The Coronavirus Vaccine For Your Business

The world has battled epidemics from the beginning of time. Right now, we are focused on the Coronavirus, which is having rippling effects on commerce worldwide.  While the first wave of economic impact has been mostly felt by supply-chains, the need for all businesses to prepare for public health emergencies and other natural disasters is simply a matter of survival.  A business continuity plan can help vaccinate your business against the impact such pandemics can cause. 

Business continuity plans go into effect just before, or upon imminent impact, of any possible disastrous event.  The goal of a business continuity plan is to maintain business functions or quickly resume them in the event of a major disruption, whether caused by a flu epidemic, fire, flood or cybercrime.  The design process results in a plan tailored to safeguard your employees, your company’s assets, and your business operations, no matter its size or industry.

To begin the immunization process for your business, consider the following steps:

  1. Appoint a team, or at least one leader and backup, to create the plan and coordinate roles and responsibilities for themselves and others during crisis
    • A key stakeholder for union-organized workplaces should be union representatives.  Any changes being made to the terms and conditions of employment related to an epidemic, could cause union disputes or resistance.  Employers should reach out in advance to include unions in decision-making or seek feedback on decisions before announcing or implementing them.  Creating strong partnerships could make implementing necessary changes go a lot smoother with union participation and buy-in during the process. 
  1. Communicate with employees, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders – create a clear line of communications with each group describing how the plan works under various circumstances (e.g., closed schools, quarantined areas, individuals suspected or confirmed to be infected), when and how the plan will be activated and deactivated, their roles and responsibilities, and chains of commands applicable to various events.
    • Hourly employees should not be asked or permitted to volunteer their time to their employers without at least minimum wage compensation.  However, employers may require employees to work additional hours, keeping in mind that overtime rules still apply. 
  1. Cross-train employees on key positions; share with and encourage key vendors to create their own business continuity plans to be shared with you.
    • Employees may be required to perform job functions outside of the job descriptions and may also be required to tele-work.  Employers should expect to pay employees the same rate of pay for hours actually worked.
  1. Test IT systems for remote access in case work-from-home situations become necessary, and develop IT protocols for when remote work is required.
  1. Review existing HR policies (e.g., sick leave and attendance policies); develop simple procedures and templates for new policies to be tailored to future emergency situations.
    • Under FMLA, employees may take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave for their own or their family member’s serious medical reasons, which may include the flu virus.  Employees may elect to use their available PTO to receive pay during their FMLA leave if their employer does not already require that PTO be used.  Employers may require doctor’s notes or other medical certification, although it may be difficult to access healthcare providers during critical events. The terms of employees’ group health insurance coverage should not change during their FMLA leave.
    • Remind employees about their health care and leave benefits and balances, call-off procedures, and other resources provided by your company.
    • Leave taken by employees to prevent exposure to the flu or to care for children who are off school to prevent exposure, is not covered by FMLA.  However, employers should encourage employees who have been exposed to stay home and should consider relaxing current leave policies or creating flexible policies around the flu virus.
    • As always, whatever actions employers take should be applied consistently to all employees and not on the basis of basis of race, sex, age (40 and over), color, religion, national origin, disability, or veteran status. 
  1. Identify and plan for distribution of resources needed for employees during various crisis.
    • Make sure you’re OSHA compliant for use of personal protective equipment and transmission of blood-borne pathogens
  1. Coordinate with community agencies like the Red Cross, Chamber of Commerce, and Health Departments for additional support during emergency events
    • Educate your employees on key agency partners’ resources and provide contact information for each.

When identifying key players in your plan, keep in mind that people may leave or change roles over time, so using position titles in addition to names is recommended. 

Before Coronavirus, there was SARS, Bird Flu, and H1N1 (Swine Flu), not to mention the annual flu outbreak and other pestilence, plagues, and disasters.  No doubt there will be future outbreaks and disasters that will have widespread effects on commerce.  Having a continuity plan in place is the best defense.  

The employment law group at Montgomery Jonson is available to guide and assist in creating your business continuity plan and address other employment related concerns regarding the Coronavirus.

For the most reliable and up-to-date information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.