Even the most reputable resources are not offering specific guidance on how employers can communicate with their employees about coronavirus. With guidance like “have a plan” coming from top organizations and associations, it’s leaving many safety professionals and risk managers with more questions than answers.
In this post, I will not reiterate resources I’ve already presented in past posts, here and here. But please do click and read them to catch up! Also, be sure to subscribe to daily update emails from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Response and Policy (CIDRAP).
Let’s get to it…
To ground yourself on where we’ve been and what we should be planning for in the future, check out this influenza planning and response infographic from CDC (2017). OSHA has also been there for us in the past with influenza and pandemic planning resources, this landing page, along with the info contained in the most recent planning documents from OSHA referenced here, regardless of industry, are required reading for safety and risk professionals at this time.
While it may seem elementary, this pandemic planning checklist for workplace administrators from the CDC is a great thought process and work flow for any safety, risk, or human resources professional to use now.
Many safety pros are being asked by their organization and even senior safety and risk staff to prepare written guidance. First, you should look at your company’s current disaster and emergency planning documents. You may already have procedures, policies, and language there that can be adapted to provide communications to workers related to the current COVID-19 outbreak. To supplement or replace (in some cases) your current communication, use the linked resources below from reputable sources like the CDC:
- Informational postings
- Language for employee communications in newsletters, emails, and printed letters
- Language and guidance for supervisors to use during routine daily and weekly staff meetings and training
- Language for employee training related to non-pharmaceutical interventions to prevent the spread of illness
- Language for clients, customers, and general public as appropriate to your scope of operations.
After you take guidance from the links above to inform your organization’s general policy related to a pandemic, it’s time to dig in to the actual communications you may need to provide to your organization and personnel.
Think of the communications in three parts: the event, guidance for those immediately affected, and information for the organization to communicate the facts and any related policy.
For example, an employee tests positive for COVID-19, now what?
The event: It is top priority to ensure the worker receives the care they need. As soon as practical, speak to the employee before they go home or to their doctor (or by phone or email) to find out who else they may have been within three to six feet of in the past two weeks (14 days), this includes coworkers, vendors, subcontractors, and clients. The employee’s healthcare provider will conduct any mandatory reporting that falls under their responsibility.
If the COVID-19 exposure was work-related, consult OSHA’s guidance on recordability, which must be viewed on a laptop or desktop computer (the most important recordability information is in a blue call-out box that is not visible on mobile devices. Contact your insurance carrier about reportability. Some guidance on compensability is starting to trickle out as more organizations report work-related cases.
Guidance for those immediately affected: Notify impacted employees immediately that they should go home and self-quarantine for 14 days as prescribed by CDC, and self monitor as described in CDC guidance here. Use the CDC language, there is no need to craft your own language for the self-quarantine and self-monitoring.
Information for organization: When communicating about this case, ensure that you do not identify the infected employee by name to maintain confidentiality. State the facts, that a worker tested positive for COVID-19, personnel who were in close proximity to the worker have been informed and directed to self-quarantine for 14 days. Similar to OSHA’s guidance on reporting exposure assessment results for contaminants like silica, notify employees in writing of the exposure, and indicate the corrective actions being taken to reduce future exposure.
Take steps to clean, or hire a third party to clean, the work area including common areas ad shared workspaces. If your business is in a multi-tenant building or office park, inform the surrounding businesses and/or building management so they may also take precautions they deem necessary. Report these activities to employees in writing as well.
Communication is key! Whether you’re keeping in phone contact with an employee with a confirmed COVID-19 case, or letting personnel know that you’re taking proactive measures. Your people are looking to you for guidance, reassurance, and direction – use your usual pathways, this is not the time to change your entire communications approach.
For more resources
For other specific “what if” scenarios, the Fisher Phillips law firm has an informational landing page that is continuously being updated based on the latest guidance. If your organization has legal counsel, consult them as well to receive similar resources and guidance. Your insurance carrier and broker likely have information you can use as well, including sample programs and language. The information may be too general for your liking, but it is a good start if you do not have a disaster, emergency, or pandemic plan in place.
For my friends up North eh
1-833-784-4397 Interpretation services are available in multiple languages
Risk assessment for mass gatherings: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/mass-gatherings-risk-assesment.htm
Ontario: Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ask questions. They also have translation available in many languages.
Toronto Public Health at 416-338-7600, Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 8p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m