The latest novel coronavirus situation report from the World Health Organization (WHO), published on February 12, revealed that no new countries have identified cases of the virus in the past 24 hours, though globally more than 2,000 new cases have appeared over that time. That doesn’t mean US organizations should rest on their laurels when it comes to preparing emergency plans, however, considering the potential workers’ compensation-related risks that can arise from the virus.
“I recommend that companies start planning now and build contingencies to account for absenteeism and the slow spread of the virus because it will help their business in the long run,” explained Jeff Corder, vice president of loss control at AmTrust North America. “Plan for the worst and hope for the best, and it’s not as simple as just writing a business continuity plan. You have to write it and then you have to take it to the next level.”
Businesses should physically run through their contingency plans with management and employees. This way, employers can identify where there are potential gaps if certain workers are out of the office as a result of the virus.
“I guarantee there are going to be things that you haven’t thought of that are going to pop up – maybe you’ve forgotten that one employee is a vital cog in your organization,” said Corder. “That’s how you’re going to find those cracks in your continuity plan.”
Where Corder sees the key issue for employers is that if the coronavirus does get out hand, there will be fewer workers coming in for their regular shifts, putting pressure on other employees. For a small business, such as a hardware store, that could expose employees to potentially dangerous situations. A cashier at the front of the store might suddenly have to drive a forklift in the back warehouse to cover for someone who’s out sick, but they haven’t necessarily received proper training for that role. Or perhaps a waiter at a restaurant has to work longer hours to cover for a sick employee, and that physical and mental strain makes it harder for them to maintain the discipline to work safely.
Corder also recommends businesses consider their sick leave policies as well as be more lenient if employees want to stay home.
Preparing for pandemics like this is a worthwhile activity for businesses, putting the coronavirus aside. We happen to be at the height of flu season, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that a total of 10,314 influenza-associated hospitalizations had been confirmed between October 01, 2019 and February 01, 2020. Employers might already have to be adjusting schedules to accommodate sick employees, as they would every time that flu season comes around.
“I don’t see many companies planning for situations like this [pandemic], like they do other potential natural hazards,” said Corder, pointing to the recent flu statistics. “You can use this [continuity plan] now, as I’m sure it’s impacting employers when everybody in the office is sick and people are [staying home].”