Employers in the Greater Lehigh Valley wondering how to best handle the threat that the coronavirus COVID-19 poses to their workplace can look to the U.S. Centers for Disease control for guidelines.
The website cdc.gov has advice for a number of workplace issues ranging from preventing the spread of the coronavirus to how to handle an employee that may have contracted the virus.
One of the most basic things a workplace can do is keep worksites clean.
The CDC recommends:
Perform routine environmental cleaning:
- Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
- No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
- Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.”
It also said employers can do some basic everyday things to prevent the spread of viruses, such as providing tissues and “no-touch” disposal receptacles for employees and reminding employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Soap and water is preferred, and hand sanitizer should contain at least 60-95% alcohol to be effective.
Employers should all make sure there is adequate soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace in multiple locations.
The CDC said it’s also important to have proactive policies in place especially regarding employees who travel:
Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps:
- Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Noticesfor the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found at on the CDC website.
- Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illnessbefore starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
- Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.
- If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare provider in that country. A U.S. consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. embassies, consulates, and military facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.”
Policies should also be in place for employees who may be sick. It said those who do show symptoms should be encouraged to stay home. That could also mean working from home where possible.
If an employee does come in appearing to be sick the CDC warns that there are dos and don’ts.
“The CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).”
It’s recommended that employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever, which the CDC defines as 100.4° F or greater and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines, such as cough syrup.
With the desire to keep sick employees out of the workplace where they can infect others, the CDC said companies should ensure that their sick leave policies are flexible and that employees are aware of these policies.
But the CDC warns that employers shouldn’t go too far in “diagnosing” patients with COVID-19.
“To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, use only the guidance described below to determine risk of COVID-19,” the CDC said. “Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin, and be sure to maintain confidentiality of people with confirmed COVID-19.”
The CDC did say that there is much that is not known about how the virus will, or will not spread.
“The severity of illness or how many people will fall ill from COVID-19 is unknown at this time,” it said. “If there is evidence of a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., employers should plan to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed.”