March 13, 2020

COVID-19: A Checklist for Employers


In the wake of the COVID-19 virus, employers of all sizes are facing difficult decisions that need to be made without delay. To this end, we will be providing a series of alerts over the next few days to help employers navigate workplace issues posed by the virus.  

To assist in answering the question, “What should we be doing right now,” below is a checklist of suggestions for employers to consider.   

Review and Update Business Plans – Review and update business continuity and disaster recovery plans. Businesses may experience and should plan for:

  • Absenteeism – Employees may be absent from work because they are sick, are afraid to come to work, are caring for sick family members, or need to stay home with children because schools or daycare centers are closed. It is crucial that employers develop a consistent policy for dealing with employee absences and communicate clearly with employees. However, employers should also be flexible in addressing employee absences.  
  • Interrupted supply/demand – Shipments from and deliveries to geographic areas severely impacted by the virus may be delayed or cancelled, resulting in a trickle down delay to customers. Businesses should communicate with their customers proactively to reduce frustration. Employers may even want to provide scripts or talking points to customer-facing employees on this topic.    

Educate and Train Employees – Educate and train employees in proper hygiene, cough and sneeze etiquette, and social distancing techniques. To assist with this process, provide extra soap, hand sanitizer, tissues, and cleaning products. Also consider having work stations cleaned and disinfected daily, including phones, keyboards, and trash canisters. Disinfecting doorknobs, elevator buttons, and other surfaces commonly touched by multiple employees is also a good practice. Encourage employees to stay home at the first sign of illness without fear of reprisal.  

Employee-Employee Interaction – Implement temporary policies to ditch handshakes and in-person meetings, opting instead for waves/elbow bumps and conference/video calls. Consider postponing social gatherings and temporarily restricting personal visits to the workplace from family and friends.  

Employee-Customer Interaction – If working in an industry where employees are serving members of the public in person, consider putting up clear plastic barriers between the employee and customer (where practical), increasing ventilation in the business, and providing employees with personal protective equipment, such as gloves, where necessary.

Travel – Discontinue or postpone unessential travel, especially to those locations with a high occurrence of the virus. If travel is essential, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Traveler’s Heath Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for travel. If an employee becomes sick while traveling or on temporary assignment, inform him/her that he/she should promptly seek medical attention and if necessary arrange for care.    

Identify Key Personnel – Identify key personnel and cross-train employees to perform essential roles in the case of staff shortages. Consider which employees will likely need to stay home if schools or daycare centers close.

Essential Resources and Activities – Consider the essential resources and activities of the company (payroll processing, technology support, security, etc.), plan for and cross-train staff to perform these activities if regular staff are absent.  

Prepare and Provide Appropriate Technology – Test and secure remote access to systems so staff can work from home, where possible and practical. Also ensure that all essential technology and supplies are available to those employees who work remotely (i.e., phones, computers, printers, electronic file access, e-mail access, conference call and webinar capabilities, etc.).  

Plan Communications – Plan how to communicate and coordinate with employees, customers and key vendors/suppliers:

  • Employees – Communicate regarding measures being taken to protect employees, expectations if an employee is infected, plans for mass absenteeism, etc. Employers may also want to have a person or department available to answer employee questions as they come up.
  • Vendors/suppliers – Communicate regarding any delays in product or service delivery and develop a plan to minimize business disruption.  
  • Customers – Communicate regarding any delays in product or service delivery, explain expected timing, and develop a plan to minimize customer dissatisfaction. 

Don’t Panic – Stay calm and try to minimize panic among employees by assuring them that steps have been taken to prevent exposure and outbreak and to continue business operations. This is also a good time for employers to remind employees of resources available to them, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), for counseling and advice.  

Hang-up or Distribute Notices – Employers must post and keep posted, in places an employee would likely see the notices every workday (e.g., a break-room or bulletin board), notices regarding the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. If an employer’s employees are currently teleworking, employers must email or direct mail the notices to all current and subsequently hired employees or post it on their internal or external website. The two notices required, as of now, are: 

Employee Rights: Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)

Federal Employee Rights: Paid Sick Leave and Expanded Family and Medical Leave Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act 

For more information about the notice requirements and to assure compliance, please visit the Department of Labor Families First Coronavirus Response Act Notice – FAQ. For more information about the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, please see our article: President Trump Signs into Law Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act

Maintain Thorough Records – If you give paid leave to employees who have to miss work because of the COVID-19 outbreak, remember to always keep proof that your staff received applicable paid leave (e.g., copies of cancelled checks, electronic payment proof, paystubs, etc.) to better be able to receive applicable tax credits in the future. 

For more information about tax credits for paying paid leave and other employer resources available now, please see our article: COVID-19 Government-Sponsored Resources.