Coronavirus Advice for Employers | Workplace Procedures
As the risk of Coronavirus increases, the Government is urging local authorities and others to put in place contingency plans to mitigate its potential impact – but what will be needed and when is still uncertain. Plans range from warning religious groups to limit “close contacts”, Coronavirus advice for employers to use video conferencing rather than face-to-face meetings, and ensuring that if worst comes to worst, local authorities have the capacity to cremate and bury the dead to stop the disease from spreading further.
While the situation in the UK remains calm, with only a relatively small number of cases confirmed so far, the Government is taking precautions and has provided an online guide for the public. Their response is being driven by the UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011, and although this document was prepared for an outbreak of a new strain of flu, it’s believed to provide a solid template for the management of Coronavirus containment and treatment.
The Coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China has spread to at least 65 countries and has directly affected many thousands of people including thousands of deaths. Governments have shut borders and imposed quarantines, and companies have imposed travel bans. The human and economic impacts on businesses have been stark.
This epidemic is a wake-up call for companies to carefully review the strategies, policies, and procedures they have in place to protect employees, customers, and operations in this and future epidemics.
Coronavirus Advice for Employers | Procedures
Here are key five questions that companies should ask as they prepare for — and respond to — the spread of the virus. Businesses have a legal and moral responsibility to their employees and clients and every possible action should be taken to meet those obligations.
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1. How can we best protect our employees from exposure in the workplace?
The Coronavirus that causes Covid-19 (as the disease is called) is thought to spread largely through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing, and it seems to spread easily. It may also be possible to become infected by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching one’s nose or mouth. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention advises that employees should:
- Stay home if they have respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath) and/or a temperature above 100.4 F.
- Leave work if they develop these symptoms while at the workplace.
- Shield coughs and sneezes with a tissue, elbow, or shoulder (not the bare hands).
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser(minimum 60% alcohol).
- Avoid shaking hands entirely to reduce the risk of spreading infection. Though that might be awkward at times, it’s an increasingly common practice in hospitals and clinics.
2. When should we exclude workers or visitors from the workspace?
As discussed, current Coronavirus advice for employers is that staff members should stay home or go home if they have symptoms of Coronavirus infection. But dedicated staff often resist taking sick days, instead of dragging themselves into work where they may infect others. Given the threat this epidemic presents, managers shouldn’t hesitate to send employees who present with Covid-19 symptoms home. Likewise, employees or visitors who are symptomatic or at high risk for Covid-19 should be kept separate from staff and helped with arrangements to leave the workplace and obtain medical evaluation while minimising their public exposure. For example, they should avoid public places and public transportation, and, ideally, should stay six feet away from others unless they are wearing a mask.
If Covid-19 becomes widespread in the community, companies can check temperatures using hand-held thermal scanners and consider excluding staff or visitors with temperatures over 100.4 F. Temperature is not an exceptionally accurate way to assess risk, though, as some with the Coronavirus will be contagious but have no fever, and others will have higher temperatures not related to this virus. Thus, elevated temperature in combination with respiratory symptoms is the best indicator of possible infection.
Public health organisations recommend that companies bar employees or visitors from coming to the workplace for a period 14 days after a “medium” or “high-risk” exposure to the virus — generally meaning having been in close contact with someone who is known or has a greater potential to be infected, or having travelled from a high-risk region.
3. Have we maximised employees’ ability to work remotely?
While many jobs (retail, manufacturing, health care) require people to be physically present, many jobs and tasks including meetings, that can be done remotely should be encouraged if coming to work or travelling risks exposure to the virus. Diligent planning for global health emergencies can help protect employees, clients and the business. But plans are only as good as their execution. The Wirehouse legal team are providing Coronavirus advice for employers that organisations should use the current situation to optimise and battle-test their plans. These capabilities will prove invaluable for the current Coronavirus pandemic, or another virus in the future.
