By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President, PHCC
As of this writing, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that there are 106 confirmed cases of U.S. citizens infected by what is called COVID-19, which stands for the year the coronavirus disease was discovered. Contractors need to consider additional steps to protect employees to the extent they can. McCarthy Tétrault LLP (2020) writes in his article, Coronavirus – Advice for Employers Preparing for the Worst, “previous health scares such as SARS and H1N1, employers should consider what steps, if any, they may need to take if the current situation escalates.” (Retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 28, 2020, here). (I included many of Tétrault’s suggestions below given most were good to share.)
- Alert employees as to the symptoms and risks associated with the coronavirus, as well as prevention measures. Symptoms include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and pneumonia, kidney failure and death in severe cases.
- Encourage employees to wash their hands prior to commencing work, after sneezing and coughing, and after they touch objects that may have been in contact with people exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
- Encourage employees not to touch surfaces that may be contaminated with the flu virus and to avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Provide hand sanitizers (and even respiratory masks), if and when appropriate.
- Review cleaning procedures in place to regularly disinfect equipment, work stations and the workplace generally.
- Containmen – Require sick employees to stay home.
- Establish (or re-activate) a pandemic preparation and response team – Identify a team responsible to plan for a pandemic, including representatives with expertise in human resources, operations, health and safety and communications.
- Prepare a plan – Establish a process to obtain and implement local public health directives.
- Consider whether to operate or not
- Determine to what extent the business can operate in the event of an actual pandemic.
- Assess staffing needs, including alternative work locations, overtime agreements, and alternative means of getting work done without direct human-to-human contact (e.g., remote work and telecommuting).
- Assess the effect of a pandemic on suppliers, service providers and customers.
- Review insurance coverage and relevant agreements to determine how the employer can meet contract terms if it decides not to operate.
- Security Considerations – Consider whether the employer’s facility is secure, in anticipation of possible service reductions, reduced staffing levels and the possible need to shut down, without much…warning.
- Determine sickness/disability coverage – Contact insurers to determine sickness/disability coverage, including for employees who have been asked (or ordered) to self-quarantine but who are not sick.
- Determine obligation to permit employee to be absent from work to care for sick family members
- Determine who will be responsible for issuing communications.
- Carefully and clearly communicate information, policies and procedures to all employees.
- Ensure employees get regular, updated training and information on hazards and hazard identification.
- Establish a system for employees to report their status during a pandemic, including what information they are required to communicate (and how) to the employer and when they are expected to NOT report to work.
- Ensure employee and employee emergency contact information is up to date.
- Inform employees of how the employer will communicate with them in the event of an emergency.
- Visitors – Where applicable, consider asking visitors to [sign-in with contact information] in advance of attending the workplace to identify visitors who have flu-like symptoms or who may have had contact with a person infected with the coronavirus.”
The biggest takeaway for me is that regular communication and having a plan are critical steps that contractors should take. Given that plumbers and HVAC technicians are in regular contact with the general public, many of whom travel abroad, they need up-to-date information about how to best protect themselves (and their families) and understand employer policies and procedures to follow. As Becky Norman (2020) writes in her article, Coronavirus: How should HR prepare?, “Waiting for the infection to arrive before thinking about your approach to the situation could contribute to its outbreak and spread within your business and wider community.” (Retrieved from the World Wide Web on February 28, 2020, here .