Response to the Coronavirus

Due to the constant media attention, numerous business owners from across the country have contacted me regarding the need for an acceptable response to employee and client inquiries about the Coronavirus. While no protocol can sufficiently address all variables related to individual health concerns, here are some focused, practical actions intended to help business owners deal with this issue:

  • Remain calm. Business leaders are defined by their ability to solve problems.  By taking prudent action, this problem will be solved as well.  Remember that you are a leader in your organization:  Always remain calm.
  • Adopt best practices by reviewing the current Coronavirus summary on the CDC homepage
  • Review the current guidelines offered by NALP on their homepage
  • Define the problem: The Coronavirus is a contagious respiratory illness that produces symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath, primarily affecting the elderly, and those individuals with respiratory conditions (e.g., weakened lungs, emphysema, asthma).
  • At its essence, treat this situation as a sick leave issue.
    • If an employee demonstrates any of the symptoms related to the Coronavirus, send the employee home in a manner consistent with your company Sick Leave Policy.
    • Employees have the discretion to use available sick leave and vacation hours during this time away from work; employers cannot force them to use such available leave balances.
  • Encourage employees to visit their personal physician if they demonstrate any of the specific symptoms.
  • If an employee contracts the Coronavirus, the employee will only be permitted to return to work after his/her personal physician provides a formal written, return-to-work statement stipulating the employee is not a health risk to others.
  • Per OSHA, if an employee contracts the Coronavirus while at work, the company must document that illness on the OSHA 300 Log.
  • Employees are strongly encouraged to conduct basic personal hygiene practices at all times: cover mouth when coughing; cover nose when sneezing; wash and sanitize hands frequently.
  • Employees are strongly encouraged to conduct basic workspace hygiene practices at all times: wipe down computers, mouse, phones, printers, kitchen appliances with a sanitizing wipe; drivers of vehicles should wipe down steering wheels and controls with a sanitizing wipe.
  • While employees are warned to avoid all non-essential international travel, employees who do engage in international travel must comply with the following requirements:
    • Upon return to the United States, employees must participate in a quarantine period, with a specified duration identified solely at the Company’s discretion (e.g., 14 days); employees should not leave their home for any reason during that time.
    • During that quarantine, exempt employees may be allowed to work from home using their cell phone and laptop computer. Non-exempt employees are not allowed to work during the quarantine period.  Track all work time accordingly.
    • Employees must have no direct interaction with Company employees; only phone and e-mail communication are permissible.
    • These employees will only be permitted to return to work, after their personal physician provides a formal written, return to work statement stipulating the employee is not a health risk to others.
  • While the decision is unique to each company, it is recommended that companies conduct business as usual, taking all administrative (e.g., attached policy, sick leave, international travel restrictions) and operational precautions (e.g., hand washing, avoiding work in the cold/rainy weather, client concerns) as necessary.
  • In the event that someone asks “What are you doing about the Coronavirus?” simply say: (1) we have a policy replete with accompanied active procedures in place, (2) we are monitoring our employees each day, (3) we are cognizant of and compliant with local public health laws and legal guidelines, (4) we have made extra drinking water, hand sanitizers, and dust masks available to those who request them, (5) we are reassuring our clients as appropriate, and (6) we continue to monitor the situation.
  • Have ongoing meetings with management staff to ensure company-wide communication on this dynamic issue is current, fluid, and accurate. Make decisions as appropriate based on that information.
  • Remain calm.

Public health is a top concern for all of us in the Green Industry, at your company, and at the Harvest Group.  Accordingly, it is believed that by taking practical, measured responses to address the Coronavirus directly, we will be able to solve this problem in a manner that benefits our employees, our companies, and the public health within our nation.

If you have any questions or comments about this topic or anything else related to human resources, simply call me at (760) 685-3800.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.