COVID-19, disaster planning guidance for employers
Larry Morgan, MAIR, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, GPHR | April 2020 Footnote
Editor's note: Updated April 1, 2020
COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has flooded the news in recent weeks and months — and for good reason.
In addition to its widespread affects globally, where more people are becoming infected and dying every day (visit coronavirus.gov for updates), the pandemic is having adverse effects on stock markets, economies and workplaces both domestically and abroad. Schools, universities and stores are closed, large-scale events are canceled, and airlines have grounded most of their flights. In the United States, many regions of the country are on various levels of self-quarantine and shelter-in-place decrees.
Your office may already be shut down with employees working from home. Many of you may be in industries where some or most of your staff need to be somewhere physically. At this point, you should expect your place of business to be touched by someone who is infected. With proper planning, you can find a path forward.
This is the challenge of the day, and it needs to be addressed. Hopeful as ever, we look for a day when this pandemic is not part of our lives. But, at the risk of sounding dire, there will, of course, be more challenges down the road that your organization will face, whether it be among the virus variety or something else out of your control that requires a dramatic change to everyday business.
With that in mind, there’s a simple question to answer for now and into the future.
What response should employers have in situations like this?
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:
- Encourage sick employees to stay home.
- Consider modifying PTO/sick leave plans.
- Allow persons with sick family members to remain home.
- Consider extending pay to employees even if they are out of PTO or sick leave.
- Limit the requirement for doctors’ notes for absenteeism.
- Develop a plan if schools and daycares connected to employees close.
- Build out remote access to employees where possible.
- Identify who can currently use teleworking arrangements and who can be added.
- Check IT systems, access points and equipment now to ensure proper bandwidth and systems.
- Limit travel, especially to higher-risk locations.
- Minimize group meetings.
- Build social distancing plans to limit employee contact with each other.
- Identify other resources for group meetings, such as Microsoft Teams or JoinMe.
- Rethink sending employees to conferences and trade shows.
- Increase environmental cleaning with disinfecting wipes on all desks and workstations.
- Have cleaning crews wipe down doorknobs, faucets, desk surfaces, keyboards and phones daily.
- Encourage employees to do the same.
- Provide tissues and hand sanitizer.
- Hang posters with information about COVID-19 and handwashing tips in bathrooms, breakrooms and common areas.
- Consider replacing door handles, door openers, faucets and towel dispensers with hands-free systems.
- Identify alert systems and scalable contingency systems for employee schedules to limit people in the office if the pandemic spreads.
- Identify essential or critical staff to be present.
- Be flexible with the plan design and elevate based on public health alerts.
- Cross-train staff to assume other duties as needed to take over if critical staff members are absent.
- 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.
- Train managers on recognizing symptoms and the ability to send employees home as needed.
- Train managers on additional employment issues, such as requiring employees to be tested, what questions may be asked, human resource policies, etc.
- Identify business supply issues and contingencies if raw materials, distribution systems and transportation systems are disrupted.
- Be transparent in employee communications.
- Have an alert system in place informing them to not come to work or if business operations must be changed.
Best course of action is to plan
The depth and impact of COVID-19 is changing rapidly and will be likely much more advanced from the time of this writing. The best step employers can take to this and other threats is 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
MNCPA Disaster and Pandemic Planning Resources Page
The MNCPA has compiled a list of resources to help organizations face the many challenges related to COVID-19. Bookmark this page and visit it frequently for updates.
Among the resources is an archived webinar, “COVID-19 Guidance for Employers: Steps to Take Now
.” HR expert Larry Morgan and attorney Phyllis Karasov discuss steps you should take now as your business deals with the COVID-19 outbreak.