So far, 2020 has thrown us quite the curveball. Coronavirus has been on everyone’s radar for a few weeks now. Currently, it’s shut down schools, places of work, and it is starting to overwhelm hospitals across the country. People are anxious; employers are trying to find ways to stay afloat, reach out to clients and customers, and support their employees; and everyone is wondering how to keep themselves and their families safe during this time. Whew.
The bad news is that, unfortunately, there are no simple or fool-proof answers to these problems.
There are, however, steps you can take to keep your company productive, your employees on the payroll, and your family and friends protected.
It is important to note that guidelines are changing almost daily. The rapid transmission of this virus means that resources are being consumed rapidly and statistics from early in the day aren’t accurate later in the day. Therefore, the advice we’re offering is general, and may change as guidelines change.
Whether you’re practicing social distancing at the office or you’re doing Zoom meetings from home, everyone should know a few basic things about preventing the spread of illness.
Practice “social distancing.”
This means to sit or stand 6 feet or more from others. Of course, you may live at home with roommates or have a family to care for. It is impossible to practice any social distancing in your home if this is the case! But there are still things you can do.
For example, you should practice social distancing any time you leave the house—going for walks, grocery shopping, or going to healthcare appointments. Most places are good at complying with this and accommodating their clientele; that said, it is your duty to continue good practices in your day-to-day life.
Don’t hang out in groups.
This goes along with social distancing. What is the point of isolating yourself if you hang out in groups? You would have to account for the possibility that any person in your group has been exposed and could be pre-symptomatic—the virus can be active in a person’s body and be transmitted even if the person hasn’t developed symptoms yet. And because symptoms can take 2-14 days to appear, that’s a lot of time to go around without knowing you’re contagious. So get a head start on prevention and keep your groups small—just the people you live with.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands.
It’s tough, but it’s an effective way of preventing accidental transmission to yourself! The virus enters the body through the mouth and mucous membranes (a gross term for the openings that the eyes, nose, and mouth have to the inside of your body).
If you have to sneeze or cough, cover it!
Do so into a tissue and immediately dispose of it. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your elbow.
If you have a few people in the office, keep disinfecting materials nearby—wipes, spray, or cleaning solution. Caution employees not to use other people’s phones, keyboards, or workstations. Regularly clean doorknobs and handrails.
Personal hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
If you don’t have soap and water at your disposal, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Soap and water are always better because the mechanical action of handwashing can loosen any microbes or viruses and wash them away.
If you or any employee feels ill, immediately isolate yourself and DO NOT return to work.
As an employer, do NOT take punitive measures against employees for being cautious if they call in to report symptoms. You’ll have to find a way to make it work in the meantime—partial pay, sick leave, sick time donation, partial disability, furloughing, or a leave of absence are all options for businesses. Whatever you do, do NOT come in. Again, keep in mind that people may remain asymptomatic for some time before actually feeling ill and it can come on very quickly.
Tips for Employers
Ensure your sick leave policies are clearly posted or available online.
Open your schedule to talk with employees with concerns—some may care for high-risk family members or they may be high-risk themselves. Others may be concerned about pay, benefits, or how a potential leave of absence will affect their job. Make sure you answer their questions; this is an incredibly stressful time for everyone.
If you do not have sick leave, immediately draft some non-punitive policies.
You may be a small business owner who cannot afford to pay for someone’s sick leave for a month; however, you can ensure them you will not take action against them such as firing them for remaining at home if they have an active illness.
You should not require a doctor’s note confirming illness or excusing the employee.
Healthcare systems are taxed to their limits right now, with barely enough time to see all patients or perform all potential screening tests.
They will not have the time and resources to take care of notes of absence for employees.
Doing this also forces the employee to physically go in to an urgent care clinic or another facility and potentially expose themselves and others to a highly contagious illness. So please, have another plan in place, and don’t take this route.
Cross-train employees to help account for shortages.
For example, if you’re a restaurant doing curbside pickup or delivery now instead of in-house service, you can cross-train your employees to help with inventory, food preparation, or taking online orders. There are ways to keep people on the schedule, even part time, to help offset the amount of labor others must do and keep the business running smoothly during difficult times.
As mentioned above, many places are doing curbside pickup or delivery. If you run another type of business, such as a handyman or construction service, determine if the job is essential. If it is, make sure your employees have the proper gear. If not, offer consulting services or classes online for your clients. There are ways to still make some money and shift focus in the meantime.
There may also be ways to support your local healthcare system—they’ll need help if they have to reorganize their facilities to accommodate patients.
What is Zoek doing?
We are supporting our employees by helping them work from home. It is important to us that our team and their loved ones stay safe, and that we support local essential employees by not exposing them unnecessarily to more people or overburdening our healthcare systems with patients who could have avoided the illness by staying home.
Our clients receive assistance with websites and content to inform their customers about COVID-19-related changes to their business: For example, updated business hours, changing services, or relocations. This includes updated listings for places that have changed their business hours.
Finally, we take great care to educate our employees about best practices and following best practices recommended by the World Health Organization and CDC.
Together, we can support businesses and employees by helping protect one another.
All information in this article is consistent with the recommendations made by leading infectious disease experts at the CDC.
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