Prepare - Don't Panic! Update on the Coronavirus for Employers

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Since the outbreak of Coronavirus, the virus has reached six of the world’s seven continents, excluding Antarctica. While there is currently no cure for the illness, according to the presidential administration, a vaccination is in the works. Cases were primarily outside of the US, but now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling Americans to be prepared for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in their community. There have been over 100 cases of Coronavirus reported in the US, and 6 deaths. As of yesterday, there was a confirmed case in New York City.

CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses & Employers

Taking precautionary measures is the best way to protect against the virus, just like one would if there was word that a hurricane or other natural disaster was on the way. The CDC has published an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers (“Interim Guidance”), which cautions employers to use the guidance to determine risk of the Coronavirus. The Interim Guidance advises employers to:

  1. Clean surfaces often: Experts aren’t 100% positive how long this strand of coronavirus can survive on surfaces, but other strands of the illness were able to be killed with bleach wipes or alcohol. Experts even say due to the nature of the virus, water and dish soap can do the trick. Consider purchasing alcohol/disinfectant wipes to keep around the office. Let employees know they are available, and encourage them to clean frequently touched surfaces including desks, phones, and door knobs, as well as surfaces in their homes. 
  2. Encourage healthy practices: Encourage employees to wash their hands often, especially when they enter back into the office and back into their homes. Hang signs around the office as friendly reminders, or send out an email that include precautionary practices. It may also be worthwhile to keep alcohol-based hand gel available for employees so they can use it between hand washes. As with most viruses, remind employees to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth to reduce risk of respiratory infections. You and your teams can also practice “good respiratory etiquette” which includes covering the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, not with hands, but into an elbow instead so as not to spew germ-particles into the air nor to get them on hands which will then likely touch other surfaces. There is mixed data on whether wearing a mask is effective, and it depends on the type of mask worn, and if worn correctly. 
  3. Advise employees to review CDC traveler’s health notices before traveling and to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness upon return.
  4. Know the common signs and symptoms: According to the World Health Organization, signs include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Encourage sick employees to stay home (even without a doctor’s note) and send employees home if they appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms.If there’s been a known outbreak in the community, consider allowing employees to work from home if that’s possible.

According to The Interim Guidance, employees should notify their employer if an employee’s family member is sick at home with COVID-19, or if an employee is confirmed to have the Coronavirus. Any employees who have had close contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19 infection should follow the Interim Guidance, including remaining away from work until the potential 14-day incubation period has expired. “Employers should inform fellow employees of the possible exposure to COVID-19,” while maintaining the confidentiality of health information pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers will need to balance privacy interests of the affected individual(s) with the need to adequately inform their workforce.  For more information on updated best practices, read the full Interim Guidance

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