The coronavirus has so far been well contained in the UK. Indeed, while the disease seems to have spread quite significantly inside China, elsewhere in the world, infection so far is being managed quite well. At the time of writing, the BBC says that Japan, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan have incidences in very low double figures, and the good news is that the virus has a lower mortality rate.
However, the coronavirus has led many Broadstone clients to consider their response to any such outbreak and raises questions about their responsibility to employees while keeping their businesses operational. In addition, should there be crisis planning in place for a future situation that may see the majority of employees staying at home.
Many companies may also employ Chinese nationals who originally come from the Wuhan or Hubei provinces or still have families in these affected areas. These employers need to think about what they can do for these employees specifically.
Communication is king
It is important that employees and managers have access to reliable information. In any situation concerning public health, there is always the concern that misinformation or rumours spread via social media or even word of mouth.
Your business should disseminate facts via your company intranet on a regular (possibly daily basis). Reliable facts can be gathered from sources such as the BBC, the government, the NHS or the World Health Organisation. If you become aware of something that is not true but is doing the rounds at your place of work – address it quickly.
Providing the right health advice will, of course, depend on the situation and how the infection is spread. In this case, the NHS says because coronavirus is a new illness, they don’t know exactly how it passes from person to person. However, as similar viruses spread by cough droplets it makes sense to assume the same applies.
Therefore, as employers, you may wish to consider what you should do to encourage good hygiene. For example, should you make sure there are plenty of disposable tissues in the workplace or, should you go further and offer free surgical masks. In this case, the latter may seem over the top but you will no doubt have some employees who are really worried about the virus and may appreciate the gesture.
It may even be a good time to think about an organizational hygiene review. Do you provide visual guides to handwashing in all of your toilets and do you ensure there is always enough soap in the stockroom? Should you invest in communal hand sanitisers around your building (similar to those found in hospitals) to encourage employees to clean their hands on a regular basis?
How often do employees clean their telephones, keyboards and desks? An article in The Independent newspaper reported that the average desk contains 400 times more germs than a toilet seat! You could provide anti-bacterial wipes and encourage employees to clean their own areas at the beginning or end of every day.
In the light of any public health emergency, it is good practice to review your absence procedure and remind employees what to do if they feel ill. You should make them aware of the symptoms of the relevant sickness, in this case, the NHS says these are a cough, a high temperature and difficulty breathing.
Regardless of the illness, some employees fear being judged if they are absent from work, and employers should always provide reassurance that sick leave is acceptable and will benefit the individual as well as colleagues and even, the business as a whole.
Crisis planning and business continuity planning is good practice regardless of your industry sector or business size, and while you may have planned for stock damage or IT failure, staff illness across your entire workforce may not be in the manual. It should be. At Broadstone, we have already fielded calls from clients enquiring as to whether their group life policy covers death due to the coronavirus.
We would recommend that all businesses consider key person insurance so that should your decision-makers be off for any length of time, you are financially covered. It could take a great deal of time and resource to train another person to fulfill their role and key person insurance is a sensible measure.