As concerns over coronavirus continue to grow, there are a few key issues for employers to consider when dealing with coronavirus in the workplace. Coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China and has since been confirmed to have spread to over 20 countries worldwide. It is of the SARS syndrome and is a viral, respiratory illness. Symptoms present themselves as a cough, high temperature and shortness of breath.
Professional health guidelines recommend:
These recommendations are relatively general as you would expect. But what are the recommendations for dealing with coronavirus concerns in the workplace?
A recommendation that is very easy to research and to implement is educating employees on the signs, symptoms, and precautions that can minimize the risk of the coronavirus. Recent updates suggest that symptoms appear within two days to two weeks.
Think about providing hand sanitizer, facial tissues and handwashing stations. Put posters up in bathrooms, informing employees of the need to wash hands in soap and water.
Business travel restrictions - People going, people coming, people returning. Let’s begin with people who are returning from China or surrounding danger areas. Employers could ask people who have recently returned to work from home or place them on paid leave to ensure the virus does not enter the workplace. This approach should take into account the recency of travel and specific areas traveled to. Employers should be sensitive to employee’s concerns and try and accommodate them. With respect to people who may be going to China, some employers have placed a ban on people traveling to China, or at the very least they need senior management approval. Employers should look at alternative ways of manae=ging work abroad, i.e. video conferencing. Employers should consider whether travel restrictions are appropriate and how to approach international business relationships. Employers may wish to insist that employees do not take personal travel to affected areas, but imposing restrictions should be carefully considered.
Allowing sick employees to work from home or take leave as appropriate. Similar to the point above, allowing employees who feel unwell, particularly if they are experiencing respiratory symptoms should be considered. Alternatively, employees could take sick leave.
Employees refusing to attend work? A situation which is odd, but may arise. What if an employee decides to refuse to come to work? Employers should assess a number of metrics, the current risk of the virus, staffing requirements and organizational needs. Employers may be able to accommodate for remote working or holiday release. However, employers should be wary of the fact that the employees may need to come into work, and that they withhold the right to require attendance. If you allow remote working, you should be allowed to reserve notice of remote work. Refusing to come to work should be handled carefully.
Potential Discrimination. A rather nasty and unfortunate trend that may arise in light of the coronavirus is potential discrimination. If this arises it needs to be dealt with swiftly and appropriately. Employers should be aware of indirect and direct racial discrimination. There have been recent reports of racial abuse aimed at British Chinese people in connection with the coronavirus outbreak. Employers must make sure to have clear discriminatory and harassment policies, they should have regular diversity workshops and their managers should be well trained to identify and prevent discrimination in the workplace
Update control and hygiene policies. Constantly review and update your control and hygiene processes and keep staff involved and in the know.
Communication with employees. An important part of dealing with coronavirus in the workplace is communication with employees. We have prepared some sample email templates that you can use to notify employees:
Working From Home or Feeling Unwell Email
To our employees,
In the wake of the recent coronavirus outbreak, we are trying to become particularly sensitive about workplace hygiene. Alongside inputting handwashing stations and placing educational posters out, we are recommending that employees that are feeling unwell choose to work remotely or take sick leave.
Travel Ban Email
To our employees,
In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak, we are in the process of reviewing our travel regulations. We have recommended that all professional work arrangements abroad to certain danger zones are to be restricted. We are currently working on ways to work with our partners abroad. We also recommend that any personal travel arrangements to danger areas be reviewed. If you are due to travel abroad soon, please let your manager know.
With growing concerns over the coronavirus, it is important to implement some recommendations. Consider whether the recommedations are appropriate and if they are needed in your workplace.
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