How Can U.S. Businesses Handle Coronavirus Concerns In The Workplace?

While the risk of contracting the virus in the U.S. is low, some businesses are looking for ways to address their employees' concerns.
Posted at 12:11 PM, Feb 24, 2020

While confirmed coronavirus cases are increasing around the world and in the U.S., and the CDC says immediate health risks are low, some U.S. businesses are looking for guidance on how to address coronavirus concerns in the workplace. The CDC issued employer guidance which includes encouraging sick employees to stay home; an emphasis on prevention, like washing hands regularly; and establishing an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan which includes social distancing strategies like telework. Amber Clayton from The Society for Human Resource Management — which represents 300,000 HR members around the world — says she's seen an uptick in coronavirus inquiries from their members. 

Clayton: "We've had questions regarding people coming back from China, for business and for pleasure, and what their obligations or responsibilities would be as far as to make sure that they have not been infected or exposed to the coronavirus. And also they've had concerns from employees about other employees coming back from any areas where they've had the coronavirus."

Seeing a health professional is the first line of defense if you feel like you may have been exposed. Clayton recommends that employees who have traveled in affected areas work from home until the incubation period has ended. She adds that it's up to employers to provide enough information to combat misinformation about the virus. 

Clayton: "What the employer should consider ... is the communication and making sure that they have information that they need to understand what the current viruses are and how coronaviruses spread, and again, encouraging employees to do things that could potentially prevent the spread of illnesses."

Attorney Frank Alvarez wrote about coronavirus in the workplace in the National Law Review. He specializes in employment and labor laws and helped companies during the 2003 SARS epidemic.

Alvarez: "We've seen H1N1, we've had Zika. We've had Ebola. There seems to be a recurring pattern of the new epidemic of the year. ...The silver lining of it is the world community, and employers in particular, are getting better at responding to this."

Even though the likelihood of contracting the disease is low at this time, Alvarez recommends that businesses should begin deliberate pandemic planning.

Alvarez: "Now's the time for them to imagine a circumstance where the virus becomes more in place in the areas where they do business. What will that mean to the business? How will we continue to be in business? Can we operate when people are discouraged or prevented or precluded from traveling freely in society? How will people get to work? You want to begin anticipating those circumstances as part of your pandemic planning efforts."