If you’ve turned on the TV, listened to the radio, or scrolled a social media feed recently, you are probably aware of the coronavirus. With the virus continuing to spread throughout the world and US, businesses and employers should be prepared to handle issues that could arise. We’ve gathered some resources to help educate employers on the coronavirus.

How Does the Coronavirus Spread?

Keep in mind, COVID-19 (coronavirus) is a new disease, and they are still researching and learning about it. However, it is thought that the disease is spread mainly from person-to-person, including between people who are in close contact with one another (about 6 feet) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of those standing nearby or potentially inhaled into the lungs.

So, can someone spread the virus without being sick? As of now, people are thought to be the most contagious when they are most symptomatic. There is a possibility there is some spread before people show symptoms, and there have been a few reports of this occurring; however, this is not thought to be the main way the virus is spread.

When it comes to surfaces and/or objects, it is possible that a person could pick up the virus from a contaminated surface or object if they touch something/somewhere that has the virus then touches their own mouth, nose, or possibly eyes—but this is again not thought to be the main way the virus is spread.

Recommended Strategies for Employers and Businesses

You’ve probably asked yourself this question a few times, or potentially, depending on your work environment, have been asked this by employees and/or customers. There are several recommendations out there for steps you can take to keep everyone at a lower risk of infection.

  1. Educate yourself on the virus. Hey! Good news! Looks like you are already taking the initiative to learn more about the virus itself and what you can do. Several organizations, including OSHA and the CDC, have put out checklists, pamphlets, and other materials out there for businesses, as well.
  2. Actively encourage sick employees to stay home. If an employee is experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) – tell them to stay home! It’s recommended they stay home until they are fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of medicine. This also means ensuring you are flexible in your sick leave policies and consistent with public health policies related to your employees as well as your employees who may need to stay home with sick family members.
  3. Separate sick employees. If an employee shows up to work and they appear to be symptomatic, you should immediately separate them from other employees and customers until they can go home. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  4. Emphasize staying home while sick, respiratory etiquette, and hand hygiene. This requires being proactive. Place posters or printed papers up reminding employees, as well as customers, to stay home if they are sick, to use proper coughing and sneezing techniques, and to practice good hand hygiene. Have tissue boxes around your business for easy access should someone need to cough or sneeze. Encourage frequent use of an alcohol-based (at least 60%+ alcohol) hand sanitizer or washing of hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to reduce the risk of contamination and have these items throughout your business for use.
  5. Prepare for increased number of employee absences. The recommendation before this was all about being flexible and encouraging sick employees to stay home. With that in mind, be prepared for an increase in employee absences due to illness, school cancellations, or illness of family members. Implement a plan to ensure your essential business functions can continue. Part of this could be cross-training employees to ensure functions can keep happening or being ready to change your business practices if needed, i.e. alternate suppliers or temporarily suspending some of your operations.
  6. Perform routine environmental cleaning. Be sure to wipe down high traffic surfaces regularly throughout the day. These surfaces could include workstations, countertops, doorknobs, etc. Use cleaning agents that you would normally use in the areas and follow the directions on the label. If you work in an environment with a lot of shared space, provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls) can be wiped down before use.
  7. Keep employees informed. Not everyone is diligent at following the news. Keep your employees informed as you see fit on what is going on with the virus. This could include updating them on precautionary measures or areas/locations of risks, etc. Within your work space, be sure to inform employees of your protocols and policies related to the virus, i.e. if ABC were to happen, we would respond by doing XYZ. If you haven’t already developed the policies and protocols, now is a great time to put an action plan into place and share that with your employees.

Other Actions Employers Can Take in the Case of a Pandemic

In the case of a pandemic, employers have the right to send someone home should they show coronavirus-like symptoms at work. Also, as long as they are being mindful of confidentiality obligations employers may ask employees if they are experiencing symptoms. Employers are allowed to enquire about employees upcoming travel and if it is to and area that is high risk or if they will be around an individual who may have been exposed.

Quick Links to COVID-19 Related Resources

We’ve laid out a few of the recommendations coming from organizations such as the CDC, but we also wanted to provide you with quick links to a variety of information that could prove useful during this time.

Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce Supports Businesses

Our mission at the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce is to support businesses in our area by providing them with information to help them succeed. We hope you find this as a valuable, educational resource. The coronavirus is an evolving issue, and businesses who continue to plan will be in a better situation in the long term.

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