Under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s General Duty Clause, employers are required to provide employees with workplaces free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
During any infectious disease outbreak, we have a shared responsibility to prevent spread. If a company fails to take the necessary steps to protect team members, more employees may fall ill, leading to increased absenteeism and decreased productivity. Illness costs American employers $530 billion in lost productivity each year under typical circumstances. Putting in place policies that protect employee health is essential right now for companies to protect themselves and to retain their existing teams.
Employees who don’t have paid sick leave will be torn between staying home to prevent spreading illness and going to work to get the paycheck they need to support themselves and their families. Evaluate your policies to ensure they provide adequate support during situations like the COVID-19 outbreak.
Now is the time to step back and review your policies to ensure they promote a safe workplace. React now — because you need to — and in doing so, you can build trust with your employees and set up your company to respond to similar threats in the future.
6 Considerations When Updating Policies
At Influence & Co., we’ve taken some steps to make sure our employees know what to expect while we need to adjust our work policies.
One of our core values is “treat others with trust and respect,” so in light of that value, we already trust our people to do their work remotely when needed. Because of this, it was easy for us to take the next step of requiring all three of our offices to begin remote work full-time.
When you begin updating your company policies to lessen the impact of COVID-19 among your workforce, consider the following questions:
- Can the work be performed remotely?
- If work can be done remotely, are there tools you can use to prevent the disruption of communication and collaboration? If not, do you have the resources to purchase, implement, and train your staff on the new tools?
- If going fully remote isn’t an option, what are ways you can reduce the number of employees in the workplace at any given time?
- What are the expectations you have for employees regarding the changes?
- If you grant additional sick leave, what steps do employees need to take to notify you and be granted additional leave?
- Are these updated policies temporary, or will they be kept in place indefinitely?
Considering these questions will help you make the right decisions for your unique workforce, and help you maintain clarity and structure for your team.
9 Steps for Revamping Workplace Policies
While revamping your company’s policies in light of COVID-19, here are some steps you can take to create a supportive, safe work environment for employees:
1. Stay Calm
This is one of the most important things you can do. With the always-on media cycle and social media, your employees are being bombarded with information (and misinformation) about COVID-19. Keep your workers grounded and build trust with them by providing the facts and letting them know what steps you’re taking to protect them.
2. Knowledge is Power
Review applicable laws and regulations, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and those set by OSHA. And stay up-to-date on the latest information from reputable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.
3. Consider Remote Work and Mandatory Quarantines
If possible, allow employees to work remotely, and consider mandatory quarantine under certain circumstances. To avoid the spread of illness throughout your workplace, allow everyone to work from home if that’s a possibility. Also, if any employees have recently traveled to geographic locations with known cases of the illness, have been in an airport with flights to and from those locations, or have been in contact with anyone who’s been diagnosed, consider implementing a mandatory quarantine.
4. Be Forthcoming
Inform employees about health concerns and steps they should be taking in the workplace to reduce spread. Armed with insights from the above sources, provide employees with accurate information on COVID-19, how it’s known to spread, and how they can prevent transmission. Make it clear where they can find disinfectants in your workplace, how to properly wash their hands and how often, and what other steps they can take to ensure the workplace stays sanitary.
5. Provide Updates
Notify your entire team of any temporary changes to policies or expectations. Send an email to your entire team outlining important information, like prevention measures you’re taking to ensure a safe workplace, temporary policy changes, healthcare policy updates, and details about the illness and how it’s passed from person to person. I sent an email to our team that you’re welcome to customize for your own company — just click here to access it.
6. Require Full Disclosure
It’s important to request that employees disclose whether they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has. Should you receive such notice, it will be necessary to let your company know that a contagious illness may be present in the workplace. Maintain all information about the employee’s illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.
7. Reduce In-Person Meetings
Decrease the number of in-person meetings, or eliminate them altogether. Utilize the wealth of technology at our disposal to have essential meetings without the risk of spreading illness. Google Hangouts Meet, Cisco Webex (a client of ours), or a good old-fashioned phone call are great options. Our marketing team has even been experimenting with doing brainstorm sessions in its Slack group and has seen great results.
8. Schedule for Distancing
Adjust scheduling so fewer employees are in the same space at the same time. If in-office workers are essential, try to stagger the times when employees need to be in your workplace to reduce exposure. This also means large events that would normally bring lots of people together should be postponed.
9. Review Your Mental Health Policy
Health goes beyond the physical. Employers should care about their employees’ mental health as well — especially during a time when everyone seems to be in crisis mode. Review your mental health policy, and make sure employees are aware of the mental health resources at their disposal.
An infectious disease outbreak can touch businesses in so many ways: Employee health, company culture, productivity, and revenue may all become concerns where company leaders had none before. Thankfully, there are tangible things companies can do to protect employees. Take these steps into consideration as you’re re-evaluating your company’s policies to ensure you’re providing a safe workplace for your team.