Coronavirus: Recommended Response Strategies for Employers

There is widespread news coverage regarding the coronavirus. 

Below is information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) & the Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA) regarding how to help prevent the spread of respiratory disease. 

The information includes links to interim guidance and other resources for preventing exposures to and infection with the coronavirus—now officially named COVID-19.

Coronavirus: Recommended Strategies for Employers

#1) Actively encourage sick employees to stay home 

– Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness should stay home and not come to work. They must be free of fever, signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines. Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick. 

– Ensure that the sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies. 

– Talk with companies that provide your business with temporary employees (if applicable to your operation) about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies. 

– Do not require a healthcare provider’s note from employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work. Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way. 

– Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other ill family members than is usual. 

#2) Separate Sick Employees 

– The CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e., cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become sick during the day, should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue paper is available). 

#3) Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees 

– Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other work areas where they are likely to be seen. 

– Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees 

– Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-96% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water are preferential if hands are visibly dirty. 

– Provide soap and water, and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene. 

#4) Perform Routine Environmental Cleaning 

– Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label. 

– No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time. 

– Provide disposal wipes for commonly used surfaces (i.e., doorknobs, keyboards, etc.) that can be wiped down by employees before each use. 

#5) Advise employees before traveling to take specific steps 

– Check the CDC’s travelers’ health notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which staff will travel. Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China and information for aircrew can are posted on the CDC website. 

– Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick. 

– Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed. 

– If outside the United States, sick employees should follow the company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate health care provider in that country. A U.S. Consular officer can help locate healthcare services. However, U.S. Embassies, Consulates, and Military Facilities do not have the legal authority, capability, and resources to evaluate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas. 

#6) Additional measures in response to currently occurring sporadic importations of the Coronavirus

– Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. 

– If an employee is confirmed to have coronavirus infection, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed COVID-19 should refer to CDC guidelines for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure. 

Planning Considerations For Coronavirus

Prepare for a possible increased number of employee absences due to illness in employees and their family members, dismissals of early childhood programs, and K-12 schools due to high levels of absenteeism or illness. 

– You should plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace. Implement plans to continue the essential business functions if you experience higher than usual absenteeism. 

– Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace can operate even if key staff members are absent. 

– Assess essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products. Be prepared to change the business practices if needed to maintain critical operations (e.g., identify alternative suppliers, prioritize customers, or temporarily suspend some of the activities if required). 

Recommendations for an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan

– Identify essential business functions, primary jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains (e.g., raw materials, suppliers, subcontractor services/products, and logistics) required to maintain business operations. Plan for how your business will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or these supply chains are interrupted 

– In some communities, early childhood programs and K-12 schools may be dismissed, particularly if coronavirus worsens. Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes from increases in sick employees, those who stay home to care for ill family members, and those who must stay home to watch their children if dismissed from school. Businesses and other employers should prepare to institute flexible workplace and level policies for these employees. 

  If there is evidence of a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., consider canceling non-essential business travel to additional countries per travel guidance on the CDC website. 

— Travel restrictions may be enacted by other countries, which may limit the ability of employees to return home if they become sick while on travel status. 

–Consider canceling large work-related meetings or events. 

Illness Prevention

The best way to prevent illness is to not be exposed. Everyday prevention actions can help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases. 

Coronavirus is spread mainly from person-to-person. 

– Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 

– Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. 

– Stay home when you are sick. 

– Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash. 

– Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe. 


Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. 

– If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty. 

Every business should have informational documents and posters from the CDC available in the workplace to reiterate the importance of handwashing in preventing illness. 

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Opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s opinion. Not intended to provide the reader with legal or any other professional advice. Should you need advice or opinion, consult with a qualified professional to address your specific needs.