Pandemic Doesn’t Have to Mean Pandemonium in the Workplace
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With heavy media coverage and employee concerns on the rise regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19), what should employers be doing to prepare? By now you’ve read about the virus and steps to protect yourself. Here we’ll provide items to consider about the impact the outbreak could have on your employees and your business operations. In addition to the laundry list of policies, benefit programs, and labor laws to consider and address, we’ll also include potential employee questions so you can be prepared to share with your workforce what you are doing and how you would handle a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus.
While this list isn’t all-inclusive, these points provide a foundation for employers to begin discussions and create a plan.
Begin with a policy review
Review internal policies to determine if changes need to be made due to the coronavirus:
- Paid time off
- Leave of absence
- Business travel
- Office or business closure
- Business continuity
- Return to work
- Common area cleanliness
Make a tailor-made plan
Even if a review of your business policies brings up no new issues, there will be questions and situations you’ll need to be ready to address. Begin by thinking about how your business is different. What works for a business with an office environment would not necessarily work for a retail employer. Then think about whether you can apply your policies consistently in similar situations. Consider these questions:
- If your business must close for several weeks, will employees be paid? Will they be required to use accrued time off? State and local authorities could advise businesses to close or for citizens to be quarantined.
- Can employees work from home? Which parts of your business, if any, have remote capabilities and technology? Not all employees perform tasks that can be done remotely, but there still may be alternative options available. We’ll take a deeper dive in the telecommuting section below.
- Will employees continue to be required to travel on company business? Again, this guideline can differ based on the business, industry, and role. A salesperson’s role may be to travel, but perhaps they can set up systems via teleconferencing to reach prospects and customers. Telecommuting can be a money- and sanity-saving option.
- If your business is public facing, set a policy to handle any employee preferences to avoid working with the public due to health concerns. Can employees be assigned another role? If not, will they need to use paid time off or will they not get paid?
- How will your organization handle local school closures? Parents will need to make childcare arrangements, stay home, or bring children to work. Telecommuting can help with this situation.
- Will the company require a fitness for duty or return to work notice from a health care professional for employees returning to work after time off to recover, self-quarantine, or other reasons? To ensure that employees are fit to work, decide what documentation, if any, you will require.
- Should the company consider holding video meetings rather than in-person meetings? Do you have this capability? If so, you’ll need to communicate how meetings should be conducted and expectations for attendance and participation.
- Who in your organization is responsible for monitoring state and local advisory updates and making decisions on business operations? The virus is already affecting different communities around the country and world in unique ways. Ensure someone monitors each of the local environments impacting your company locations. Assemble the appropriate team within your organization to review information discussed in recent city, county, and state coronavirus communications that may impact your business and workforce.
- Who is responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the office and common areas? What additional measures need to be taken and by whom? If a cleaning company is involved, contact them to ensure the correct cleaning materials are being used at an appropriate frequency. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for specifics.
- How will employees be notified if a positive case is identified in the workplace or office building? What is the employer’s responsibility? Proceed with caution regarding employee privacy (refer to HIPAA laws) and balance that with the continued safety of your other employees.
- Consider how to respond to situations in which an employee chooses to self-quarantine due to being a high-risk individual. Will your business allow time off or remote working privileges? Employees who are deemed high-risk based on their medical history or age may have concerns about coming to work. This is a sensitive area, so proceed with caution; your employees’ medical history should remain private.
Consider telecommuting and teleconferencing options
Unified communications are key to keeping your business running seamlessly. For many, the ability to work from home has gone from being a privilege to a necessity during the coronavirus outbreak. Today’s technology allows us to work as efficiently as possible, even in emergencies. Many companies are moving toward conducting video meetings versus office meetings or conferences, and ensuring employees can still receive phone calls when outside the office. With a simple data connection, you can support your flexible workforce by providing voice and video conferencing accessibility from any location.
Your business can set up a remote work environment that can include phones, soft phones, and audio/video conferencing, in as little as a day, to ensure collaboration among your employees continues. Being able to see your employees, share presentations and documents, and be interactive allows you to continue to brainstorm and drive business growth as a team. Teleconferencing can help with sales and client communication as well. Take this time to evaluate the benefits of a remote workforce as a way to reduce costs, increase productivity, and provide a better work-life balance for employees.
Conduct a benefit plan review
Review your organization’s benefit plan documents to understand what benefits are offered and the coverage options. It’s a good idea to communicate to employees now about their benefit coverage and how to use it if needed.
- Health insurance — What does the plan cover? Does it charge a co-pay, deductible, or other fees?
- Workers’ compensation — If any employee contracts the virus at work, will the carrier cover medical and lost time?
- Short term disability — What is the waiting period for benefits, and is the coronavirus covered?
- State paid disability programs — What is the waiting period for state benefits, and is the coronavirus covered?
- Employee assistance programs (EAP) — How can your EAP provide employees with information and resources?
Finally, employers need to be sure they understand labor and employment laws impacting the workplace and how these laws apply during a pandemic. These resources can provide a starting point.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
- Discrimination laws
- Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA)
As you can see, there are many areas employers must understand and consider when deciding on their next move. Your employees will likely surprise you with questions you hadn’t considered, and you will need to address their concerns. Remind them that you’re all in this together, and that much of this is new and uncharted territory for both employers and employees.
Seize the moment to make decisions and communicate with employees as much as possible.
How we can help
If you have questions about the ongoing concerns and impacts of the coronavirus on your business and its employees, CLA’s HR consulting and outsourcing professionals can help you better understand and manage these big moments within your business. If you need to act quickly to have a remote presence established or just want to enhance what you have today, CLA’s telecommunications professionals can help begin building that foundation for you.