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Communicable diseases like coronavirus and the respiratory illness it causes, COVID-19, can severely stall and even paralyze a busy organization. Part of your responsibility as an employer is to do your part to prevent and respond to infectious diseases in the community. Employers are legally liable for both employees and nonemployees infected in the workplace. Here are ways to prepare your workforce for the possibility of telecommuting, quarantines, business closures, and other outcomes of a disease outbreak.

HR Checklist

  • Define alert levels/triggers 
  • Confirm employee contact information is current and distributed appropriately
  • Work with the IT and other appropriate departments to confirm employees have the capabilities and resources to safely work from home
    • This may include review/update/dissemination of IT policy, remote work policies, and IT safety guidelines
  • Allow employees to work remotely to the greatest extent possible 
  • Review, update, and create policies and procedures regarding telecommuting to address the following factors:
    • Timekeeping procedures for remote workers
    • Paying benefits to employees who are asked to take leaves of absence
    • Paying hourly employees who are asked to work from home and/or take leaves of absence after testing positive for a communicable disease
    • Reviewing and updating workplace and leave flexibilities as well as pay and benefits in case of school/daycare closings and caring for ill family members, etc.
    • Ensuring that your sick leave policies are up-to-date, flexible, and non-punitive to allow sick employees to stay home to care for themselves, children, or other family members. Consider encouraging employees to do a self-assessment each day to check if they have any COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath). 
    • Aligning pandemic/emergency policies and procedures with public health recommendations as well as State and Federal laws
    • Be sure to include a thorough review and update of the following: sick leave, enhanced unemployment aid, paid time-off, leaves of absence, layoff, safety and health (OSHA), travel policy, restrictions/bans, payroll processes, and separation policies 
  • Consider canceling non-essential travel and face-to-face meetings
  • Recognize that this disruption will cause anxiety for many and share resources to help employees
  • If employees must come into the workplace
    • Establish social distancing procedures
    • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home until they are free of fever or symptoms (without the use of medication) for at least 24 hours. Do not require a healthcare provider’s note to validate the illness or return to work of employees sick with acute respiratory illness; healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way. 
    • Separate employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms from other employees and direct them to see their doctor immediately. Then, alert the Communicable Disease division of your state’s health department and get direction the specific actions you should take to clean the office spaces, quarantine potentially impacted employees and implement your crisis response plans. 
    • Reinforce key messages — stay home when sick, use cough and sneeze etiquette, and practice hand hygiene — to all employees, and place posters in areas where they are most likely to be seen. Provide protection supplies such as soap and water, hand sanitizer, tissues, and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees. 
    • Frequently perform enhanced environmental cleaning of commonly touched surfaces, such as workstations, countertops, railings, door handles, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label. Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use.   
    • Be prepared to change business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of your operations).
  • Cross-train employees for key functions so that daily schedules can continue relatively uninterrupted by potential employee absences.
  • Review absenteeism policies to make sure employees are not being encouraged to come to work if they are sick.
  • Work to make sure fear and anxiety don't lead to social stigma toward any employees
  • Align your workplace procedures and policies with the latest suggestions from World Health Organization (WHO), local public health departments, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), etc.
  • Regularly remind your managers and supervisors about the policies and procedures that govern workplace behavior, performance management, employee benefits, etc. during this period. Don’t assume they know!
  • Work with IT and Marketing/Communication departments to create a plan and disseminating timely information to employees
  • Update Intranet site to link to the World Health Organization (WHO), local public health departments, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and other health agencies.
  • Research financial relief available for your organization. Small business owners and non-profit agencies impacted by the public health crisis can apply for low-interest loans. Additional information on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is available at Some states have already set up resources as well.

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