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Business Continuity in the Event of a Coronavirus Pandemic

Higher Education Labor & Employment

On February 13, 2020, we reported on recent guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for businesses to plan and protect their workplaces from exposure to COVID-19, or the “2019 novel coronavirus.” With recent media attention on the potential spread of the virus within the U.S., the CDC has published additional recommendations for businesses to ensure continuity of operations in the event of a pandemic.

Preventatively, the CDC continues to recommend that employers direct sick employees to stay home, encourage all employees to practice proper respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, and perform regular routine cleaning of commonly touched surfaces.

To minimize business interruption in the event of a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., the CDC recommends that employers take the following steps to develop what the CDC calls an “infectious disease outbreak response plan”:

  • Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to employees. OSHA has more information on how to protect employees from potential exposure to coronavirus within specific increased exposure industries. View this information here.
  • Review personnel policies and practices, and in particular leave and attendance policies, to ensure that they are consistent with public health recommendations as well as existing state and federal employment laws.
  • Stay abreast of state and local health authorities’ plans and recommendations for managing an outbreak in those communities where the employer operates.
  • In the event that health authorities recommend the use of social distancing strategies, consider alternate work practices like telecommuting and staggered shifts to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and others.
  • Ensure that the business has the information technology and infrastructure needed to support multiple employees working from home.
  • Identify essential business functions and employee roles as well as critical elements within supply chains needed to maintain business operations and develop contingency plans if there is increased employee absenteeism or supply chains are interrupted.
  • Develop contingency plans to redirect production or close a location in affected geographical areas.
  • Develop procedures to activate, communicate, and eventually terminate the company’s emergency response plan.  Employers should anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation, and plan communications accordingly. Email and text messaging systems should be set up and tested in advance.
  • Plan for how roles will be covered in the event that childcare and school closings cause a spike in employee absenteeism, including managing those absences under existing leave and attendance policies.
  • Consider canceling non-essential business travel to additional countries per travel guidance on the CDC website.

Employers should involve employees in developing any outbreak response plan.  Communicating the specifics of the outbreak response plan to employees in advance of an outbreak will help identify any lapses in the plan and also allow employees to prepare.