Many years ago, I was interviewed about SARS. I said that the hoopla was overdone and that most employers would not have to completely rewrite their policies and procedures to deal with it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there you have it. I sure annoyed a bunch of employment lawyers making money off seminars and such.
Perhaps Coronavirus or COVID-19 will turn out to be another form of the flu that will run its course. You know the plain old flu results in many illnesses and even deaths, right? The country also has faced H1N1, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and a series of other potential catastrophes that thankfully turned out to be less harmful than predicted.
But maybe Coronavirus is Captain Trips.* Let us hope that is not the case.
*Stephen King, The Stand.
Time will tell. The best we can do is try to be rational and prepare.
That all said, here’s the point of this post for purposes of this blog: If you are dealing with employees as part of your job, they have concerns. Many concerns are legitimate, such as ones I list below. Others, however, are not. For example, I read that 38 percent of one surveyed group think Corona beer causes Corona virus. I kid you not (here).
Of greater concern to the workplace, I have read about discrimination against Asian restaurants, apparently based on potentially discriminatory assumptions. Example here.
In sum, employers and management must be prepared to provide employees with factual information about what this virus is, what it does, and how to prevent it. HR Management also should be able to answer basic questions about:
- Sanitation at work, including basics of hand washing, coughing, etc. Why masks are unnecessary and may be harmful, etc.
- Industry specific requirements, particularly in those industries with particular OSHA requirements relevant to infections and virus-related protocols (health-care, e.g.).
- What are the symptoms of Coronavirus, and what to do when one encounters them?
- Sick time and leaves of absence
- Reporting time
- Encountering ill employees or others in the workplace
- Company expectations of employees who are ill or who are around others who are ill
- Who at the Company will be providing further information
- When is it appropriate to send someone home, or refuse to allow someone to work, and what are the risks and obligations that come along with those decisions?
To address these issues, one first needs good information about the virus itself. Where would one obtain information about the virus?
Cal OSHA – Interim Guidance
Federal OSHA – COVID-19 Information Page
Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers
Then, it is important to consider the wage and hour, anti-discrimination (including leave of absence, national origin, and disability discrimination) and other legal considerations. Employees want to know that management is aware and is leading. Knowledge and communication will go a long way to demonstrating that leadership.
Be careful out there.