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With COVID-19 spreading globally, many employers are confused about how to address sick employees and fears that the virus may spread throughout the workplace. We at Willis HR have put together a guide to help your business quell fears and professionally manage employee illness and absenteeism.

Tip 1: Don’t ask employees if they have Coronavirus.

  • If you feel that an employee is sick, you can request that the employees leave work for the day but do not ask specific questions about the employee’s symptoms or diagnoses as these questions could violate The Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Employers can set specific guidelines for an employee’s return, such as requiring any fevers to be gone for a specific amount of time.

Tip 2: Don’t ask for a doctor’s note.

  • Doctors’ offices, hospitals, and emergency rooms will undoubtedly see more patients than usual. Asking an employee to bring in a note before they can return to work not only puts that employee more at risk, it also may delay treatment for individuals that need to be seen by medical professionals.

Tip 3: Re-evaluate your leave policies.

  • Many employers offer sick and vacation time to their employees. Now would be a great time to review your policies and decide how you would like to employ such policies. Because the number of people affected, or potentially affected, by the virus has reached over 117,000 globally, it is especially important that employers are empathetic to their employees’ needs regarding missing work.
  • Consider when and how you will deduct the time from your employees’ leave balances and how you will handle any pay for employees during potential office closures.
  • Remember, not all positions qualify to work remotely and those positions may be financially impacted.
  • Be sensitive to your employees’ health and also understand that employees may worry about their job security while out sick. Don’t add to their stress. Instead, do your best to calm their fears about job loss and take care that no one feels stigmatized by being possibly exposed to the virus.

Tip 4: Consider remote options.

  • Technology advances have afforded many companies the opportunity to allow employees to work remotely. You should evaluate your roles and determine which ones are eligible to telecommute.
  • Once you determine which employees are eligible to telecommute, make a plan and provide clear, concise information for those employees, including the length of time they will likely be working remote, system and internet requirements, who to reach out to with issues, and expectations for productivity.
  • Aim for virtual meetings instead of in-person meetings to help minimize person-to-person contact.

Tip 5: Set your employees up for success.

  • Ensuring employees have updated contact information in your systems will allow you to provide real-time updates to your workforce as needed. With many offices closing or employing a remote workforce during this outbreak, employers must have the ability to update their employees, especially when sending notifications to return to the office.
  • Another step employers should take is to ensure that all equipment is up-to-date to avoid productivity issues and minimize the need for in-person contact.
  • For workplaces that aren’t conducive to remote work, provide instructions on proper hand washing techniques and remind employees of safe hygiene practices, such as covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Provide items to sanitize work spaces, such as disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol.
  • Increase your sanitation efforts by ensuring all surfaces are routinely cleaned and sanitized.

We understand the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and want to help your business to be as prepared as possible. We hope these tips are helpful to you and your workforce. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to Willis HR for assistance.