Can Employers Protect Staff From the 2019-nCoV Outbreak?

Employers should plan to reduce employee health risks and maintain operations during a coronavirus outbreak says the CDC

office staff in a clean environment

New guidance for employers on how to prevent discrimination in the workplace related to the novel coronavirus has been published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says ‘there is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features of 2019-nCoV and investigations are ongoing.’

The CDC says to reduce discrimination concerns, maintaining a person’s health privacy is important.

Moreover, employers should not make determinations of staff health risk based on race or country of origin, and be sure to maintain the confidentiality of people with confirmed coronavirus infections.

The CDC said on February 7, 2020, employers should use the new guidance which is described below to protect their employees from the 2019-nCoV outbreak when traveling abroad or in the USA.

Currently, the CDC has reported 12 cases in the USA, including the person-to-person transmission of the 2019-nCoV.

If an employee is confirmed to have a 2019-nCov infection, fellow employees exposed to a co-worker with confirmed 2019-nCoV should refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.

However, employers must maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:

  • Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and notify their supervisor if they are sick.
  • If an employee becomes sick during the day, they should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately.
  • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
  • Do not require a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
  • Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
  • Emphasize respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees and 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 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.

Workplace 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.
  • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.

Traveling employees:

  • Check the CDC’s Traveler’s Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel.
  • Specific travel information for travelers going to and returning from China, and information for aircrew, can be found 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 your company’s policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider or overseas medical assistance company to assist them with finding an appropriate healthcare 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 evacuate or give medicines, vaccines, or medical care to private U.S. citizens overseas.

And, the CDC suggests employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from 2019-nCoV while ensuring continuity of operations. Plan for how the business will operate if there is increasing absenteeism or supply chains are interrupted.

Employers should explore whether you can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites, telecommuting and flexible work hours. And to ensure that you have the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees who may be able to work from home.

Additional measures in response to currently occurring sporadic importations of the 2019-nCoV can be found at this CDC site.

This is important information since there are no approved preventive vaccines or therapeutic medications available, as of February 9, 2020.

Coronavirus outbreak news is published by Coronavirus Today.