As the World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a global health emergency and the epidemic is growing in proportion, it is crucial for any company to protect their workplace and staff from such an outbreak. An experienced provider of business processing outsourcing services in the U.S., we also follow all safety practices to protect our employees.
On January 21, the CDC confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the United States in the state of Washington. The patient had recently returned from Wuhan. Now, there are 13 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States and the global death toll has passed over 1,000 cases. Symptoms associated with the virus are similar to pneumonia, including fever, cough and trouble breathing.
As there is no vaccine yet for the virus, the only option is to prevent the viral infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published an interim guidance for businesses and employers to plan and respond to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
Through educating their employees and implementing some of the steps mentioned above, employers can help prevent the spread of 2019-nCoV and safeguard the health and safety of their workforces.
Employers and employees are responsible to ensure that the workplace is safe and healthy, including preventing the spread of a contagious illness or disease. Therefore, if an employee is exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus, has travelled to an affected area, or was in direct contact with someone who has symptoms, then an employer is required to protect the remainder of its work force.
To ensure compliance under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Act, the National Labor Relations Act, and any other applicable state and local laws regarding employee protections, employers should address employee safety concerns on a case-by-case basis.
What Employers Should Do
Key steps employers must take to prevent coronavirus spread –
Provide a safe workplace
- Recommend workers to follow good hygiene
- Provide hand sanitizers and respiratory masks, when necessary
- Advise employees to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
Advise sick employees to stay at home
- Make sick leaves flexible and let the staff know of the changes
- Advice staff to avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Make flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member
Isolate sick employees
- Employees at risk must be separated from others
- Accommodate at-risk employees with alternative work arrangements
- Ask them to cover noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
Routine cleaning of workplace and environment
- Regularly disinfect equipment, workstations and the workplace generally
- Supply disposable wipes to employees
- Offer additional health or medical screenings
- Suspend any of your business travel to China
- Ask workers who recently returned from Wuhan/China to stay away from work for the incubation period
- Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before travel
The CDC also recommends that if an employee is confirmed to have corona infection, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to infection in the workplace. At the same time, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recommends employees to maintain confidentiality. Even if employers have businesses in diverse locations, they must ask local managers to take appropriate actions to prevent infectious disease outbreak, based on the condition in each locality.
Businesses must stay compliant with the ADA and applicable state and local laws. Any medical information collected from an employee must be maintained separately in a confidential medical file. It would be ideal for employers to monitor developments and develop an emergency action plan. They should provide appropriate training and support to managers and maintain open communication with the workforce.