Become a Germ Slayer (Coronavirus Prep in the Workplace)

Mar 06, 2020

Updated: March 17, 2020

The Coronavirus has been making headlines over the past two months.  Now that this bug has hit US soil, the buzz is much greater and scarier.  The media is telling us to run for cover and self-quarantine and buy up all of the toilet paper and bleach wipes you can find (hint: there are still some bleach wipes at Home Depot).  Outside of the media, people are torn, we hear a ton of information, but we are unsure of what to believe. 

As you are reading this blog we are seeing more and more forced closures.  Ski resorts, restaurants, gyms, and other public gathering locations have already experienced forced closures.  Unfortunately, we are seeing the likeliness of more and more closures.  Small business are going to feel a tremendous impact today and in the long-term future.  Taking precautions and making plans now, will help to minimize the impact.  Who knows what the fallout will be, but it's time to prepare for the worst.

Here are a few things to consider when making plans to keep your small business operational.

Important Updates:

Colorado Health Emergency Leave with Pay

The Colorado Department of Labor has issued a temporary leave rule to assist workers in specific industries within the state of Colorado to assist in the containment of Covid-19. This is a temporary rule that requires employers in the below industries to pay four days of wages to employees with flu-like symptoms who are in the process of Covid-19 testing.  See our latest blog for more information, HERE.

On-Site Closure

The CDC is recommending that gatherings of more than 10 people be halted until further notice.  If your business operates with more than 10 people in the same space at any given time, you should start making plans to create remote operations and opportunities.  

"Many HR Branches clients are looking at their businesses and how they can continue business operations, just in a different way.  As they are looking at creative ways to continue business, they are finding a few opportunities that had never considered before.  A possible silver lining." said Reanna Werner, Chief Problem Solver of HR Branches.  All small businesses are different and operate in their own way, taking a look at this unique time in our history will force small businesses to get creative.  Leveraging on delivery or curbside pick up options will become more and more prevalent.  Technology will also play an instrumental part in the continued business operations.  

As you are considering closing your on-site operations consider the following:

  • Make sure your employees have everything that they need to transition their work to their home office.  
  • Ensure that you have communication and productivity tools in place to keep moving forward.  
  • Use chat and video conferencing as a tool to stay close.  
  • If you are transitioning to offering delivery/ curbside pick up options:
    • Make sure that your employees are trained in healthy practices when dealing with the general public.  
    • Check with your insurance carrier to update your coverages for delivery options.
    • Create a vehicle safety policy.
  • Keep sick policy in place and monitor/support your workforce in the event that illness falls upon them.
  • Contact vendors and suppliers to plan your needs for the foreseeable future.
  • What will you do with your mail and phones?  
  • Before your office becomes a "ghost town", take a photo or video inventory of all of your business assets for insurance purposes.  Record the serial numbers of all assets over $2,500.00.

Making a rational plan now will ensure that your reaction doesn't harm you and your business down the road.  

Continued On-Site Operations

Furthermore, if you are able to continue onsite operations, we have received recommendations from the CDC to ensure that our workplaces experience as little disruption as possible.  

Let's take a look at what the CDC recommends to become a germ slayer:  

  • Encourage employees to wash their hands well and often
    • Use soap and warm water
    • Wash after using the restroom, when preparing food, before eating or during times when you are engaging with other people, after shaking hands with others and after sneezing. 
    • When washing your hands sing "happy birthday" in your head twice, this is an easy way to know that you are washing your hands long enough. (This tip provided by Jack, 4th grader)
  • 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 [37.8° 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.
  • Separate sick employees:
    • CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
  • Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees:
    • Place posters that encourage staying home when sickcough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
    • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
    • Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
    • Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
    • Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning:
    • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
    • No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
    • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
  • Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps:
    • Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found at on the CDC website.
    • Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
    • Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
    • If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.
  • Additional Measures in Response to Currently Occurring Sporadic Importations of the COVID-19:
    • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
    • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.

When it comes down to it, it boils down to good hygiene, courtesy and common sense.  As you prepare for a possible outbreak ensure that you are taking preventable measures. 

But in the event that an outbreak does take place, be sure to have a plan in place for increased absentism by:

  • Plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace. Implement plans to continue your essential business functions in case you experience higher than usual absenteeism.
  • Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace is able to operate even if key staff members are absent.
  • Assess your essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products. Be prepared to change your business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations if needed).

For more information, please visit the CDC's website.  They have created great resources for employers to develop an outbreak response plan.  

Click HERE to go to the CDC website.


Disclaimer: HR Branches provides general information about Human Resources. Please note that the information provided, while reliable, is not legal advice. Please seek legal assistance, or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make sure your legal interpretation and decisions are correct for your location and circumstances. The purpose of this information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance on general HR matters.



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