We know how individuals should protect themselves from COVID-19: mainly by washing hands and staying home if you’re sick. But workplaces have some more responsibility here, because they can be a place where the virus can circulate.
The CDC has recommendations for specific actions that businesses should take to keep their employees safe. If your company is an airline, a school, or a healthcare facility, there are separate recommendations for those. But let’s take a look at the basic things all employers should be doing:
Provide decent sick leave policies
People who have symptoms of COVID-19, including a fever and cough, should stay home if possible, and get tested for the virus if appropriate. That’s good practice for any illness—you wouldn’t want somebody to come to work with the flu or even a cold, where they can spread it to others.
Unfortunately, many workers either can’t afford to stay home, or they face barriers like their workplace requiring a doctor’s note. Not only is a doctor’s note a deterrent from taking time off and a waste of the sick person’s time, it also makes extra work for healthcare providers at a time when resources may be stretched extra thin.
If we want people to avoid coming to work sick, it should be easy to take sick days and you shouldn’t have to risk your livelihood to do it. Some states and cities have paid sick leave laws, by the way, so find out if this applies to you.
Help people work from home
The less social contact people have, the fewer opportunities the virus has to spread. Lunar New Year gatherings were canceled in Wuhan, for example, which may have helped to contain the spread of the virus. Along the same lines, some conferences are now being canceled. It may make sense, especially if more cases pop up in the US, for workplaces to encourage employees to avoid travel and to work from home.
With that in mind, a smart employer should be making plans now so that people can avoid coming in to the office. Teleconferencing and remote access to work computer systems may be part of that plan, if you have a desk job.
Workers may also need to stay home to take care of a family member, such as a child or an older relative or neighbor. The CDC recommends that employers allow for that as well.
Make it easy to wash hands
We need to wash our hands, but we may be at the mercy of our workplace’s facilities. The CDC recommends that employers provide hand-washing stations, hand sanitizer, tissues, and no-touch garbage cans to dispose of said tissues.
The CDC even provides posters about hand washing, cough etiquette and staying home when you’re sick to remind employees to do the right thing, and to signal that the employer is on board with best practices.
Keep an eye on travel restrictions and conditions
If your job involves travel, your employer should keep an eye on the CDC’s travel advisories and come up with a plan for deciding when it’s appropriate to cancel trips. They should also take on the work of canceling reservations and rearranging travel schedules. (The CDC doesn’t say this, but I do. You’re traveling for work and it’s only fair.)
If you get sick while you’re traveling, your employer should help you obtain medical care. If you get sick before you leave, you should stay home, and your employer should be supportive and helpful about it.