Pandemic Planning: The Coronavirus and Business Continuity

Many of you already have business continuity plans for the regular flu season, and the plans for Coronavirus/COVID-19 will run along those same lines. Typically, business continuity planning deals with disruptions that occur sporadically (hurricanes, blizzards, etc.) But pandemic disruptions occur over weeks and months, ramping up and then hopefully slowing down. The World Health Organization now defines Coronavirus as a pandemic. As such, planning for continuity during this time will have some of the same features as regular continuity planning, but there will be many differences. For one thing, HR will play a much more significant role in planning for a pandemic than they usually would in typical disruptions.

In addition, employers need to develop strategies that will protect their employees while still being able to maintain their operations. As you develop plans, it will be essential to involve your employees in some, if not all, of the planning and to ensure that you share all the strategies with them. The following are some things to get started on now.

Raise staff awareness of preventive measures

Because of all the media coverage about Coronavirus, employees need to know what you are doing to help prevent its spread and what leave policies are available. Communicate to staff what measures you are taking and what actions they can take to help prevent the spread of this virus. For staff, this should include how to wash hands properly, as well as the need to self-quarantine if they or their family are experiencing acute respiratory symptoms. We have posted some links at the end of this blog that you can share with employees.

Communication may be the most effective tool you have during this period. You should anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation. Regular contact with everyone is the best way to help ensure that these don’t get out of hand. Make sure everyone knows what you are doing to help prevent virus outbreaks at work. Here are some things to consider:

  • Once you have updated/refined your leave policy (see below), let all employees know what it is so they will understand when they can/should take leave and what the compensation policy is.

  • If you have planned to increase the office cleaning schedule or plan to cater lunches to avoid employees bringing germs back to the office, make that the subject of a memo or email.

  • If you are considering using temperature testing in the office, you can ask for employee feedback about this policy. If they understand it is for their protection, they may be okay with it.

  • Explain any social distancing or flexible work policies you are implementing. You can find more information about this in the section on personnel considerations.

  • Post information (from links below) about coronavirus symptoms and what to do if you are sick.

Develop or refine your organization’s leave policies

Flu at WorkIn the course of the pandemic, you will probably need to make changes to your sick leave and work-at-home policies consistent with state-issued guidelines. Can employees be told not to come to work? Some lawyers are saying that employers have the right to prevent people from coming to work if they have symptoms or have been exposed to the virus. The EEOC says that requiring employees who show symptoms to stay home is permitted under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employees need to know about using sick leave if they will be compensated if told not to come to work, whether they still will need a doctor’s statement for missing time. If you have employees who have symptoms or have been exposed to the virus or have traveled to high-risk areas, you should let them know they must report these exposures and that you will be reporting these incidents to health authorities. Not sending sick people home can result in an internal PR risk. As you review your current policies, you should determine what changes are necessary and then make sure you communicate existing policies to all employees, along with information about who will be in charge of implementing and supervising these policies.

Personnel considerations

Focus on how to operate with decreased staff resources. The following are some considerations on how to do so. If state and local health authorities have recommended social distancing strategies, you may have to implement flexible hours or staggered shifts/days to increase the distance between employees. Working at home should be encouraged, and you have to determine which employees are eligible to do that and whether you have the infrastructure and collaborative tools to support this.

Succession planning is an important aspect of this plan. If major decision-makers get ill and cannot work, you need to have back-up personnel to take over for them. This may require some cross-training and should be considered for all critical positions. In fact, for all functions, you might develop teams of employees who can fill in for each other if necessary.

When to implement pandemic procedures

Leadership needs to have discussions about how and when these policies should be implemented and terminated. These discussions will not be simple or short and have to cover many considerations. Since, according to the WHO, Coronavirus is now a pandemic, you need to determine what will trigger pandemic procedures. The CDC and local health officials should be able to assist with this. But you also can consider levels of absenteeism ( five percent, 20 percent, etc.) as triggers for implementation. Decide what concerns about events could trigger cancellation or postponement. Is there a level of concern that would cause the curtailment of low-priority services to ensure the organization can provide high-priority business functions? What is the impact on revenue caused by lower spending or not spending on member services and education, as well as customer spending in certain areas? Is there a concern about supply chain and operations disruptions?

Coronavirus is serious, especially as it has no real cure, and there is no vaccine. The media reporting is creating more anxiety, mainly due to conflicting statements from the government about the availability of tests and whether the virus is “contained.” To date, though, there still are many more deaths from flu in this country, and the number of Coronavirus deaths is at 22 as of this writing but could increase. CDC continues to stress that we should all take proper precautions and understand that the threat is low for most people.

Some of these links may be helpful to communicate internally:

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