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Is it business as usual during the COVID-19 outbreak?

office chair with an out of office sign taped to it
The COVID-19 outbreak has created uncertainty, but there are steps you can take to create a safe, healthy workplace.

It’s not uncommon for employees to try and “work through a cold” or “just pretend they’re not sick” when they feel an illness lingering. But with the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which health professionals are still working hard to fully understand, it’s important to make smart decisions to keep employees — and your business — as healthy as possible.

Here are important steps you can take to support employees, keep them as well as possible and avoid unnecessary downtime during the coronavirus outbreak.


Have a sick leave policy in place (and support it)

The best thing you can do for employees who get sick with the coronavirus is to encourage them to stay home and not spread germs in the office. The CDC recommends isolating yourself if you’re sick, even in the home. Here are some details from the CDC, which has many specific business-related coronavirus preparedness and response tips:

  • Don’t encourage employees to come into the office while sick. While researchers are still learning about COVID-19, they have some idea that it’s more contagious than influenza and can spread quickly.
  • If an employee is home recovering, and is able to work from home, allow them to keep up with work remotely. But also be cool with them resting and getting well, too!
  • Encourage employees who are exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus to seek medical treatment early. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that testing can show if symptoms are influenza or coronavirus, which can be similar.

“Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority,” the WHO notes.


Encourage “touchless” meetings and connections

It’s a lot easier to conduct business in the modern era, through phone calls, email and video conferences.

  • You can encourage in-person meetings get moved “offline” to lessen face-to-face contact among employees. Use video conferencing software and online chats to keep that distance and still stay productive.
  • Opt to not shake hands, even in professional settings where it would be common. It may feel awkward at first, but cheerful greetings in the midst of a viral outbreak can prevent germ transmission.
  • Communicate messages and initiatives to employees clearly, through email, not with circulated memos or paper printouts. Avoid passing business cards and instead, use email, shortened custom URLs, or QR codes to share contact information. Or grab an app and scan their business card instead of pocketing it.


Promote hand washing, cleaning and sanitizing of office spaces

The CDC encourages everyone to practice smart methods to stay healthy while the coronavirus spreads. They include simple, but important, ways to avoid spreading respiratory illnesses such as washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cleaning and decontaminating areas where germs can spread through contact and not touching your eyes, mouth or nose with your hands.

How to Wash Well: Spread information on good hand washing techniques with downloadable posters from the CDC, and other interactive resources and videos.

At the office, you can also encourage and support the decontamination of common surfaces. These include doorknobs and push bars, keyboards, phones, desks, tables, and common appliances like coffee makers, fridges and microwaves. You may need to add additional cleaning services and also talk to your service provider about wiping down surfaces in a way that will kill germs, not just clear dust and dirt. You can also provide employees with trusted cleaners, sanitizers, and wipes (see a list of coronavirus-fighting products), so they can clean their own personal spaces.

If an employee is home sick, carefully clean and decontaminate their office space. If this might risk exposure to cleaning staff, follow OSHA’s guidelines for contamination. This can prevent them from spreading germs when they come back to the office, as you can still be infected with the coronavirus before you show symptoms. Making sure that surfaces are clean for everyone, and sanitizing them frequently, cuts down on cross contamination.


Don’t panic, get informed

Some great science-based coronavirus resources include:

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