With COVID-19 (coronavirus) impacting communities in the Northwest and around the U.S. and world, employers are wondering what role they can play in keeping their employees safe and healthy. Don’t panic! Your current policies and practices are probably sufficient to handle any issues that may affect your workplace. But here are some general recommendations. (See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for businesses and employers for additional information, and our article on wage, sick leave, and scheduling issues here.)

Practice prevention

  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol throughout your workplace, including in common areas like kitchens, lunch rooms, conference rooms, and reception areas.
  • Provide disinfectant throughout working areas, and encourage employees to disinfect high-contact areas and items, like door handles, phones, keyboards, etc.
  • Ensure adequate supplies of hand soap are available and encourage employees to wash their hands frequently.
  • If applicable, ask your regular cleaning services what options they have to disinfect your workplace.

Remote working

  • If you have a remote working policy, remind employees of it, and consider expanding it to permit remote working for anyone with, or who thinks they may have, symptoms.
  • If you don’t yet have a remote working policy and one is appropriate for your workforce, develop one.

Sick days and time off

  • Encourage individuals with symptoms to stay home, and to work remotely if applicable.
  • If an employee reports to work with obvious symptoms (of any communicable illness), send the employee home.
  • Follow your usual leave policies, but see our article here on navigating Oregon’s sick leave and secure scheduling laws in these circumstances.
  • If an employee has recently traveled to an area where there is a higher risk of infection, you may ask that employee to refrain from returning to work (or to work from home, if available) for a period of time. Monitor the CDC or World Health Organization websites for information about COVID-19 in different areas around the world.

Emergency response

  • Prepare to implement your emergency response protocols. If you already have an emergency response policy for, for example, an earthquake or major flood, start adapting that to respond to a significant disruption caused by COVID-19. If you don’t have an emergency protocol, consider developing one in consultation with your employment counsel.
  • Prepare an emergency response team, if you don’t have one already. The team should consist of individuals across functions, such as leadership, IT, HR, legal, safety, communications, office management, etc. Each team member should stay apprised of potential workplace impacts of the virus in your community. The team should also include, or have ready access to, decision makers who can take immediate action if necessary (e.g., office closures or changes to work schedules).