The stock market plummeting. Businesses closing their doors. Flights canceled. Gyms on lockdown. Restaurants only servicing delivery orders. Some cities on lockdown. Business and the economy seem to be bunkering down as the coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) continues to spread through the US and the world.
The mass hysteria aside, it can all be overwhelming when you’re trying to run a business, manage your livelihood, and keep yourself and your employees healthy in the workplace. But amidst it all, there’s good news. Wuhan, China, ground zero for the virus, is starting to open its business doors again, as the rate of infections tapers off. And before long, the U.S. will be back in business too.
So hold on. Don’t panic. And stay informed so you can manage your business and your team right (and read our tips for keeping your workplace safe and healthy).
What we know about the coronavirus
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that COVID-19 had become a pandemic, affecting more than 100 countries around the world.
The 169,387 cases (as of the writing of this article on March 16, 2020) of coronavirus since it was first reported in Wuhan, China (December 2019) have largely been mild cases with full recovery. However, the virus can be very dangerous, and even deadly for some high-risk individuals, including those over the age of 60 (risk increases with age), and those with certain chronic underlying medical conditions, including diabetes, lung disease and heart disease.
President Trump declared a National Emergency so the U.S. could take more rigorous measures to combat COVID-19. Some major cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, are already taking strict measures to try to stop the spread of the virus.
Know your rights as an employer during a pandemic
According to Kaiser Health News, in a pandemic, you as an employer have certain rights under federal laws (like the Americans with Disabilities Act). While most times you’re limited as to the health information you can request from your employees, in a pandemic, things change.
While most times you can’t ask employees about underlying health issues, during pandemics, it’s your right to inquire whether a worker is experiencing flu-like symptoms, according to these guidelines developed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2009 (after an H1N1 outbreak). If an employee does, it’s your right and duty to send them home to protect others.
Whatever you do, don’t panic--just prepare
While it’s important to be on the alert and take precautionary measures, the CDC wants us to know that it’s important to not panic, and to continue to wash hands (here are some guidelines from the CDC, and if you need a little laugh with all the heavy pandemic talk, watch this handwashing tutorial from The Ellen show).
Discuss with your business’ vendors the importance of their employees staying home when sick
Ensuring that everyone who services your business is on the same page can help minimize the chance and risk of community spread.
Stay informed and smart about business travel, meeting with clients, etc
If you’ve never explored remote work options, now is the time to invoke the powers of video conference calling and task management systems. And while you’re doing that, depending on your company and industry, you may find it beneficial to your company and team to continue business as usual, but remotely. Remote work has never been easier thanks to technology and the current startup landscape where companies are regularly “convening” with teams around the globe. Technology has indeed made it a small, small world.
Keeping the workplace clean and safe
If you run a business that requires all hands on deck and in-house, and it hasn’t been affected by the latest call for bars, gyms, restaurants, etc. to shut down till March 31, it’s important to keep the workplace as clean and disinfected as possible. Here are ways you can encourage a safe, healthy workplace.
Let unwell employees know they should stay home
Be sure that employees know the symptoms of COVID-19, letting them know the importance of leaving work if they begin to exhibit symptoms or feel unwell--even if they’re just cold symptoms.
Increase environmental cleaning
Keeping the office clean may entail having your janitorial staff do more frequent cleanings and wipedowns of public areas. This includes cleaning areas like countertops, doorknobs, workstations and any surfaces that are frequently touched
Provide soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer for employees
Setting up hand sanitizing stations near doors and throughout the establishment can help reduce any spread of infection. Make sure you also have plenty of hand soap stocked up for the significant uptick in hand-washing.
Post signs and email guidelines for how to wash hands
Taking action as early as possible can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus, and help the country and the world beat it all the sooner.