How to Work With Your Employees to Keep Your Organization Afloat During the Coronavirus

You’ve likely already begun planning for an impending widespread illness to possibly hit your organization in the near future.  Companies normally have a plan in place to deal with some form of illness within the organization every year, and this year is likely no different.  You’ve prepared for the flu before, and you’ve worked with your employees on the most important parts of dealing with illness when it hits them at home.

You’ve also likely seen advertisements for training you can pay for to help you deal with a widespread illness in your organization, and how to work with your employees.  Well, we at the Wiley Law Office will spare you the expense of the online training and fill you in on the basics of how you can work with your employees during the latest medical event.  Last week we talked about how employers can still adhere to company policies as long as they are narrowly-tailored and grant exceptions where they are necessary.  Today, after reviewing the OSHA and advisories from the CDC website, we’ll talk about steps employers can take to keep employees safe yet still be productive.

First things first: DON’T PANIC!  There is reason for concern, but getting worked up about the situation and freaking out your employees is not going to help anything.  Take a careful, measured approach to working through this health situation, and take feedback from employees on steps you can take to make your workplace safer and ensure business continuity.

Second: Remember your obligations under OSHA.  Employers have a statutory duty to furnish employees a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are capable of causing death or serious physical harm.  As the virus becomes more widespread, it is important to provide protection for your employees both through protective equipment as well as keeping your employees informed on the latest developments regarding the virus in your workplace (Check out the CDC website devoted to all things Coronavirus).

Third: Be lenient.  If you haven’t been enforcing your 30-minutes before start-time call-in policy for the last five years, now is not the time to start putting down the hammer on your employees.  This is an unpredictable illness that can impact employees and their families over the course of hours.  Plans change, and both employers and employees need to exercise their abilities to adapt to a changing environment.  Changes in your approach, or a sudden urge to be stricter with attendance policies are not going to increase attendance or improve morale.  Plus, if your employees are unionized, the likelihood of disciplinary action holding up is slim when an employer becomes stricter in its enforcement of attendance policies in the face of an impending health crisis.

Fourth: Lighten up on the requirements for a doctor’s note.  People are being urged to self-quarantine if they are experiencing symptoms of the flu, and not to venture out into the public to possibly spread the virus even further.  Is a lax attitude toward doctor’s note going to increase the likelihood that a lazy employee will take advantage of the situation and call in for a week straight without a doctor’s note?  Possibly.  Is the absence of said lazy employee going to turn your organization belly-up?  Not likely.

Fifth: Stop making your employees be around co-workers/customers/other people.  It’s an introvert’s dream!  If it’s possible for employees to stay home and get their work done – allow it!  If there are business trips that can be delayed avoiding public travel – delay them!  Have meetings scheduled that could be conference calls?  Take advantage of the available technology and stop spreading germs!

Sixth: Be assertive with your employees.  Make sure they know that if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms, they need to stay home.  Furthermore, make sure they and their representatives know if they come to work and they are displaying symptoms of the virus, they will be sent home (not disciplined – allow them to use available leave).  You may have obligations for maintaining schedules under your collective bargaining agreement, but you have a duty to keep your workplace safe for employees.  You have the management authority to send employees home to avoid the possible spread of disease – use it.

The possible spread of the Coronavirus across the U.S. has impacted almost all aspects of our lives, both professionally and personally.  Employers are expected to have a plan in place for both maintaining operations and protecting their employees.  If you or your organization are in need of assistance in working with your employees on how operations are to continue, contact the Wiley Law Office for workplace safety advice that works.