What You Need To Know
Healthcare Compliance Pros is monitoring information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) pertaining to COVID-19 and what employers need to do.
Below you'll find some resources to assist your organization with COVID-19.
With the heightened awareness of a pandemic because of the COVID-19 threat, many employers are worried about a pandemic's impact on normal business operations. Are there steps an employer should take to be prepared to operate during a pandemic?
According to the CDC, employers need to consider how best to decrease the spread of acute respiratory illness and lower the impact of COVID-19 in their workplace. This includes identifying and communicating their objectives, such as reducing transmission among staff, protecting people who are at higher risk for adverse health complications, maintaining business operations, and minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains.
OSHA has also provided general guidance for workers and employers. Regardless of specific exposure risks, it is always a good practice to:
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When soap and running water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand rub with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands that are visibly soiled.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
OSHA also introduced the following recommendations to help organizations prepare for a pandemic, such as COVID-19:
- Defining select positions as critical to continuous operations and establishing specific duties and/or restrictions for employees in critical positions.
- Establishing "special circumstances" policy modifications including:
- Employee compensation/payroll continuation
- Sick leave absences (including liberal leave and non-punitive, as well as caring for ill family members)
- "Send home" policy for when employees become ill at work
- "Return to work" policy, including a method to verify employees are no longer contagious
- Telecommuting/flexible worksite considerations
- Flexible work hours (staggered and/or multiple shifts)
- Visitor restrictions/bans
- Defining which critical roles receive Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and if families should / would be included.
- Establishing the employer's ability to demand or recommend travel restrictions and geographical evacuations.
- Defining policies for employer childcare service restrictions (including shutting down on-site daycare programs).
- Establishing policies related to vaccination mandates and recommendations.
Healthcare Compliance Pro's Recommendation for Clients
Based on the facts restated above, in our opinion, developing a business continuity plan for a range of emergencies is important. If you haven't already, we recommend following the CDC's and OSHA's recommendations to include preparations for pandemic outbreaks of varying severity levels.
Additionally, the CDC states that employers should be encouraging everyday preventative actions including:
- Staying home when you are sick
- Covering your coughs and sneezes with tissues
- Washing your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds
- Use at least 60% alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available
- Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects multiples times per day
Beyond that, non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) have been recommended by public health officials to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. These additional actions include:
- Allowing staff members to telework
- Flexibility in allowing staff to stay home if they or someone in their house is sick
- Increasing space between staff at work as much as possible, by at least 3 feet
- Decreasing the frequency of contact among staff members
- Consider postponing or canceling work events with gatherings of over 150 people
- Canceling or postponing non-essential work travel.
Also, employers should prepare for the possibility that a large portion of their staff may be unable to work during a pandemic. When developing a business continuity plan for possible pandemics you should ask several questions such as:
1. What circumstances will cause us to enact our pandemic plan?
2. What functions are critical and needed for continuous operations?
3. Will we enact "special circumstances" policies as recommended by OSHA (Employee compensation/payroll continuation, Sick leave absences (including liberal leave and non-punitive, as well as caring for ill family members), "Send home" policy for when employees become ill at work, "Return to work" policy, including a method to verify employees are no longer contagious, Telecommuting/flexible worksite considerations, Flexible work hours (staggered and/or multiple shifts), Visitor restrictions/bans)?
4. How many absences can we handle before operations are affected?
5. How do we handle employee absences during an epidemic?
6. Will we allow employees to take sick leave if a family member is sick?
7. If an employee is symptomatic, will we send them home?
8. Will we pay employees while they are on sick leave? For how long?
9. How do we keep operations running during an interruption?
10. Will we allow employees to work virtually or telecommute?
11. How will we verify employees can return to work and are no longer contagious? Will we require a doctor's note?
12. What changes can we make to keep the business running effectively?
13. If we have to temporarily close, will we offer employees temporary pay and benefits? Will we require them to file for unemployment and obtain COBRA? Who will pay for benefits? The answers to these questions are all contingent on your regular operations and how your organization feels it could handle a possible pandemic situation. However, we do recommend following the CDC's guidance as mentioned above. Please also review the following link for more guidance from the CDC for businesses and employers:
With some exceptions, employers are free to establish their own paid leave and benefits policies and administer those benefits according to the best interests of the business. However, any policies implemented during this period are just like any other. They must be enforced uniformly for all workforce members to comply with federal, state, and local labor laws. Additional things you may want to consider, especially since you currently do not have the ability to work remotely, would be FMLA, paid time off, any sick leave policies or laws currently in effect, unemployment insurance, etc. Even during a pandemic, employees would be entitled to take paid leave or sick time as long as it complies with your policy.
Finally, because this is an evolving situation and the CDC is providing new guidance on a regular basis, we recommend that you keep up with the news of the COVID-19 outbreak, follow the instructions of your public health officials, update any policies that you may develop to keep in line with new recommendations as they may be announced, and ensure that you provide accurate and consistent information to your employees reflecting the guidelines of OSHA, the CDC, and other governmental agencies that may be providing them.
Healthcare Compliance Pros recognizes the importance and seriousness of Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), and how it is impacting providers. If you are concerned about letting your employees telecommute, how to train employees on handling a viral outbreak, or need assistance, please contact your compliance advisor. Our agents are ready to assist you with all COVID-19 questions.