Avoid Coronavirus in the Workplace

The HR Digest is here to dole out reliable information about employee safety and ways to address Coronavirus in the workplace. For ease of readability, we’ve answered some key questions you may have regarding the outbreak –

1. What is Novel Coronavirus 2019?
2. What are the primary symptoms of the virus?
3. What if my employee travels to China for business?
4. What should I do if an employee has recently traveled to China?
5. What should I do if an employee may have been exposed to the virus?

Coronavirus in the workplace

Workers who have come back from traveling in China should be advised to stay away from the workplace for at least a fortnight, till the incubation period is over.

The outbreak of coronavirus in China has claimed 133 lives and infected more than 6000. The virus is slowly expanding worldwide with cases detected in 17 other countries, including the US, France, Spain, and Germany. This has raised concerns among employers and workers on the appropriate measures to adopt at the workplace.

China’s response has been to shut down whole cities and the province of Hubei, where the outbreak originated. It has extended the annual New Year holidays and restricted inter-province travel.

In the US, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking the spread of the virus globally. CDC has advised anyone who has traveled to Wuhan recently to get themselves checked for the virus. The government has designated five airports for the screening of people returning from the region.

A level 3 travel advisory has been imposed on China. Employers who have business concerns in the area are advised to follow the recommendation carefully.

Advice for Employers Preparing for Coronavirus in the Workplace

Employers can find all the necessary information on the outbreak, including signs and symptoms, how to set and maintain workplace safety standards, and how to handle Coronavirus in the workplace.

Before going further, let us look into what is coronavirus and how does it spread.

Novel Coronavirus 2019 

Novel coronavirus 2019 or simply coronavirus is a respiratory infection. Most likely, the virus is carried through air and person-to-person contact, although researchers are still not clear about how the contamination travels.

 

A level 3 travel advisory has been imposed on China. Employers who have business concerns in the area are advised to follow the recommendation carefully.

 

It originated through animal or seafood contamination in Wuhan city in Hubei province of China. Symptoms include mild to severe respiratory distress, fever, cough, breathlessness, and in extreme cases, kidney failure, pneumonia, and sometimes death. To date, 133 deaths, all in China, have been reported.

Symptoms appear within 2 to 14 days, but some infected people do not show any symptoms.

Coronavirus Precautions

Avoiding CoronaVirus in WorkPlace

Apple has closed one retail store in China and changed the timings in some other stores. It has also limited travel to the affected areas of its employees. Cook also said many of its retail partners had closed their outlets.

There is no vaccine available against the virus; hence the standard precautions are recommended. Maintain hygiene and wash your hands often. Cover your mouth while sneezing or coughing, avoid shaking hands, frequently disinfect all used surfaces. Stay at home if you are unwell and avoid crowded places.

 

If an employee is not willing to travel in the region or any of the affected countries, then employers should consider that and not force the issue.

 

CDC’s level 3 travel notice should put all non-essential travel to the affected area on hold. If, due to unavoidable circumstances, an employee is traveling in and around the region, then provide all the necessary information about the virus and what precautions to take. Necessary contact information about the health and medical facilities should be provided.

Coronavirus Legal Liabilities

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to furnish “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause the death or serious physical harm to … employees.” And travel to China may create risk under this clause for the employers, considering the level 3 travel advisory.

If an employee is not willing to travel in the region or any of the affected countries, then employers should consider that and not force the issue.

Workers who have come back from traveling in China should be advised to stay away from the workplace for at least a fortnight, till the incubation period is over.

Coronavirus is a transitory condition and most probably will not come under the American Disability Act as it entails having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

Also, employers are advised to refrain from identifying an infected person as medical privacy is granted under the HIPPA.

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