Key Points about the Novel Coronavirus & Infectious Diseases in the Workplace:
- Infectious diseases like the novel coronavirus can create challenges for your organization.
- However, infectious disease plans, remote work policies, and sick leave guidelines can help. Other preparations, like general sanitation and communication, can ensure safety and continuity.
- Download our Infectious Disease Plan Checklist to help your organization prepare for infectious diseases.
One topic is on everyone’s mind: the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and its spread around the globe. World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared it a pandemic, but the Director General stressed a different word in his address: preparedness. In the event of any infectious disease, preparation can help ensure your organization’s safety, continuity, and compliance. Whether it’s the novel coronavirus or the common flu, these policies and resources can help your organization prepare.
Infectious Disease Management Plan
Create a detailed plan for infectious diseases like the novel coronavirus. With a plan already prepared, you’ll reduce errors that could result from hastily written procedures. Make sure your plan includes:
- Sanitation procedures for the office (or physical workplace). Include hand sanitizer locations, disinfection methods, cleaning schedules, and more.
- Travel restrictions. Limit business trips to high-risk areas, or limit non-essential travel altogether, to keep exposure and infection to a minimum. Use your discretion and the latest updates from health authorities to help guide your decision.
- Protocols for “stranded” travelers in quarantine. Outline guidelines for remote work (if possible), HR support, and employee compensation.
- Reporting procedures. Explain how to report potential workplace infection to the proper personnel.
- Shutdown strategy. Plan for a potential organization closure. Include a plan that will help your organization resume operations after a shutdown, too.
Work with a lawyer to ensure your infectious disease management plan is compliant. If you need an example, several companies published their COVID-19 response plans online. You can read Coinbase’s plan here.
Employee Communication Schedule
Misinformation can spread faster than a virus. You should not assume the role of a health expert, but you can point your employees towards the appropriate resources.
Email employees so they know what you’re doing to lower the risk of disease in the office. Continue to update employees as the virus spreads and your organization makes changes. If you haven’t already, send an email to employees reminding them to stay at home if they develop symptoms or feel unwell. You may want to share known symptoms for the disease with your workforce, so they know what to look for. For the novel coronavirus, you can point employees to this page from the CDC.
Remote Work Policy
To prevent the spread of disease, many organizations urge employees to work remotely. In the event of a quarantine, remote work may become necessary to keep business running (as long as employees are healthy). If this happens, it’s best to have a remote work policy in place. This policy should include:
- Eligibility. Explain which positions are eligible for remote work.
- Guidelines. Employees may be unfamiliar with digital interviews, meetings, and conferences. Provide guidelines for best practices to help them acclimate.
- Effective Software. Give employees the resources they need to work from home. This may include instant messaging platforms and project management tools.
- Data security policies and instructions. Ensure employees are well-versed in data security and know how to connect to your VPN.
- Support. Remote work may cause employees to ask more questions than usual. The change in routine may also leave them disconnected and distracted. Create check-in policies to ensure that everyone’s getting the support they need.
An All-In-One HRIS
Infectious diseases can limit your business continuity. However, an all-in-one HRIS lets your organization function remotely. Here, employees can access paychecks, track time, and sign documents online. You can post announcements and manage employees across the country. No physical interaction is necessary and your work can continue uninterrupted.
Because your employees will use the HRIS on a daily basis (not just during a quarantine), you won’t need to do a “trial run.” Everyone will already be familiar with the platform and no adjustment period will be needed.
Updated Sick Leave Policy
To lessen the risk of exposure, the CDC has urged people to stay at home if they feel sick. Despite this warning, many employees don’t have paid sick leave and can’t afford to take an unpaid day off. Others are afraid they’ll be penalized for calling off. They come in to work, even if it means putting their coworkers and clients at risk.
Make sure your employees know that they won’t be penalized for calling off sick. If you can, provide paid sick leave so employees feel free to take time off and recover.
HIPAA & FMLA Compliance
Even in the midst of an infectious disease, you need to remain compliant. Under HIPAA, for instance, covered entities are not required to share protected health information with you. They only share this information when it’s necessary to treat a patient or protect public health. In addition, under FMLA, infected employees and employees with infected family members may be entitled to FMLA leave.
Find more extensive resources about compliance and infectious diseases here.
In the case of the novel coronavirus, people of Asian descent may face discrimation. Remind employees that viruses do not choose hosts based on race or nationality. Reiterate that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated.
General Prevention Methods
You can lower the risk of infection with general prevention measures. Share this list with your employees and include it in your infectious disease plan.
- Wash your hands. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If you can’t wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid contact with sick people. If you feel unwell, stay at home.
- Don’t touch your face, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue, then throw the tissue into the trash.
- Replace handshakes with an elbow bump or similar – avoid direct hand-to-hand contact.
- Use disinfectant to regularly clean shared surfaces (physical time clocks, water coolers, door handles, etc.). Wear disposable gloves and use a diluted bleach solution or 70% alcohol-based solution. See the CDC’s website for proper disinfection measures.
WHO provided this handout to help you prepare your workplace for COVID-19.
Keep in mind that these tips can help you protect your employees and prevent disease. They are not a replacement for the most up-to-date information from health authorities and should not be treated as such. Consult the CDC and WHO for best practices and additional information.
Download our Infectious Disease Plan Checklist to help your organization prepare for infectious diseases.