Employers: Don’t wait for the coronavirus to arrive

By Jeff Caponigro, Executive Vice President, Trion Solutions Inc. and author, THE CRISIS COUNSELOR: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis.

The hallmark of business leadership is anticipating needs and opportunities and taking the right action at the right time.

This is especially true in identifying vulnerabilities, working to prevent them from becoming problems and managing them so they don’t turn into crises for the business.

Smart companies realize the fast pace of business and the razor-thin edge of beating the competition is fraught with landmines and quicksand. We all know that today’s vulnerabilities run the gamut from I.T. data breaches to workplace harassment and discrimination – and dozens of other vulnerabilities that can trip up even the best businesses.

With most already having their proverbial hands full of vulnerabilities, hovering like hungry vultures, now comes the threat of a coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic crippling individual businesses after already cutting the legs off the stock market indexes.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that the coronavirus eventually will become more than a serious threat in the United States, and it has initiated a public information and education to provide caution and guidance. For businesses, the vulnerabilities abound.

The health and safety of the workforce is — or should be — the No. 1 priority of all businesses, and many valuable and productive employees could be affected. But what about other vulnerabilities?

The highly contagious nature of the virus could threaten mission-critical operations. Employees who work physically close to others may be most susceptible and need to be separated, if possible. Entire departments and operation centers may be forced to closed temporarily and affect the ability to serve customers. Even if employees remain virus free, many may need to remain home to care for an ill family member – keeping them away from the job and increasing the possibility of acquiring the virus themselves.

So, what should a business do?

First, review your policies related to sick leave. Encourage sick employees to stay home and set aside old-school beliefs that dedicated, hard-working employees should come in to work, despite an illness, whenever possible. Realize that some employees may need to stay home to take care of family members and make your policy clear about that. As the CDC suggests, consider not requiring a physician’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 unable to provide such documentation in a timely way.”

Second, as the CDC recommends, separate employees who appear sick at work and send them home. Explore flexible worksites (i.e., from home) and work hours (i.e., staggering times to reduce the time employees are working near others).

Third, post written encouragement perhaps in the form of a poster to employees in high-traffic areas, such as lunchrooms and near coffee/vending machines, about “cough-and-sneeze etiquette” and hand hygiene. The CDC offers sound advice here –provide tissues and no-touch disposable receptacle, and plenty of soap and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. And, routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace such as workstations, countertops and doorknobs.

As in any solid crisis-management plan, focus on advance preparation to help address the vulnerability, work to reduce the potential damage from the situation and be ready to take immediate and definitive action. In essence, know what will be done, at what time and by whom. By far, the single biggest factor in surviving a crisis is the level of preparation going into it.

If you own or manage a business, your workforce is not only counting on you to make smart decisions but also watching to see if you truly have the best interest of your employees in mind. Start taking definitive action on this today.

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Jeff Caponigro, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Executive Vice President-Corporate Communications and Marketing for Trion Solutions, Inc., the President and CEO and author of THE CRISIS COUNSELOR: A Step-by-Step Guide to Managing a Business Crisis, which is published in English, Chinese, Norwegian, Polish and German. Trion Solutions, based in Troy, Mich., manages HR administration, payroll and taxes, benefits administration and regulatory compliance for more than 600 U.S. companies. Caponigro PR is based in Southfield, Mich.