The Coronavirus and Pandemic Planning

As cases have now been confirmed in the states of New York, Florida and Rhode Island, along with a second known death in Washington State, at least 74 Americans have now been infected by COVID-19 (Coronavirus). The CDC has provided their recommendations to prepare, prevent and protect ourselves and our loved ones. But how should employers prepare?

Best Practices for Businesses

While the outbreak is still unfolding and it is too early to know the true impact it will have on businesses, business continuity and resiliency experts say the time is now for organizations to look at how prepared they are and make plans to keep operations running amid travel bans and illness.

“Update and review pandemic preparedness plans,” said Chloe Demrovsky, president and CEO of Disaster Recovery Institute International, which is focused on helping organizations prepare for and recover from disasters. “If you don’t have one, now is the time to write one. It needs to have leadership buy-in and clear objectives, a thorough risk assessment and an analysis of the potential impact to core functions, and it has to have pandemic-specific elements and strategies.”

 “You need a strategy for prioritizing critical traffic and for making sure that appropriate employees can access your systems offsite,” she said. “You should also be regularly using remote meeting and other communications tools. If everyone practices work-from-home tools regularly, they will be better able to use them during a crisis scenario when they become essential.”

 “Manufacturers will have a harder time if factories stay shuttered for a long time, whether yours or an upstream supplier’s factories. Do you have stock at hand, can you create stockpiles now for critical components and/or do you have alternate suppliers? 

Above all, communicate to your employees now to calm hysteria and let them know that you care and are prepared to keep them as safe as possible.”

All employers need to consider how best to decrease the spread of acute respiratory illness and lower the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace. Employers should identify and communicate their objectives, which include the following:

  • Reducing transmission among staff,
  • Protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications,
  • Maintaining business operations, and
  • Minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains.

Recommendations for Business Continuity amid the Crisis

Consider the following recommendations in planning for the safety of employees and the continued health of your business as the pandemic unfolds.

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home; separate sick employees
  • Emphasize respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning
  • Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps
  • Understand the disease severity within your community
  • Understand the impact of the disease to high-risk employees
  • Prepare for increased numbers of employee absences due to:
    • illness in employees and their family members,
    • dismissals of early childhood programs and K-12 schools:
      • Plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace.
  • Implement plans to continue essential business functions if you experience high absenteeism.
  • Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace is able to operate even if key staff members are absent.
  • Assess your essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products.
  • Coordination with state and local health officials is strongly encouraged for all businesses so that timely and accurate information can guide appropriate responses in each location where their operations reside.
  • Review human resources policies to make sure that policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and are consistent with existing state and federal workplace laws.
  • Establish policies and procedures, such as travel restrictions, flexible worksites (e.g., telecommuting) and flexible work hours (e.g., staggered shifts), to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees.
  • Ensure policies and procedures are easily accessible to employees on how to conduct remote meetings, remotely connect to systems and where to check for updated information.
  • Identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations.
  • Ensure business technologies can support the ability to efficiently and effectively work remotely, through stress testing you remote capabilities and communication tools.
  • Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company’s infectious disease outbreak response plan.
  • Establish a process to continuously communicate and make accessible information to employees and business partners on your infectious disease outbreak response plans. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly.
  • Establish a process for visitors to help understand the threat and risk they could impose on your organization.
    • Where have they traveled over the past two weeks?
    • Have they been in contact with anyone that has traveled over the past two weeks?
    • Understand their contact with anyone that has traveled to restricted or know infectious areas over the last two weeks.

Throughout this process and as the pandemic expands, employers must effectively communicate their plans with employees, explaining what human resources policies, workplace flexibilities, and pay, benefits and leave will be available to them.

If you have questions on pandemic planning for your organization, we would welcome a discussion on this increasing concern.

You’ve heard our thoughts… We’d like to hear yours

The Schneider Downs Our Thoughts On blog exists to create a dialogue on issues that are important to organizations and individuals. While we enjoy sharing our ideas and insights, we’re especially interested in what you may have to say. If you have a question or a comment about this article – or any article from the Our Thoughts On blog – we hope you’ll share it with us. After all, a dialogue is an exchange of ideas, and we’d like to hear from you. Email us at [email protected].

Material discussed is meant for informational purposes only, and it is not to be construed as investment, tax, or legal advice. Please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, this information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice.

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