The priority for all employers is to make sure that their workforce is protected from a health and safety perspective, while also trying to minimise disruption to business continuity.
As uncertainty continues to surround COVID-19, organisations need to focus on prevention and planning to take care of their employees and prepare for further disruptions.
Many leading organisations have already started to take measures to protect against the COVID-19 outbreak. HR leaders need to now consider a set of guidelines to ensure they work together with their staff to overcome the challenges we face from the disease.
Reassure staff that your organisation is mindful of the situation
Employees will understandably fear the risks of COVID-19 in the workplace. It’s important to let them know that your organisation is aware of the threat and is actively responding to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
Communicate clearly and regularly as the situation changes
Clear communication is essential during a global crisis, especially in a situation that is constantly changing from day to day. Make sure employees understand how to report any suspected risks from COVID-19, and that incidents are reported urgently to assess the overall risk to your business.
Educate managers on how to identify COVID-19 symptoms
The Coronavirus affects a person’s lungs and airways, with symptoms that include a high temperature and a new, continuous cough. If employees show any signs of the infection, they should self-isolate at home for at least seven days – 14 days if they live with someone else.
Encourage good hygiene and a common sense approach
The risk of infection can be reduced by providing soap and hand sanitisers, especially in communal areas such as kitchens and social areas. Employees should also be reminded to cough or sneeze into a tissue (not their hands) – and many workplaces have imposed a ban on handshakes.
Establish a designated isolation area
Should an employee become sick at work, they will need to be isolated in a room with a closing door and kept at a distance of at least 2 metres away from other employees. Individuals at risk should be advised to call NHS 111 and follow their guidelines.
Limit international travel to countries with high risk
Restrict travel to any countries with a high concentration of infection, including China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. Employees who have recently returned from any places considered high risk may need to self-isolate for 14 days, depending on them showing any symptoms.
Be sensitive to family concerns and mental health
Working parents dealing with school closures and employees with vulnerable relatives will be faced with additional challenges and strains on their mental health. HR leaders need to be sensitive to their employee’s individual needs and work to find sensible solutions together. Introducing flexible working hours outside of the standard 9-5 day will help staff cope with family commitments – as well as maintaining business continuity.
Encourage employees to work from home
Allowing employees to work from home where possible – and making sure they have the necessary technology in place to assist them – will also help reduce risk while keeping business running. And, using video conferencing calls for team working and external meetings is a way of avoiding unnecessary human contact and travel.
Direct employees to sources of official information
Be aware of new measures for statutory sick pay
If an employee has been advised to self isolate, the government has announced new measures that mean they are entitled to statutory sick pay from the first day of sick leave. This includes people who may be a carrier of COVID-19 without showing symptoms and people caring for others who have been told to self isolate.
Beware of any ethnic discrimination
A consequence of the fear generated by the Coronavirus outbreak is prejudice, especially towards people of Chinese origin. It’s important for HR leaders to be mindful of potential discrimination in the workplace and adopt a zero tolerance policy to hostile behaviour.
Keep job applicants informed
Recruitment candidates are likely to be anxious about the state of their job applications. It’s reassuring for HR and talent professionals to clearly communicate what next steps will be taken for both internal and external job applicants. Video interviews are a possible solution of maintaining your workforce without the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Develop a contingency plan to prepare for the future
Appointing a pandemic coordinator or team is a sensible precaution – as organisations who have taken a more pragmatic, business-wide approach during previous global outbreaks have lessened the impact.
HR leaders also need to consider if you have enough employees to take care of business-critical operations – promoting transferable skills is a useful way of covering staff shortages. And, adopting creative resourcing solutions like staggering shifts or designating separate teams means there are fewer people in the workplace at any one time.
The dramatically changing situation that the world is facing in response to coping with COVID-19 emphasises the need for organisations to be agile and able to adjust to unsettled circumstances.