4. Should we revise our policies around international and domestic business travel?
Many companies are now restricting travel to and from Asia. It is prudent to limit employee business travel from areas where Covid-19 is most prevalent — both to prevent illness and to prevent loss of productivity due to quarantine or employee exclusion from the workplace after travel. Employees should be especially careful not to travel if they feel unwell, as they might face quarantine on return if they have a fever even without significant risk of Coronavirus infection.
5. Should we postpone or cancel scheduled conferences or meetings?
There have been scattered reports around the globe of cancelled in-person conferences and meetings, especially those with international attendees, and it is expected more will come in the coming months. Videoconferencing, for instance, is a good alternative to risky face-to-face meetings.
Engagement and Communication
An in-person meeting requires you and your meeting participants to be in the same place at the same time. In today’s busy world, this is an increasingly difficult feat to achieve. There are also some major disadvantages to meeting this way.
- If you need to be able to touch things, such as product samples, then an in-person meeting is probably the best option for you.
- In-person meetings can be more dynamic than virtual meetings. For example, you can easily break up into smaller groups to brainstorm ideas.
- At the very beginning of a business relationship, it can be beneficial to meet in person in order to create a strong basis for an ongoing relationship. However, this is only necessary for the first meeting.
- It takes up a lot of time. All participants have to be in the same place at once, which may require you to travel county to county or overseas. Even a one-hour meeting in another county could take up most of the day once travel is factored in, which is a very inefficient use of company time.
- It’s not cost-effective. If you need to attend an in-person meeting overseas, this will involve booking flights, accommodation, transport and maybe even a venue in which to host the meeting. These costs can be prohibitive and some companies have even had to implement complete travel bans as a result.
- It’s outdated. Digital technologies are constantly improving and providing easier ways of meeting and doing business. Companies who are still sending people to in-person meetings are lagging behind on business trends.
Face-to-face meetings are easily conducted by using web conferencing and webcams, without having to travel to meet in person. Everybody can see each other from wherever they are, whether that’s their office, home or anywhere else they happen to be! The traditional advantages of meeting in person can be achieved much more easily with a web conference.
- It increases trust. Our body language influences how our words are interpreted by others. If your body language matches your words, this increases trust, rapport and understanding with your meeting guests. Using webcams in a web conference means you are able to communicate both verbally and non-verbally. If you can read someone’s body language, you’ll have access to a wealth of additional information that can’t be transmitted through a simple telephone meeting.
- It increases engagement. Having a visual connection with your meeting participants adds an element of accountability for each person. This will discourage busy attendees from attempting to multitask, which can happen if the meeting is being conducted over phones.
- It increases productivity. Web conferences allow you to share screens so you can collaborate easily on projects and documents even when you’re separated by hundreds or thousands of kilometres. The time saved from travelling to the meeting can instead be used to achieve your goals and making decisions more efficiently.
- Some web conferencing providers like to lock you into monthly subscriptions, regardless of how much you may use the service. Just make sure you choose a provider who offers you pay-as-you-go rates rather than a monthly fee or subscription.
Another easy way to conduct a meeting without the time constraints of a traditional face-to-face meeting.
- If you just need to speak with your meeting guests without any visual link, an audio conference is a simple way of collaborating simply and efficiently. All you need is a landline or mobile phone and an account with an audio-conferencing provider.
- Audio conferences give participants increased objectivity because they’re not distracted by the visual feed provided by the webcams of meeting participants. This allows them to think more logically about the points being put forward during the discussion and perhaps come to an agreement or understanding sooner.
- Many conferencing providers don’t offer their service over dedicated telephone lines, leading to call dropouts and bad quality conferences. When deciding on which audio-conferencing provider to use, make sure you choose one which owns their own infrastructure and can guarantee you service over dedicated phone lines.
- As you can see, there are some convincing disadvantages to meeting in person. There’s no reason to waste company resources on travelling to meetings when meeting via audio and web conferencing will save you both time and money while helping you be more productive and efficient.
Need guidance on specific issues affecting your business? Speak to our Employment Law and Health & Safety Team today to get Coronavirus advice for employers.