Pandemic Planning For Employers During COVID-19
As businesses face trying times, business owners and management are facing tough situations with navigating their companies towards new shores while taking on water.
Just as the nature of the employment landscape is changing, employers need to shift their approach to running their businesses to account for the new needs of workers all while still managing to keep their business afloat.
No one who manages a company enjoys uncertainty, but in uncertain times, many are unsure about how to proceed. That’s why we’ve assembled a slew of suggestions to help you prepare for adapting to the pandemic, that can help you improve your response strategy and lay out a game plan for the return to work.
1) Be aware of the virus’ symptoms and transmission methods
With constant updates on the metrics of COVID-19 in the media, it can become overwhelming and hard to sift through what is real and fake news. It’s important to understand the disease and how it operates. If you’re unsure if the source is real or fake, it’s always a good idea to refer back to government platforms, your local health unit and newspapers instead of social media to check the facts.
COVID-19 is essentially a respiratory illness, and the latest evolution of the coronavirus, the same virus which caused the 2003 outbreak of SARS. COVID-19 affects people with a range of symptoms from common to severe, that can include:
– Difficulty Breathing
– Kidney Failure
While death is typically a symptom only for vulnerable at-risk persons, such as those with pre-existing conditions, the syndrome has devastating effects on many, regardless.
The disease is primarily transmitted from symptomatic people to others who are in close contact through respiratory droplets, by direct contact with infected persons, or by contact with contaminated objects and surfaces. This means control measures are required to ensure the virus does not spread, including hand washing, face masks, social distancing, and disinfecting of communal surfaces.
2) Understand your legal standing
There are binding provincial and federal statutes regarding sick or necessarily quarantined workers, just as there were before. Workers rights are protected, so don’t jump to any rash conclusions about how to handle employees who cannot work. Such obligations include employment standards, human rights, occupational health and safety, workers compensation and privacy legislation.
In addition, you should review the details of your own legal documents specific to your business, to grasp how they pertain to the pandemic. Some documents worth a review include benefit plans, employment contracts, collective agreements and specific legislation for your industry or municipality.
Discuss these standings with your lawyer and/or HR team so that you can ensure you continue to operate within the correct legal framework.
3) Draft Prevention Policies
If your business continues to operate, essential or not, you will need preventative measures in place to protect your people.
A good policy starts with sharing information with your company, including details about risk and symptoms from governing health bodies.
You will also need to make requirements for staff to follow procedures to prevent the spread of germs, such as hand-washing and distancing rules. You should also be prepared to supply items that will reduce or remove their risk of infection, such as hand sanitizer or barriers for front-end employees. Be sure to put controls in place to ensure these rules are being followed.
If you cannot operate conscientiously, then your course for prevention may simply be to close your business for the time being.
4) Practice containment
Bar employees from working on location if they have been travelling, and require disclosure of travel plans so you know who needs to practice self-containment.
If any employee is at risk of being a carrier, or is presenting concerning symptoms, advise them they will need to stay at home for a minimum of 14 days in self-imposed quarantine. Suggest they get tested if possible.
Some employees are at greater risk, such as elderly or immunodeficient persons. You should discuss them remaining at home as well, symptomatic or not.
5) Ready yourself for work refusals
Just like any hazardous worksite, some or all of your business locations may be seen as too high a risk for some employees, who will refuse to perform their work.
Go over the process for addressing work refusals with your management team and supervisors, so that everyone is up to speed about how to handle these situations. Your Health & Safety committee can help advise you of the regulations.
6) Establish a pandemic response team
Bring together staff and partners who can help navigate the legal, health-related, technical, and ethical aspects of keeping your business active during the pandemic.
Ensuring you work cohesively with a variety of perspectives will allow you to make the best and most informed decisions.
If you operate a larger chain, such as a national retailer, you will want to consider establishing team leaders for different areas, as well as what your plans will be on different scales of the business.
7) Decide officially if you will continue to operate or not
Particularly once you’ve investigated your resources, and workshopped plans with your team, you will have a strong idea of whether remaining open is a feasible decision. Remember, it is one that depends on the safety of your team, not just your financial requirements. You may also be an essential service, and in that case, should do your best to continue to provide services to the community within reason.
Certain businesses are mandated by the provincial government to close their storefronts, but it remains possible to operate many different businesses so long as they follow health and safety guidelines or can alter their approach to do so.
Relay your decision to your organization as soon as possible.
8) Assess your sickness and disability coverage
Talk to your insurance providers and financial team about the coverage you are able to offer employees who are unable to work, including due to self-imposed quarantine.
You may be able to pay your workers despite the circumstances. Additionally, be sure to advise them about outside resources such as the CERB.
9) Revise your sick policy as needed
Understand if you are required to allow employees to be absent to care for sick family members, and whether the expanding leeway for affected workers requires you to make additional accommodations that go outside your existing leave policies.
Expand your policy documents to respect the new boundaries and inform your staff of any changes.
10) Establish clear communication channels
Especially if your team will continue to work remotely, setting clear instructions and timelines about communication is absolutely essential.
Decide who will be responsible to handle communication at different levels, from company-wide to individual conversations, including emergency reporting and important status updates. Establish protocols about what type of platforms you will be using and set expectations about response times for internal and client communications.
Now is the time to over-communicate. Keep in touch with your team as much as possible, to keep the channels open and to help everyone continue to feel connected.
11) Publish a visitor protocol
If your business remains physically open to the public in some capacity, then you need to ensure that a set of guidelines for visitors is designed and put into action.
Whenever possible, screen potential visitors using questionnaires and ensure that reminders about symptoms are posted where they can see them. You should not be allowing ill persons on the premises.
You may want to change how visitors check-in, and ask them to follow additional guidelines such as hand washing and distancing themselves. Be sure they are informed promptly and that the information is made available before their visit, including with signs on location.