What Employers Need To Know
The recent outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has caused global concern. There is still a lot that is unknown about the virus, but there are steps employers can take to help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidance on recommended practical strategies for employers to help contain the spread of the virus and other acute respiratory illnesses. Ongoing updates about COVID-19 are available at the CDC's web page here.
At this time, employers are advised to implement the following precautions:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
- Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness should stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4° F [37.8° C] or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, cough, shortness of breath and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants).
- Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
- Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
- Separate sick employees and send sick employees home immediately
- Emphasize respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees
- Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
- Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
- Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, and wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Provide soap and water and hand sanitizer in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand sanitizers in multiple locations and in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
- Visit the coughing and sneezing etiquette and clean hands webpage for more information.
- Perform routine environmental cleaning
- Provide disposable disinfectant wipes so that commonly used surfaces (i.e., doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace with disinfectant wipes such as workstations, counter tops, and doorknobs.
- Advise employees to take certain steps before traveling
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country.
- Advise employees to check for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before traveling and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure employees who become sick while traveling understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
- If outside the U.S., sick employees should follow Company policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services.
Employee Exposure to COVID-19
Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
In the Event of a COVID-19 Outbreak
The severity of illness or how many people will fall ill from COVID-19 is unknown at this time. If there is evidence of a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., employers should plan to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed. For the general American public, such as workers in non-healthcare settings and where it is unlikely that work tasks create an increased risk of exposures to COVID-19, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low. The CDC and its partners will continue to monitor national and international data on the severity of illness caused by COVID-19, will disseminate the results of these ongoing surveillance assessments, and will make additional recommendations as needed.
All employers need to consider how best to decrease the spread of acute respiratory illness and lower the impact of COVID-19 in their workplace in the event of an outbreak in the U.S. Employers should prepare an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan that identifies and communicates their objectives, which may include one or more of the following: (a) reducing transmission among staff, (b) protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications, (c) maintaining business operations, and (d) minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains.
Click here for more detailed guidance for employers from the CDC.