CAMICO also recognizes the unique challenges facing our policyholders in supporting their employees given the rapidly changing landscape caused by the continued spreading of coronavirus. Safety is a primary concern, and firms need to be taking the necessary precautions to protect the safety and health of their employees, clients and communities. This current situation creates unique hurdles for firms in balancing the wellbeing of their employees while maintaining business continuity during one of the busiest times of the year for firms.
While this pandemic and the impact on businesses is a dynamic situation, CAMICO has put together the following list of items to consider when managing employees and bracing for increased absenteeism.
- Keep apprised of and communicate to employees the progress of the pandemic by frequently visiting the following websites:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which includes an Interim Guide for Businesses and Employers
- The World Health Organization and
- OSHA, which also includes a best practices guide for employers
Additionally, firms should also visit the websites for local Departments of Health and Human Services, which may include information about the status of the virus and test laboratories in your community.
- Revisit all time off policies and consider expanded flexibility in allowing employees additional time off. Firms should consider lifting certain restrictions on time off or work from home policies temporarily to allow for more flexibility as well as expanding the demographic for those other employee groups who can also work remotely.
- Review all policies relating to remote workers, including expectations as well as internet security.
- Ensure that employees understand they are not to report to work if they are symptomatic.
- Remind employees to wash hands completely and often.
- Provide hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes and encourage employees to frequently disinfect their work areas throughout the day.
- Consider refraining from shaking hands.
- Encourage social distancing.
- Conduct meetings over the phone or through an internet meeting site to reduce face-to-face interactions.
- Create a communication and/or standard “script” to share with clients so that all clients are hearing the same information regardless of who they are working with in the firm. Refer to CAMICO’s eAlert and sample client communication..
- Seek out cleaning services that specialize in disinfecting offices.
This dynamic situation can give rise to questions regarding a firm’s responsibility to employees. There aren’t any universal employer responsibilities that crop up as soon as something is declared a pandemic. That said, firms should pay attention to federal, state, and local authorities to see if they are rolling out benefits or prohibitions that you need to be aware of. For instance, Colorado passed an emergency paid sick leave rule for certain employees, and many states have banned all large gatherings, both of which may affect employers directly, and there are now local governments calling for a shelter in place.
Firms are seeking advice regarding their right (or obligation) to send employees home if they are symptomatic. Firms should follow the advice of the CDC who has advised that employees who appear to have symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath) should be separated from other employees and sent home immediately. If the employee feels well enough to work, consider whether they can effectively telecommute.
In the event an employee discloses that their family member or roommate has COVID-19, the recommendation is that the firm follow the guidelines from the CDC. Firms should ask employees who live with someone confirmed to have COVID-19 to notify a designated HR representative or their supervisor as soon as possible. The firm and employee should then refer to CDC guidance to assess risk and determine next steps—see Tables 1 and 2 in the CDC’s Interim US Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management. If the employee is able to work from home, you may require that they do so.
Firms should be prepared for employees who express anxiety about coming to work and evaluate any request on a case-by-case basis. Consider alternative arrangements such as working from home. It may be that they are most concerned about using public transit, in which case you may be able to find (and possibly pay for) an alternative.
If the nature of the employee’s job doesn’t allow for working from home, and there is no reason to believe that coming to work poses a real threat, reiterate the steps they can take to keep themselves safe from contracting the virus and explain the proactive steps you are taking to keep infection risk low in the workplace.
Employees who are immunocompromised or have other relevant disabilities may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, such as working from home or taking a leave if working from home is not possible.
CAMICO encourages firms to communicate often with their employees so there is clarity regarding the safety measures and actions the firm is taking to protect the health and safety of its employees during this difficult time. This type of communication is very organization-specific; however, a sample employee communication is provided below as a general guide for reference purposes only and should be tailored as appropriate for the firm.
Sample Employee Communication
The world health community continues to monitor closely the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, named “coronavirus disease 2019” (COVID-19). At this time, no one knows how severe this outbreak will be or when the concern regarding the spread of the virus will end. Given this uncertainty, and the fact that the seasonal influenza (flu) virus is also widespread, we are taking proactive steps to address a number of business concerns. First and foremost, we want to maintain a safe workplace and encourage and/or adopt practices protecting the health of employees, clients, visitors and others. We also want to ensure the continuity of business operations in the event of a pandemic.
We ask all employees to cooperate in taking steps to reduce the transmission of communicable diseases in the workplace. Employees are reminded of the following:
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
- Cover your mouth with tissues whenever you sneeze, and discard used tissues in the trash. If a tissue is not available, sneeze into your elbow. Wash hands after sneezing or coughing.
- Avoid others who are sick with respiratory symptoms.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces.
- Follow the advice of local and national government officials regarding refraining from participating in events that draw large crowds.
[Firm Name] has provided alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the workplace and in common areas. Cleaning sprays and wipes are also available to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces such as telephones and keyboards.
It is critical that employees do not report to work while they are experiencing symptoms of illness such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, or fatigue. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that employees remain at home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100 degrees F or 37.8 degrees C) or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications. Many times, with the best of intentions, employees report to work even though they feel ill. We provide paid sick time and other benefits to compensate employees who are unable to work due to illness. Employees who report to work ill will be sent home in accordance with these health guidelines.
While we currently do not offer formal remote work arrangements, [Firm Name] will consider, on a case-by-case basis, requests from employees to work from home during this time for positions with primary job duties that can be effectively performed remotely.
Employees are encouraged to use telephone and video conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings as much as possible during this outbreak. IT support services are available to employees who need assistance with this technology. For any face-to-face meetings with clients we recommend that you refrain from shaking hands. While this may appear to be unprofessional, a simple explanation will most likely suffice and even be appreciated given the concern of spreading contagions.
We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as necessary. We also encourage all employees to stay informed as this is a dynamic situation.
Please contact [specify firm contact] with any questions or concerns.