How Businesses Can Prepare for Coronavirus in the Workplace

by Charles S. Touché

Fear and concerns surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus already have had devastating impacts on financial markets, economic activity and local communities. Now, as the virus continues to spread across the U.S., more businesses are wondering what they can do to keep their workplaces and employees safe and healthy during this time of extended uncertainty.

Beyond the baseline — but still vital — steps like encouraging employees to thoroughly wash their hands and to stay home if they feel ill, businesses should take a 360-degree approach to preparing their workplaces for the possibility of a coronavirus infection.

Put people first: Keep all employees informed and educated about the outbreak and all steps being taken to safeguard their health while at work. This includes relaying updates from public health officials and governments, as well as providing basic guidance on disease prevention and symptoms of coronavirus. For workers who fall ill or are caring for sick family members, be sure to offer support. Businesses that are able should also consider telecommuting options for workers.

Review and update response plans: Businesses must identify their main vulnerabilities in the event of an outbreak, then take a close look at plans related to business continuity, crisis management, occupational health and safety, risk management and other relevant processes to ensure they address any potential gaps. Distribute updated plans to employees and provide necessary cross-training for any staff who hold critical roles in case one or more of those employees falls ill or is otherwise unable to perform those duties.

Evaluate supply chains: Businesses should consider how the outbreak could impact their suppliers, vendors, contractors and others along the supply chain. Additionally, they should talk to suppliers about their responses and processes for addressing coronavirus. Review any contract liabilities in case of delays, cancellations or quality issues, and explore alternative sources for components, ingredients, parts or supplies in the event of price increases or disruption from travel restrictions. Adapt orders and shipment arrangements to address current demand or to stockpile critical supplies when possible.

Prepare for business interruption: Business operations could be disrupted in any number of ways. Depending on the business and the services or products offered, customer demand could dip or spike. Either way, businesses ought to prepare for possible work backlogs and increased costs of working by hiring temporary help if necessary.

Review insurance policies and assess risk: Beyond healthcare coverages, businesses will want to review policies and coverages ranging from workers’ compensation to general liability and business interruption. Even though almost every insurance carrier has some form of exclusion for a pandemic-type risk, some have throw-in coverages that can help with things like decontamination of an office. Either way, it’s a good idea for businesses to stay in contact with their broker or agent, as well as their insurance carriers, to fully understand their coverages and discuss potential options.

Communication: During a crisis and times of uncertainty, it is vitally important for businesses to communicate effectively with all necessary stakeholders. Poor responses, denial or head-in-the-sand thinking can easily lead to increased anxiety throughout the workplace and organization. Strong, effective communication illustrates the business is on top of the situation and taking it seriously.

While no one can say for certain when the outbreak might begin to ebb, taking a proactive approach and following these guidelines can help businesses mitigate any disruption to operations while keeping their workplaces safe and healthy.

Charles S. Touché is a vice president with Lovitt & Touché, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC Company.

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