Keeping your small business safe and sanitized during this financial and health crisis is key, while figuring out how to handle sick employees is another important aspect of surviving this pandemic.
There are common steps small businesses can take to minimize risk, but following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization guidelines is the best choice when dealing with infected employees and employees who may have also been exposed, said Travis W. Vance, a partner and chair of the COVID-19 Task Force for national law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP.
“The key to a happy and safe workplace all starts with education,” said Vance, who spoke April 7 during a webinar on the topic. “You should have a single point of contact at your company who is giving updates. It’s best to have the same information passed along to employees from a single source. You should also train supervisors on not overreacting and freaking out when employees come to them. They need to stay calm. That’s not going to send a good message if they’re freaking out.”
The National Automobile Dealers Association hosted the webinar as part of its regular series on topics related to the pandemic. While the information was geared towards auto dealers, the same guidelines can be used for any small business.
“Concerns from our membership has grown as the number of cases across the country have increased,” said Doug Greenhaus, NADA’s chief regulatory counsel for environment, health and safety, who moderated the webinar. “It is a very important topic.”
If an employee is exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus or the flu, the employer should ask them to seek medical attention and try to get tested for COVID-19. However, because not everyone who wants to be tested can get tested, the employer should follow CDC guidelines with how long an employee should stay home, Vance said.
Infected employees should remain at home until released by a physician or public health department.
If they’re not under the care of a doctor and are self-quarantining at home, the infected employee should not come back to work until at least three days have passed since they’ve recovered without the use of any fever-reducing medications. Or, the infected employee should wait at least seven days since their symptoms first appeared and have had no subsequent illness, Vance said.
Here are some practical takeaways given in the webinar:
- Encourage employees to wash their hands and ensure that proper hand washing tools and soap are available.
- Educate workforce about social distancing and how to identify COVID-19 symptoms.
- Encourage employees to not return to work until their temperature drops below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 24 hours.
- Encourage employees to not touch their face, eyes and mouth.
- Increase custodial/sanitizing schedules to the extent possible.
- Encourage employees to contact a doctor if they develop symptoms of COVID-19 and try to get tested.
Since COVID-19 is highly contagious and spreads a lot like the common cold or the flu, employees who have had close contact with the infected employee in the previous 14 days should also go home. Those employees should consult and follow the advice of their health care provider as to the length of time to stay at home, Vance said.
“There’s no case law on failure to notify, but we believe if you knew about it, and didn’t tell anybody, that’s a violation of OSHA’s safe work environment,” he said.
Because of privacy laws, employees should not be told the name of the infected employee, he said.
While all commonly touched surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized frequently, Vance recommends employers close off areas used by the ill person and wait as long as practical before beginning the cleaning and disinfecting process. This is done to minimize the potential for anyone else’s exposure to respiratory droplets, which is how the virus is spread.
“If possible, you should wait up to 24 hours before beginning the cleaning and disinfection of the area,” Vance said. “You don’t have to close down your dealership. Do the cleaning overnight or as soon as possible (after the 24 hours). Try to isolate that area until it’s cleaned. If possible, ventilate the area. Have a third-party cleaning company clean the area unless your cleaners have proper training.”
The business should only shut down if it has two or more confirmed COVID-19 cases, he said.
A few other frequently asked questions and answers that came out of the webinar:
Should your business take employee temperatures before they start work? Because of the logistics and privacy concerns, Vance suggests encouraging employees to check their temperature at home before coming into work and not coming into work if they don’t feel well.
“It takes a lot to do this properly and I caution (employers) before you start taking temperatures,” he said. “It’s not a fail-safe way to eliminate people with Covid-19.”
Should employees wear a mask at work? The CDC is recommending anyone who is going out in public should wear some type of face covering over their mouth and nose. It does not have to be a medical-grade mask, Vance said.
“We want people to be safe in the workplace,” he said. “If employees want to wear masks, I don’t see a problem with it. It’s largely to keep people at ease.”
Can an employee simply refuse to go to work because they’re scared, or if they’re older or have a health condition that puts them at higher risk? Employees should be encouraged to go to a physician and express their concerns. If they get a note from their doctor, the employer can make certain changes on a case-by-case basis or have them work from home if possible.
Businesses should also adopt technology that allows employees to work from home when they’re not sick. Adding the option to record video messages or respond to online inquiries from customers from any device anywhere allows employees to feel safe while also still assisting the company.
To keep up-to-date on any business-related coronavirus issues, visit Digital Air Strike’s free resources page at https://digitalairstrike.com/commitment.