With hundreds of confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the U.S. and several deaths, health officials are calling on workplaces to plan for the potential of a more widespread outbreak and a possible disruption to normal work routines. Here are a few things that employers and employees can do now to be prepared.
What employers can do.
Health experts recommend that employers follow a few guidelines to help curb the spread of the disease and assist employees and family members who may be affected by it.
- Encourage sick employees to stay home. This is the number one thing employers can do to help stop the spread of coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that employees who have respiratory illness symptoms not show up for work until they are free of fever and other symptoms for at least 24 hours.
- Review and revise sick leave policies if necessary. Employees who do not have available sick time or paid-time off should be reassured that they will not be penalized for staying home. This is especially important for service workers or manufacturing employees who cannot do their jobs at home. Similarly, employees should be allowed to stay home with a sick child or family member without facing repercussions.
- Prepare for the possibility of remote work. Several European and Asian countries have mandated that employees who can do so work from home. We are not at that point yet in the U.S., but employers should prepare for the possibility, especially from a technology and security standpoint.
- Consider postponing large get-togethers. Until we know more about how the virus will spread in the U.S., it might be wise to postpone any large company meetings and conduct them via video conferencing, if possible.
- Practice good workplace hygiene. Aside from encouraging employees to wash hands frequently (see below), the CDC recommends providing soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace and continuing to perform “routine environmental cleaning” such as disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, like workstations, countertops, and doorknobs.
- Remind employees of available mental health services. It’s natural for employees to experience anxiety about the outbreak of coronavirus, so make sure they know about any mental health programs that might be available through a well-being program or Employee Assistance Program.
- If you have telemedicine benefits as part of your health plan, encourage employees to use them. Remotely managing the care of individuals who have relatively mild symptoms can reduce health care workers’ exposure to the virus so they can continue to care for those who are more severely affected.
What employees can do.
As with other viruses like influenza and the common cold, common-sense hygiene and well-being practices are the best prevention measure.
- Practice self-care. If you’re sleep-deprived and stressed-out you’re more likely to be susceptible to any virus, so getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and taking time out to recharge is important. Even something as simple as getting outside for a walk can reduce anxiety.
- Be vigilant about washing hands. The CDC recommends washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If handwashing is not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be used. Avoiding handshakes is also recommended.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing. The virus is transmitted via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. It’s also important not to touch your face.
- Know your risks. The disease seems to be most severe in older males and those with preexisting medical conditions like heart disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes and known health risks like smoking. Those over 60 may want to take extra precautions and consider staying out of public places. Pregnant women may also wish to stay abreast of the latest developments on how the disease can affect them and their fetus.
- Plan for the possibility that children may be home from school and daycare. If you need to secure back-up child care start exploring options—whether that’s working from home or getting a babysitter.