests are being held without fans in attendance. And, not at all trivially, name a gameshow that is recording episodes without a studio audience. What is Jeopardy?
 
The United States is early in this process. There have been some gains made elsewhere in the world where the virus hit earlier, but we still have a lot of unknowns ahead stateside.

What we do know is that more cases are being diagnosed daily in the U.S. and, with that, the death toll is also increasing. Protocol right now calls for people who have encountered someone confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 should enter a two-week long self-quarantine. While some have argued the seriousness of this virus, there are real ramifications that are being felt now and that your office should be prepared for when (not if) the virus makes its first touch with your workplace.
 
So, what response should employers have?
 
Similar to prior pandemics, like avian influenza, swine influenza and SARs, employers should continue to carefully monitor the situation from reputable health organizations, including the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites, and build contingency plans as part of an overall business continuity plan. 
 
Here are some critical first steps employers can take:
 
  1. Encourage sick employees to stay home.
    1. Consider modification of PTO/sick leave plans.
    2. Allow persons with sick family members to remain home.
    3. Consider extending pay to employees even if they are out of PTO or sick leave.
    4. Limit the requirement for doctors’ notes for absenteeism.
    5. Develop a plan if schools and daycares connected to employees close.
  2. Build out remote access to employees where possible.
    1. Identify who can currently use teleworking arrangement and who could be added.
    2. Check IT systems and access points and equipment now to ensure proper bandwidth and systems.
  3. Limit travel, especially to higher risk locations.
  4. Minimize group meetings.
    1. Build social distancing plans to limit employee contact with each other.
  5. Identify other resources for group meetings, such as Microsoft Teams or JoinMe.
  6. Rethink sending employees to conferences and trade shows.
  7. Increase environmental cleaning with disinfecting wipes on all desks and workstations.
    1. Have cleaning crews wipe down doorknobs, faucets, desk surfaces, keyboards and phones daily.
    2. Encourage employees to do the same.
    3. Provide tissues and hand sanitizer.
  8. Hang posters with information about the COVID-19 and handwashing tips in bathrooms, breakrooms and common areas.
  9. Consider replacing door handles, door openers, faucets and towel dispensers with hands-free systems.
  10. Identify alert systems and scalable contingency systems for employee schedules to limit people in the office if the pandemic spreads.
    1. Identify essential or critical staff to be present. 
    2. Be flexible with the plan design and elevate based on public health alerts.
  11. Cross-train staff to assume other duties as needed to take over if critical staff members are absent. 
    1. Recognize some employees may be at higher risk for the virus, including older adults and those with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart issues.
  12. Train managers on recognizing the symptoms and the ability to send employees home as needed. 
    1. Train managers on additional employment issues, such as requiring employees to be tested, what questions may be asked, human resource policies, etc.
  13. Identify business supply issues and contingencies if raw materials, distribution systems and transportation systems are disrupted.
  14. Be transparent in employee communications. 
    1. Have an alert system in place informing them to not come to work or if business operations must be changed.
The depth and impact of the Coronavirus is unknown currently. Employers should take actions ahead of time to identify potential issues and develop contingency plans.
 
Larry Morgan runs the MNCPA HR Hotline and is president of Orion HR Group, LLC. He is a regular contributor to Footnote. You may reach him at larry.morgan@orionhr.com

HR webinar

Coronavirus Guidance for Employers: Steps to Take Now
Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020, 9-10 a.m. CDT
 

Additional resources about COVID-19