On an average day, employers are faced with multiple challenges that impact day-to-day operations, including, employee illnesses, unplanned absences, and workforce productivity. These typical challenges may be exacerbated now that cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, are in the United States. Despite this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that the immediate health risk from COVID-19 to the general American public is considered low at this time.
Employers and employees alike are concerned about how the virus may spread throughout the workplace. The CDC has provided guidance that may help prevent workplace exposures of acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. Below are the CDC’s recommended strategies for employers to use now:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. This includes speaking with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home. The CDC does not recommend that employers 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. The 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). A used tissue should be placed immediately in a waste basket. It is important for all to remember to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are unavailable, us an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.
- Emphasize staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene by placing posters at the entrances to your workplace and other common areas where they are likely to be seen. Attached to this email are some sample posters that may be used. Additionally, the CDC recommends that employers provide tissues and no-touch trash receptacles for use by employees. Lastly the CDC recommends that employees have access to soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs throughout the workplace.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning. Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. The CDC recommends that employers also provide disposable wipes so that employees can wipe down commonly used surfaces before each use. No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps. This includes checking the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country. Also, employees should be advised to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick. Lastly, ensure that employees who become sick while traveling understand that they should notify their supervisor and promptly call a healthcare provider for advice.
- Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidelines for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
It’s important to remember that currently, there is not yet a vaccine or specific treatment for COVID-19. Most infected people will recover on their own. As additional information becomes available to the CDC, they may update their guidance for employers and the workplace. A link to the CDC’s web-site may be found here.
Although the CDC has suggested the foregoing recommendations as a result of COVID-19, the steps and measures recommended are not markedly different from what the CDC and other health professionals recommend for every cold/flu season. As always, we appreciate your business and will assist you in any way that we can to ensure that you and your employees are following best practices for maintaining a healthy workplace.