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Combatting Coronavirus in the Workplace

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The buzzword of 2020: Coronavirus. Turn on any news channel at any time of day in any city and you will find countless opinions on the coronvirus and how it is going to effect communities everywhere. A lot of misinformation has been surrounding the disease and its spread causing panic amongst employees and employers alike. What can you do to ensure that your company is prepared when the Coronavirus affects your workforce?

Isn’t the Coronavirus just like the flu? Why is everyone so concerned about it?

The Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is similar to the flu. Symptoms of the coronavirus are fever, weakness and shortness of breath. A healthy individual under the age of 50 is much less likely to develop fatal symptoms compared to an individual in their 80’s. With this being said, the coronavirus is spreading rapidly and although death may not be a cause of concern for you, getting sick should. When a large population of people are affected by the same disease all at once, hospitals get crowded. And when hospitals start getting crowded the elderly people that were in the hospital prior to the outbreak start contracting the virus. If the elderly patients in the hospital have contracted the virus, it is much more likely for the hospital staff to contract the virus as well (they could even be introduced to the virus without being aware of it). Once hospitals become overcrowded, less sick people (especially the elderly) are able to receive the care that they require. This could also prevent young, healthy people from receiving treatment that will help lessen the symptoms of the virus. These are the main reasons you should still care about the coronavirus even if it doesn’t directly affect you.

Why you need to prepare your employees for an outbreak

The first thing that everyone needs to come to terms with is this: you will be affected by the coronavirus. This may be financially or personally, but regardless, we need to know how to conduct daily life when this happens. More cases are going to surface all across the United States as testing for the coronavirus becomes more widely available. When this happens, employees need to know what their employer expects from them and whether or not they can work remotely.

How to Handle an Outbreak in the Workplace

Now that we’ve discussed why you should care about the coronavirus, it is important to discuss what you can do to prepare your employees for an outbreak. SHRM has a fantastic article on preparing your workplace for an outbreak, but I will summarize the most important ideas here. One of the first steps in preparing an action plan is deciding what jobs can be done remotely versus which cannot. It is not sufficient enough to tell your employees that they will have to take PTO (or even unpaid leave) until they are no longer contagious. If a grandparent or older parent falls ill, your employee may be responsible for caring for them until they recover. Make sure that you communicate to all employees how their job could be affected and what they can do from home if they need to work remotely.

In addition to developing remote work policies, employers need to determine what types of business travel they will permit. Discuss whether employees can still travel internationally, what countries employees will be prohibited from traveling to for business reasons and what states should have restricted travel for business.

How the ADA is Related to the Coronavirus

Although the coronavirus would not be a long-term disability and would most likely not be covered by the ADA, employers need to be aware of how to properly handle employees who have contracted the virus. The most important rule is to treat everyone in the same way. Forcing an employee to take unpaid leave because they or a family member have fallen ill would not only become an ethical issue, but could result in a lawsuit against the employer. If there is a significant risk of contracting the disease in your area and you have determined that most of your employees job duties can be done from home, consider shutting down physical locations for a specified amount of time. Ensure that your employees are kept up to date on the most current information regarding returning to work. This would prevent any type of discrimination from occurring due to the outbreak and could prevent any future lawsuits.

Returning to Work after the Outbreak

If the coronavirus caused your employees to work from home for an extended period of time, the question of, “why don’t we do this all the time” will inevitably come up. Ensure that you are prepared to discuss the importance of your physical location with your employees. In addition, listen to what your employees have to say about working from home. Maybe you can put some of their suggestions into practice. For example, maybe you can offer a work from home option as an alternative to taking sick days.

Preparedness is Key

Preventing panic is the most important thing to keep in mind when dealing with an outbreak or natural disaster. Creating an action plan for your employees to follow in a crisis will prevent panic and emotional distress.

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