With the threat of Coronavirus possibly becoming a public health emergency, organizations are starting to take stock of how they will handle the potential risk of transmission in the workplace coupled with loss of productivity. Adjusting some of your practices and applying them fairly to all employees will help you to navigate this threat.
One of the big issues is how to keep the workplace safe and productive without violating the rights of your employees, patients, customers and other third parties. Our partner, John M. Letizia, Managing Partner, Letizia, Ambrose & Falls, has coauthored an article addressing the perceived disability (ADA), discrimination based on race, ethnicity and origin (Civil Rights Act) and FMLA.
What are some of the adjustments that can be made to minimize an outbreak in your organization?
1. Step up two-way communication efforts
Open up the lines of communication in your organization. Create a mechanism for employees to ask questions around workplace practices designed to manage this threat and communicate your strategy. Include your employees in planning for a potential outbreak. Ask for feedback and suggestions around what is working well and what might be done differently. Walk around leadership will go a long way letting employees know you understand their concerns.
2. Provide opportunities for education
With the potential for misinformation to spread, it’s important for your leaders and employees to be properly educated. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and Food and Drug Administration are a good place to start. Making these websites available to your employees can ease anxiety. Locally, your state government and EAP are good resources for understanding capabilities closer to home. Ensure that your employees know how to contact your organization’s EAP.
3. Encourage work from home
We all know the colleagues who come to work when sick so that they can achieve the perfect attendance award or keep all of their PTO time for the summer vacation. Make it easy for your employees to work from home when they are sick. Provide the appropriate technology, trust that they will work as best they are able and focus on the results achieved. Know that once they return, they will expend discretionary effort to deliver on their goals.
4. Relax time off policies
Evaluate your policies for flexibility. Are you able to provide additional sick time for hourly employees who have a respiratory illness? You have the greatest flexibility with your exempt employees who need time to care for themselves or family members. Taking this approach lets your workforce know you care that schools may need to close and they may need to help care for parents. Treat people fairly. If you are an organization that requires a doctor’s confirmation of illness, consider waving this requirement as medical offices may be overloaded. Focus on helping employees get well and stay out of the workplace.
5. Make access to FMLA as simple as possible
Once employees think they have been exposed to the virus, you won’t want them in your workplace. Ensure that they can easily access the forms needed to apply for FMLA, other leave of absence, and move them through the process as quickly as possible so that they can focus on their own health and their family. While you will want documentation from the medical community, keep in mind that it might be slow going if the system in overloaded.
6. Provide paper towels, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, soap, tissues and lined waste receptacles
These items should be available around your workplace so that employees are able to keep their hands, computers, phones and light switches germ free. Many restrooms now have air dryers instead of paper towels. With the controversy around the efficacy of dryers vs. paper, we recommend offering both.
Using tissue when you sneeze or cough is a great start and a lined wastebasket will help keep the spread of germs under control. Brush up on how and when to wash hands.
While all of these items are expenses, consider the cost of lost productivity driven by a community health challenge.
7. Freeze travel
Many global organizations have already frozen international and domestic travel. Instead organizations are using technologies such as Zoom, WebEx and Go to Meeting to conduct business meetings, visits with vendors and in some cases small conferences. Large conferences are also being re-evaluated with Facebook cancelling its in-person component to its annual developers conference, more conference organizers may do the same.
These are just a few of the steps you can take to prepare for the coronavirus in your workplace. The CDC has just released this guidance for employers. Balance your practices and work to mitigate any perceived perceptions of disparate treatment. Frequent communication and a team approach are the best strategies you can employ to keep your workplace ready for a possible widespread outbreak. KardasLarson is here to help!