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Sick Time Policy (contact us below for a complimentary copy tailored to your organization)
Communicable Disease Policy (contact us below for a complimentary copy tailored to your organization)
Original Post 3/4/2020:
Coronaviruses are fairly common and don’t typically affect humans. When they do, their effects are usually mild, as in the case of the common cold.
However, deadlier variations of these coronaviruses have cropped up in recent years. Two examples of these evolved strains are the SARS virus of 2003 and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which was first seen in 2019. In both instances, the viruses ravaged the populations they infected, illustrating why employers must stay alert to developing outbreaks.
As concerns about COVID-19 continue to rise, many employers are left to wondering what they can do to protect their workforce. It’s the responsibility of every employer to protect employees from these and other illnesses in the workplace. Taking even small precautions could save an organization countless hours of lost productivity.
What Is a Coronavirus?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronavirus is a family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Individuals who are elderly or pregnant and anyone with preexisting medical conditions are at the greatest risk of becoming seriously ill from coronaviruses.
Identifying Coronavirus Symptoms
Common coronaviruses typically cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, and those affected exhibit cold-like symptoms. The most common symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
Some cases of coronavirus can be more severe, and individuals experience more serious lower-respiratory tract illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia. For the elderly, infants and those with weakened immune systems, a coronavirus can be deadly.
How Does Coronavirus Spread?
Although the ongoing outbreak likely resulted from people who were exposed to infected animals, COVID-19 can spread between people through their respiratory secretions, especially when they cough or sneeze.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the spread of COVID-19 from person-to-person most likely occurs among close contacts who are within about 6 feet of each other. It’s unclear at this time if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.
Diagnosing a Coronavirus
More dangerous coronavirus strains elicit similar symptoms to the cold or flu, so identifying the virus can be difficult. If employees are suffering from flu-like symptoms—especially if they recently traveled to a country experiencing a coronavirus outbreak—they should call their doctors immediately. Doctors typically request initial phone calls, rather than visits, to properly prepare for a coronavirus patient.
Precautions for the Workplace
Employers should protect against coronaviruses much like they protect against the flu: Offer on-site flu shots, stock cleaning wipes, hand sanitizer, and educate employees on prevention methods.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals should take the following precautions to avoid person-to-person spreading of a coronavirus:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid contact with those who are sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
Unfortunately, there is no known vaccine for a human-contracted coronavirus, making precaution that much more critical.
CDC Interim Guidance
In order to help employers plan and respond to COVID-19, the CDC has issued interim guidance. The CDC recommendations include:
- 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 signs of a fever and any other symptoms of COVID-19 for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines. What’s more, employees should be instructed to notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Separate sick employees. Employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (e.g., cough or 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 nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Emphasize hand hygiene. 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.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning. Employers should routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs.
Additional Best Practices
In addition to following the CDC’s interim guidance, employers should consider the following best practices to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Educate employees on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and the precautions that can be taken to minimize the risk of contracting the virus, without causing panic.
- Appoint a single individual or department as the point of contact within your organization for employee questions about COVID-19.
- Review safety programs and emergency action plans to ensure that they include infectious-disease protocols.
- Implement travel guidelines and procedures for approving travel to and from China.
Avoiding Potential Discrimination
As with any workplace policy, employers should be wary of inadvertent discrimination when it comes to a coronavirus prevention policy (e.g., ordering employees home when they seem sick). Just because an employee recently traveled to China and coughed in the elevator doesn’t mean an employer can send them home.
Whatever policy a company decides to pursue, it must be equally enforced. Discriminating against employees—or asking illegal health-related questions—can introduce a host of legal concerns.
Despite the current low level of risk for the average American employee, it is important to understand that the COVID-19 situation evolves and changes every day. Employers should closely monitor the CDC and WHO websites for the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19.