Coronavirus – CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers

Every company in the United States is being impacted by the news surrounding the coronavirus and the disease it causes:  COVID-19.  In many cases, businesses are shuttering their doors to customers and employees.  Some are taking other actions such as asking employees to work from home for the foreseeable future.

From a human resources perspective, it’s a time of uncertainty and non-stop decision making and implementation.  In many ways, HR has never been tested this way and are responding as quickly and as intelligently as they can – considering the circumstances.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance for organizations as the HR and leaders prepare to deal with the reality of a coronavirus pandemic.  Below are some of those suggested actions for organizations.  For full details, visit the CDC website here.

What is the Coronavirus?

The coronavirus goes by a couple of different names.

  • 2019 Novel Coronavirus
  • Coronavirus
  • 2019-nCoV

Regardless of the name, it’s not the first time the world has seen a coronavirus epidemic.  The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreaks were also forms of coronavirus.  All were respiratory viruses but the strains are not the same.  This current strain was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.  According to the Centers for Disease Control in the United States, the source of this particular strain has not yet been discovered.  In the case of SARS, it was tracked to civet cats.  MERS was tracked to camels.

When it comes to prevention, the CDC says the best way to avoid infection is to avoid being exposed.  That said, there are some regular things people can do to help prevent the coronavirus from spreading.  Those include avoiding the urge to touch your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and of course, stay home when you’re sick.  Also, employees should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after going to the bathroom, blowing their nose, sneezing and coughing and before eating

Currently, there is no vaccine for the virus.

Immediate Plans

Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:

  • Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [38.0° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
  • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
  • Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
  • Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
  • Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.

Additionally, the CDC says employees who arrive to work appear to have a respiratory illness of some sort or get sick while at work should be sent home immediately.  Until they leave work, they should be separated from other employees to minimize passing along the virus.

It goes without saying continued and routine cleaning should take place especially around workstations, countertops and doorknobs.  And they don’t require anything special.  Normal cleaning supplies are sufficient.

Response Plan

The CDC also recommends organizations create an infectious disease outbreak response plan.

“All employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations. During a COVID-19 outbreak, all sick employees should stay home and away from the workplace, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces should be performed regularly.”

They suggest employers:

  • Ensure the plan is flexible and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan.
  • Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected.
  • Share your plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
  • Share best practices with other businesses in your communities (especially those in your supply chain), chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.

Stay Informed

The most important thing for HR to do right now is stay informed.  That will help in making the necessary decisions regarding the coronavirus.  As such, there are a number of resources HR and senior leadership has access to.  The World Health Organization, for instance, publishes daily reports on the coronavirus.  The CDC provides a situation summary as well as information on symptoms, transmission, care, prevention and treatment.

HR will continue to play a critical role in helping employees stay healthy and making sure the business continues to succeed given the difficult circumstances.  During these times, human resources professionals become the “calmers” for their organizations and with good reason.  The focus of human resources is on the employees.  Protecting them and making sure they are consistently healthy goes a long way in protecting the company all around.

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