The outbreak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) presents new challenges in the workplace. Businesses can get ready to respond to the crisis by creating a multi-faceted plan and by being able to adapt to an ever-changing situation in a way that supports the entire organization.

A free whitepaper, written by J. J. Keller Editor Terri Dougherty, called “Coronavirus and Your Workplace,” covers everything your business needs to consider to be prepared for the coronavirus crisis.

Topics covered include:

  • Responding to the outbreak
  • Communicating with your workforce
  • Consideration of employee rights
  • OSHA compliance responsibilities
  • Support for business operations
  • A flexible and timely response

ISHN spoke with Terri Dougherty about the newly released whitepaper and its impact.

“Employers are required to give their workers a safe, healthy workplace and this guide can help them do that. It stresses the importance of planning,” Dougherty said. “Ideally a workplace will have a pandemic plan in place. We learned something about 10 years ago when the H1N1 virus was circulation: just how important it is to think through these scenarios. Even though you do really need to be flexible and change policies if need be, it’s good to think about options.”

She said employers must consider whether employees need to work from home and how to prepare for that.

ISHN: Why is it important that employers come up with a plan ASAP?

Dougherty: “Employees need to know their employer has things under control and is doing their best to keep employees safe and healthy. Having a plan in place can help you do that and respond to issues that are coming up. This includes taking preventive measures in the workplace, limiting travel, sanitizing, encouraging hand washing, and letting employees work from home, if possible.

And you also want to look at other scenarios as well, such as if employees are working from home, how do we help them record their time. What are we going to do with employee pay for those who can’t work from home, how are we implementing PTO policies, things like that.”

Dougherty said employers need to ask, “How can we support our employees during this process? What are we going to do if they have FMLA, if they have the coronavirus? Is it a recordable case for OSHA purposes?”

She said, “It’s a challenging work time but it’s also a challenging time for your employees. You have to try to answer all those sticky questions.”

ISHN: When assessing hazards, should employees take into consideration the worst possible scenarios and plan accordingly right now, or should they take things more slowly, assessing risk on a daily or weekly basis?

Dougherty: “There are so many things to think about so we need to have a plan in place. You’re going to have to be flexible in your reaction but at least you have a starting point. I don’t think it ever hurts to have a plan in place because then you can think through what you’re going to do in these situations. If a worst-case scenario happens, what are you going to do?”

She offers this advice as things are constantly changing: “You have to remember that things are moving very fast and you’re going to have to adjust on a minute-by-minute basis based on the latest recommendation. So don’t be too stuck on your policies in a situation like this, you might have to be flexible. If you currently allow only certain employees to work from home, you might have to temporarily change that policy.

Be prepared to react based on the situation at any given moment.”

Download the free whitepaper here.