With 185 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 22 counties in Pennsylvania, state Health Department Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, is calling on business leaders to do their part to help stem the progress of the virus, including shutting down.
“Now is the time for you to act in your roll as business leaders,” she said during a webinar on how businesses should respond to the coronvavirus organized by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “If a local business stays open, our local residents will think it’s OK to gather and congregate and it is not.”
Speaking to more than 2,600 participants, Levine warned that the state was in a rapidly changing situation.
“This is a very serious community health threat,” she said. “Participation of business leaders is essential.”
State officials are “keenly aware” of the monetary impact on business, Levine said, but the human toll of COVID-19 could be much, much worse if protocols put out by the governor are not followed. The state still has a chance of slowing virus if people stay home and limit their exposure to each other.
“It’s critical to keeping our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed,” said Dr. Levine. “If we wait two weeks it will be much worse. We need your help.”
It is impossible to say if the current call to keep non-essential businesses closed for two weeks would be extended, Levine said, but it’s assumed it will take six to eight weeks or longer for the viral threat to pass.
But keeping businesses closed or having employees working from home, causes a number of legal and procedural issues.
Jonathan Segal, an attorney with Duane Morriss LLP, said there are numerous factors that a company must consider when dealing with the various COVID-19 preventative measures, and reminded business leaders to remember they are dealing with human beings.
His first recommendation is for companies to have a rapid response team to handle any coronavirus concerns. The team should be made up of a diverse group of leaders within a company – ideally with representation from human resources and someone with a health care background – to focus on ways to handle any cases of exposure, or possible exposure within the workplace.
The first line of action should be with managers and the team should explain how to properly handle concerns employees may have about exposure, Segal said.
Under or overreacting to an infection concern could be a problem. Managers should thank an employee for coming forward with information about a positive case of COVID-19 and say that the team will be contacted to make a proper response.
Because circumstances are changing so rapidly, Segal suggests keeping all guidance as general as possible. If employees have questions about the virus, instruct them to contact their health care provider or obtain more information from www.cdc.gov.
Pay is also a concern, and that, too, is a rapidly changing issue with the federal government working on bills to address financial support for those displaced by the virus.
Paid time off, insurance and in some cases, workers’ compensation, can help with those who can’t work. The federal government is also working on support for people who can’t work because their kids’ school is closed, Segal said.
Those working from home should be paid as normal with non-exempt employees generally given a schedule of hours to work so there is less question over what time is worked and how much compensation is due.
The most important thing is to keep lines of communication open and try to be a resource for employees.
Not all staff will have access to email, he said, so make sure they have a way to communicate with each other – even if it’s about non COVID-19 things, to keep up a sense of camaraderie.
“We can talk about employee engagement all we want, but this is where the rubber meets the road,” Segal said.