Preventing the Coronavirus at Work
Over the past few weeks one question, in particular, has been pouring in – what do I, an employer, need to do about the Coronavirus? Here are some general precautions you can enforce right now at work to help prevent any spread of the coronavirus.
- Put signs throughout the office to remind employees to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. Make sure there is extra soap stocked in the bathrooms, eating areas and large gathering spaces.
- Buy hand sanitizer in bulk and place around the office. Also, purchase small bottles of sanitizer and give to each employee to have at their desk or work area.
- Have tissues available throughout the office for employees to sneeze or cough into rather than their hands.
- Send reminder emails about washing hands and using hand sanitizer to emphasize the importance of the matter.
- Disinfect frequently touched objects multiple times a day (e.g., doorknobs, sink handles, fridge and microwave doors, water cooler buttons, phones, keyboards, conference tables, etc).
- Face masks are selling out quickly, get some now to have in the office.
- If your employees feel sick, encourage them to stay home.
- If your employees are visibly sick, send them home. This may cost you both money and productivity, but if they infect the rest of your workforce, that will ultimately be much more costly and dangerous to public health. Check state law for any “reporting time pay” requirements.
Steps for Managers / HR Professionals to take for the Coronavirus
It is also a good idea to have all management and HR professionals meet to develop a plan of action if the coronavirus does begin to spread rapidly throughout the U.S. Some items to discuss and plan for are:
- Put a strategy in place if the office needs to close for a short or long period of time. Make sure employees are set up to work remotely and are able to access all platforms, documents, and files they need from outside the office.
- If you have employees that travel for work often, be prepared for travel delays and cancellations both inside and out of the U.S. This is a good time to discuss reducing travel future now and have employees do video conferencing for meetings or communicate via phone/email.
- Set a communication strategy to keep all employees in the loop. Provide them with the necessary information they need to know to feel comfortable and looking out for their well-being. The more information they receive the less worry and questions there will be in the office.
- Have one person be the point of contact for any employee questions, concerns or protocols. This person should be aware of the status of the coronavirus, CDC news, chatter in the office and next steps in place.
Remote Employees for Coronavirus
Typically, an employer provides the direct equipment to perform the job from home, in the form of a computer, phone, and necessary supplies. However, home office equipment and even internet/home phone lines are typically the employee’s responsibility. An employer may elect to contribute to these expenses at your discretion. Or, an employer may require that an employee has these in place in order to be eligible to work from home.
Below is a summary of a few other implications that come along with having employees work remotely:
Wage and Hour – If the employee is non-exempt you will want to make sure that you have a tracking system in place in order to accurately pay them for all time spent working including any overtime. This is especially important because there is no supervisor present to see the employee’s comings and goings. We strongly recommend outlining the hours the employee is expected to work/be available.
Workers’ Compensation – Your duty to create a safe working environment does not change when an employee is working from home. We recommend that employers designate telecommuting employee’s working time and work environment. As an example, require a telecommuting employee to designate a certain area as a home office and take breaks for lunch at certain designated times.
Confidentiality – This is best addressed in your general confidentiality policy and through a telecommuting agreement. Remote employees would need access to whatever systems the company would provide if they were to be a regular employee at your office. If possible have an IT person ensure the employee’s home office has a secure internet connection, etc.
Company Equipment – Is the employee going to bring home a work computer or will they use their own? This too is best addressed in a telecommuting policy/agreement.
Posters – If you have an employee working remotely, we recommend you send them all required state and federal employment notices (posters on minimum wage, family leave, etc.) to ensure you’re in compliance.
Also, encourage employees to follow these guidelines by distributing them or posting them around the workplace.