The Coronavirus’ Effect on Businesses and How HR is Managing It
The Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19 has officially started spreading in the United States as many predicted it would. We’ve all seen the precautions to take and how to prepare at home, but what exactly does this mean for your business? In this state of unpredictability, we recommend that companies take steps to make changes and updates now. It is important to build resiliency, stability, and become better equipped to survive through such challenging times.
Employers need to also consider the increase in absenteeism and consider cross-training personnel, so they are able to perform other work duties than their own in case this becomes necessary.
Jim Cichanski, CEO of Flex HR, Inc. a full-service Atlanta based Human Resources firm, advises “the biggest thing to do if you have not done so already, is create a written plan for emergencies (from bad storms like tornadoes, emergency closings, to viruses) which may mean updating or adding to your current Employee Handbook and or company policies.” First and foremost, meet with management as to how to correspond and carry-out the company procedure. Furthermore, communicate this information with your workforce immediately to lessen the emotions and anxiety associated with the hype. Encourage an open dialogue and share newly determined action plans or ones in development.
Some of the major companies such as Coca-Cola, Google, Amazon and IBM have already put tactics into place such as asking those employees that have traveled out of the country to voluntarily work from home for two weeks as a preventive measure. Others have asked their workforce to limit travel plans or have cancelled previously arranged international business trips. You may want to take similar actions.
Here are 5 things businesses should do now to prepare:
1. Revisit company policies and allow flexible alternatives.
Regardless, if employers break down their paid time off from their sick days, employees often come to work with a cold, so they don’t have to use up one of their days. Of course, no one wants for a co-worker to come to work sick, but they do so in order to save their days for when they are very ill or if their child must stay home from school sick. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention has recommended that employers establish flexible, “nonpunitive” policies, encouraging employees who are sick or exhibiting symptoms to stay at home. A spokeswoman from IBM noted “IBM is having employees work from home where recommended and deciding on participation in large meetings and trade shows on an individual basis.”
Often small companies may not be able to afford all the luxuries like paid time off, or even allowing employees to work from home like a large company may be able to afford. There is no law stating you must pay non-exempt (hourly) employees if they are not at work. For the smaller firms, HR may require employees to use up paid time off, however; in doing so managers will need to open up their policies and allow employees to use paid time off prior to accruing the hours. A simple rule would be to grant them the total years’ amount of accrual, even if they have not earned it yet.
2. Sanitize first. Then sanitize again. And sanitize once more.
It’s an obvious statement that every single person should be following multiple times each day, but with the Flu and now Coronavirus its more essential than ever to stress that the entire workforce should be practicing virtuous hygiene measures. HR knows the prominence of the hand washing posters that should be placed near sinks and restrooms in the office, so now is a good time to ensure these are all in place instructing 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. You should also highly consider putting up temporary posters all over your office recommending “Wash Hands Frequently” or “Sneeze into your Elbow” to prevent spreading of viruses. Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout the office (maybe even at each worker’s desk), tissues and disposable disinfecting wipes. Furthermore, check-in with your firm’s cleaning team to guarantee they are consistently wiping down all surfaces, and especially those that are frequently touched such as doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desk areas and the kitchen after each workday.
3. Confirmation of positive Coronavirus test.
If an employee is confirmed to have Coronavirus it is mandatory that the employer notify fellow employees of their possible exposure to the COVID-19. Employers do not need to mention that person’s name under Federal Law, but that there has been a confirmed case and others should be aware. Anticipate that staff may be fearful and anxious and that some rumors will need to be addressed to properly convey the facts of the matter. If an employee feels well but has a sick family member that tested positive for Coronavirus at home, they should inform their manager right away to determine if that person is able to work from home as a precautionary measure.
4. Serious COVID-19 Outbreak preparations.
Every day we hear about the Coronavirus headcount increasing as well as expanding across the U.S. Employers should prepare by putting action plans into place quickly and communicating with your workforce that there is a strategy should it need to be applied. Continue to reassure your staff that the risk of exposure is very low at this time. And although the risk is minimal, employers need to recognize and protect those workers that may be at a higher risk for adverse health complications or be ready to take action to reduce transmission among staff. As people travel to other countries and return to the USA, they may be at risk of this virus or carrying it and not even know. So be knowledgeable and get prepared. Employers need to also consider the increase in absenteeism and consider cross-training personnel, so they are able to perform other work duties than their own in case this becomes necessary. Talk with managers about what work they may need to absorb or what projects they need to delegate to others in this scenario.
5. Ensure technology plans are in place.
Many companies do not have work at home policies, so preplanning is crucial in the event that it becomes necessary for a portion, or an entire organization, to telecommute temporarily. System connections, access to computers and internal networks all need to be predetermined prior to someone simply working from home. Transferring of phone calls and incorporating all the details needed to make that work smoothly needs to be considered and also written out so if the time comes to integrate plans, the process can be easily followed. If your company has an internal IT department be sure to strategize with the team as soon as possible. During this unknowingly challenging period it’s crucial that Human Resources departments are planning for the worst. Business owners, managers and especially HR ought to take the time to review and update company policies allowing flexibility, communicate the updated protocol, practice hygienic routines around the workplace, create an emergency strategy that includes technology back-ups and telecommuting procedures in the event an employee becomes ill and/or business closure is indispensable.
Flex HR serves almost every industry in all 50 states, including Georgia, Florida, California, North Carolina, and Tennessee, as well as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Canada and Europe supporting U.S. subsidiaries of foreign owned companies.
Our Flex HR specialists serve thousands of different organizations, in countless industries, varying from a few to over 75,000 employees.
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