Information regarding the newest coronavirus disease, COVID-19, is hard to wade through, as there is still a lot that public health officials just don’t know. However, we are sure that there will be more cases in the U.S. in the coming weeks and months, so employers should start planning now in order to help keep their employees safe and healthy.
Direct Employees to the Facts
There is a lot of misinformation floating around about this strain of coronavirus, so it is important to direct employees to official channels like the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for information. Even the mainstream media can unintentionally spread misinformation in rapidly-evolving situations like a viral pandemic, so encourage people to focus on CDC data and advice and not what they find on Facebook.
Know the Symptoms
According to the CDC, COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath and range from mild to severe. These symptoms seem to appear within two to fourteen days of exposure.
The CDC recommends seeking medical attention immediately if any of these emergency warning signs develop: difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain, confusion, and/or bluish lips or face.
Encourage Hand Washing
Washing your hands is a critical means of prevention. Encourage employees to wash their hands multiple times a day for at least 20 seconds per wash. You may also want to put hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray near communal areas like the lobby, copier, refrigerator, coffee maker, etc.
Consider Loosening Business Travel Requirements
Business travel can’t always be avoided, but teleconferencing can make it easier. Forcing employees to travel to areas with high infection rates and/or travel restrictions could run afoul of OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which requires employers to provide “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause the death or serious physical harm to employees…”
If employees express concern over traveling, it’s good practice to try and present reasonable alternatives. If employees must travel to impacted areas, provide safety information and who to contact in case the virus impacts them during travel.
What Else Can Employers Do?
Keeping the work environment clean and disinfected is the most important thing employers can do to help prevent the spread of contagious diseases like coronavirus. Make it clear that employees who show symptoms should not report to work when they are sick. Employers should also check out the document, “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019.”