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Preparing Your Workforce for an Outbreak Threat

March 10, 2020 | posted by Abacus Payroll

While the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is officially an international pandemic, it’s slowly but surely making its way across the United States.

It’s not yet a cause for panic, but it does call for some preparations to keep your company’s workflow running smoothly and your employees safe.

Keep in mind that some of these measures and considerations are helpful when planning for natural disasters and unexpected closures in the future.


Coronavirus 2020: Business Considerations

If there was a hurricane next week, would you be prepared? If two key employees were out with the flu for a week, would it hold you up? Continuity planning in the face of unexpected events is crucial to the life of a small business, and a pandemic is no exception. Since the outbreak is affecting businesses and workers internationally, there are some unique circumstances to look at.

As a business owner, what are the questions you should be asking yourself?

  • Does your company or employees have plans to travel to an affected area?
  • Do you have to rethink your international or domestic business travel policies?
  • Are there planned upcoming trade shows that may have to be reconsidered?
  • If you are hosting an upcoming event, should you postpone? Can it be a webinar or a virtual meeting instead?
  • What happens if the government mandates a shutdown? How will you handle pay and benefits?
  • Are your supply chains or imports/exports negatively impacted by COVID-19? If so, what can you learn from this for the future?
  • If you’re a business affected by the sudden decrease in travel (conference hosts, travel agency, caterers, pet boarding, etc.) or unexpected manufacturing hold-ups in China (retail, fashion, promotional products, electronics repair, etc), do you have a ‘Plan B?’


How to Minimize Interruptions

For now, it’s in the best interest of your company to continue business as normal.  That being said, you can consider temporary business continuity arrangements out of an abundance of caution.

  • Remote work. This won’t work for all industries, but it is an ideal time for telecommuting. Can your employees access your network and work effectively from the comfort of their homes? This is proactive in preventing workplace exposure and for parents if schools and day cares are closed.
  • Virtual meetings. Limit the number of in-person meetings or presentations. Consider video conferencing instead. If you have an upcoming seminar, try making it a webinar.
  • Electronic files. If your business relies on documents from clients or customers, encourage secure electronic file transfer in place of in-person hand-offs.
  • Cloud data. The cloud is your best friend if your main office is inaccessible. From accounting data to client/project files to HR records, your business processes can run seamlessly and your data is still at your fingertips.
  • Payroll continuity. Plan with staff ahead of time to avoid costly disruptions to payroll processes (delayed payments, missed/late payrolls, unfulfilled tax obligations, etc.). If you’re not already setup with paperless payroll or direct deposit, now is the time to do so to ensure employees will still get paid.
  • Communications plan. Are you able to reach your employees outside of the office? Have a system or group chat setup where you can alert employees in case of emergencies and to continue to communicate when off-site.
  • Call forwarding. Do you have VoIP setup? Customers or vendors may still be trying to call your business, so make sure you have call forwarding configured for your main phone line and/or remote workers.
  • Video interviews. If you don’t want to put hiring on hold, consider holding interviews via video conference instead of face-to-face.
  • Cross-training. When your business isn’t shut down completely, but many workers are taking extended leave, you have to make sure that other employees are trained enough to jump in and handle the tasks of essential team members, especially if it’s beyond their normal job duties. This is another way to help sustain necessary operations during a crisis or emergency.

The onset of a mandated shutdown or an office-wide quarantine could come overnight. However, some of these suggestions require setup in advance, which is why a business continuity plan is so important to a small business.


Reinforce Hygiene Basics

Like you would instruct your workforce to be cautious of a seasonal flu outbreak, reinforcing good hygiene habits can help protect employees and reduce exposure in the workplace.

Following are recommendations:

  • If an employee is sick, stay home. Symptoms include coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, and a fever.
  • If symptoms develop while at work, go home.
  • Wash hands for 20-30 seconds.
  • Substitute hand shakes for elbow bumps.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, then dispose of the tissue.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Stock up on soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, surface cleansing wipes, and tissues for the office/workplace.
  • Disinfect frequently touched objects (doorknobs, sink handles, fridge door, coffee pots, water cooler buttons, phones, etc.).
  • Limit sharing of pens, equipment, surfaces, etc.
  • Consider disposable plates, cups, utensils, and food containers.
  • Avoid having meetings in close quarters.

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How the HR Help Center can Assist

Are you a user of our HR Help Center? The HR pros have been hard at work distributing helpful information to keep your workforce prepared and informed on the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Sample Coronavirus (COVID-19) Communication to Employees
– Covers policies and protocols for business travel, remote work, and family needs

FAQs: Tips to Handle an Infectious Disease Outbreak PDF Guide
– A comprehensive PDF featuring the many questions employers are asking the HR pros as of late, covering everything from job protection, how to create a policy, trade shows, etc.

Closing Business for COVID-19: Pay and Benefits Article
– How to handle pay, insurance, and benefits whether you close by choice or are required to close by public health authorities

Tips on What to do About the Coronavirus
– Guidelines to distribute to your employees for workplace health and safety.

10 Action Items to Prepare for a Pandemic Article
– Actions items to help protect the health of your employees and the continued operations of your business.

Sample Telecommuting Policy and Employee Agreement
– Telecommuting brings about unique challenges, so refer to this sample company policy and employee agreement to be on the same page with expectations.

OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for an Influenza Pandemic
– Official guidance from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on influenza in the workplace

As more COVID-19 or Coronavirus questions arise, the HR Support Center will continue to add materials for users. If you are an HR On-Demand user, you have access to submitting tickets and getting specific answers from the experts. Contact Abacus Payroll, Inc. if you would like access to the HR Help Center.


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About the Author: Abacus Payroll

Abacus Payroll, Inc. is a leading provider of payroll solutions for businesses of all sizes. Whether yours is a family-owned small business or a national corporation, we provide payroll, tax and other financial services on time and at an affordable price. Unlike other payroll providers, Abacus Payroll will assign your very own payroll specialist who will understand your payroll needs inside and out. So no more speaking to a different person each time, no more sitting on hold for hours and most importantly no more missed deadlines! Contact us today to see how we can help your business. You can count on us.