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Stay ahead of COVID-19 in the workplace

Stay ahead of COVID-19 in the workplace

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While the incidence of the Coronavirus COVID-19 in the US is low (the Centers for Disease Control – CDC – reported 15 confirmed cases by mid-February, with an additional 52 pending screening outcomes), it is prudent to take this time to review and modify your company’s illness policies, especially as it currently peak flu and respiratory disease season in the United States.

The CDC has published interim guidance to help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, and to combat the spread of viruses. These strategies include:

  • Prevention: Promote flu vaccines and take everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs (proper handwashing) and encourage employees to seek immediate treatment for the flu, including taking antivirals if prescribed.
  • Sick leave: “Stay home if you are sick” should be a very clear and urgent message to your employees. The CDC recommends staying home until symptoms have cleared up for at least 24 hours.
  • Documentation: Forego the need for a doctor’s note: Your leave policies shouldn’t be punitive at this time. Send sick employees home immediately, and be flexible enough to allow those caring for sick family members to stay home.
  • Education: Educate employees on how to minimize the spread of the virus through coughing and sneezing. The CDC offers free resources including video, fact sheets, and posters. Provide tissues, alcohol hand rubs, and disposable wipes in appropriate workplace areas.
  • Travel guidance: For employees who travel, check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country they will visit.
  • Health assessments: Avoid discriminatory risk assessments based on race or country of origin; use the CDC risk assessment instead. Remember to maintain confidentiality for those confirmed with the virus.

There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features of the COVID-19 virus, and investigations are ongoing. In the meantime, it makes sense for employers to review their workplace policies and to have a clear plan in place that includes flexible sick leave policies and employee education. These strategies can help to prevent a viral outbreak among employees, and help companies to be prepared should one happen.

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