How Workplaces Can Prepare For The Coronavirus

Updated March 6, 2020.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, many employers are actively looking for ways to protect employees, prevent workplace exposure, and navigate quarantine guidelines. Communicating effectively with your team can help reduce risk of community spread and give your employees peace of mind. Here are some tips for you to consider for your workplace:

1. Encourage employees to stay home when sick

As is the case for influenza and other respiratory illnesses, employees experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath, should avoid places where they may be in contact with others, including the workplace. For those individuals who have been advised by their doctor to self-quarantine for 14 days, we recommend they work from home and if they have symptoms, do not return to work until symptoms have fully resolved. One Medical recommends that businesses tell workers who have risk factors for COVID-19 to stay home until they are free of fever and any other symptoms for at least two weeks, without the use of fever-reducing or symptom-altering medicines like acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and ibuprofen (e.g. Advil).While you may be encouraging employees to stay home for traditional illnesses like cold and flu already, many workers may continue to come in unless explicitly told otherwise. Be clear with your communications to leave little room for misinterpretation. And, as new cases of COVID-19 continue to pop up, you should work with your organization's leadership team to map out contingency plans that include adjustments to sick leave and work from home policies as local health threat levels rise or wane.

Additionally, keep in mind that more employees may need to stay home to attend to sick family members than usual. Giving your team the flexibility to care for their families could help prevent workplace exposure in the long run.

2. Consider your employees’ mental health

With constant news cycles swirling and new worksteams being created in reaction to the spread of COVID-19, many people are reporting increased levels of stress and anxiety. Make sure that you are creating an environment where your employees feel comfortable talking about potential mental health concerns, and helping them to prioritize their self care in order to stay healthy. If an employee is experiencing increased levels of stress or anxiety, suggesting that they work remotely or take time off may not always be the best solution. If they express they are experiencing mental health issues, let them know they can speak with their One Medical provider or a mental health professional to receive a care plan best suited for their needs.

3. Put tools in place to make remote work possible when necessary

In the age of smartphones and videoconferencing, you can set up your high-risk employees to successfully work remotely while allowing your business to remain productive and healthy. Working from home is a form of “social distancing,“ which means avoidance of locations and situations where close contact with others may occur. Practicing social distancing and staying out of the workplace is particularly important for employees with weakened immune systems, who may be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. If possible, consider replacing in-person meetings with video and teleconferences. In workplaces where remote work isn’t an option, you may want to consider staggering employee shifts.

4. Emphasize traditional preventative measures

As with illnesses like the cold and flu, you should encourage employees to practice good hygiene in the workplace. This means advising employees to follow the preventative measures outlined by government and health officials. Current guidance includes the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and if soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands

  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Close contact is considered more than a few minutes within 6 feet of a sick person or direct contact like kissing or sharing utensils. Some companies are also implementing a “no handshakes” policy to avoid unnecessary direct contact.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces like phone screens and keyboards

Employers should make sure soap, water, tissues, and alcohol-based hand gel are readily available throughout the workspace.

5. Communicate travel policies

Since the U.S. has issued travel advisories for several countries due to COVID-19 outbreaks, many employers are imposing work travel restrictions. Depending on the impact on your business, you may want to limit non-essential travel. If you are responsible for overseeing your organization’s travel policies, be sure to regularly check travel advisories from the CDC, Department of State and local Departments of Public Health to inform your guidance to employees who may travel as a part of their role. Be ready to update and adjust your policies quickly as needed and assign members of the HR team to share communications about changes to those policies.

6. Make sure your employees have virtual care services readily available

If an employee at your company is traveling in a region of known community transmission, or if they are experiencing symptoms related to coronavirus, make sure they know Keady Family Practice team is available to help. Our team is in touch with local department of public health officials in areas across the country and is actively monitoring updates from the CDC and WHO. And we are working closely with local hospital systems to ensure seamless coordination of care. We can help determine if an employee needs to seek medical treatment or testing, and can assist in routing them to the best care facility for their symptoms.

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