The COVID-19 coronavirus that's spreading around the world has made it clear that all employers need to have a written Contagious Disease Policy in place.
"If employers neglected to implement a contagious disease policy during the West Nile or Ebola virus outbreaks, the severity of the coronavirus is all the impetus companies need to develop a written policy," says Melissa Gonzalez Boyce, JD, Legal Editor, XpertHR. "Written policies help prevent the spread of disease by creating work rules that promote safety through infection control and minimize the negative impact of sudden emergencies."
In addition to a Contagious Disease Policy, XpertHR also recommends that organizations have a written Business Continuity Policy to guide business operations when decisions must be made rapidly in a chaotic atmosphere.
Health emergencies like the coronavirus have the potential to seriously hurt workforces and weaken productivity. As a result, employers should prepare by having an emergency plan in place that addresses the following issues:
Which employees should come to the workplace? Preparations should be made so that as many employees as possible can work from home. This can be done through issuing computers or other equipment for employees to use at home, if possible.
How will employees find out their whether their workplace is closed or otherwise affected? Options to consider are providing a dedicated phone number or website that employees can use to find out the status of their workplace.
What should be done when employees are too sick to work? There should be a contingency plan in place for ensuring vital duties and functions are handled if an employee is unable to work for an extended period of time.
How will a business run if a large portion of the workforce is affected? Every employer should have a business continuity plan in place, in case of a pandemic, natural disaster or other emergency.
"Having written policies is beneficial in providing clear communication to all employees, visitors, contractors, consultants and vendors who work with a company impacted by a contagious disease or other disaster," explains Gonzalez Boyce. "When crisis strikes, no one is ever truly prepared. However, in business, management should have measures in place to ensure they are prepared for an emergency ahead of time."
Other legal responsibilities employers should be aware of include the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, which requires employers to ensure that their employees have safe and healthy workplaces and Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) reporting requirements. Since OSHA has deemed the coronavirus to be a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job, an employer must record any such cases on the OSHA 300 log.
Planning for emergencies and developing written policies are critical to minimize the negative impact of sudden emergencies that transpire in the workplace. XpertHR offers a free Contagious Disease Policy and Business Continuity Policy to help organizations be prepared for potential disasters and emergencies. For more information, visit XpertHR.