With confirmed cases of coronavirus now in the United States, having a clear response plan in place is crucial for employers to address any possible exposure or occurrence of the infection in the workplace. Though there is not a significant risk of infection for most workers, those in the health care industry, airline workers, and business travelers are more likely to come in contact with people who have the virus, and therefore have a higher risk of contracting the virus.
As of March 13th, approximately 1,600 people in the U.S. have been checked for possible infection. With an incubation period of up to two weeks, those infected with the virus can spread it to others before they begin to show symptoms. Symptoms include fever, cough, and trouble breathing.
According to recently published OSHA resources addressing the virus, the infection will be considered a recordable illness when a worker is infected on the job. To mitigate the effect of coronavirus in the workplace, employers should create a clear pandemic response plan to advise employees on how to report any possible exposure to the virus or development of symptoms.
Should exposure to the illness be reported or a possible outbreak occur, employers are advised to immediately contact their local or state health department for consultation with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC will provide further recommendations regarding the management of employees and workspace areas, as well as direct communication with vendors, visitors, and customers who may have also been exposed to the virus. This helps reduce further exposure to the public and the spread of the infection.
Currently, no federal funding has been set aside to offer support to employers in addressing the coronavirus. As a result, employers may be required to provide medical care and wage loss replacement benefits through workers’ compensation to avoid further transmission of the virus. Employees diagnosed with a coronavirus infection as a result of exposure through work may also be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. As protected under HIPPA, employees who report possible infection and/or are infected with the virus should not be identified in the workplace.
In addition to reporting potential workers’ compensation claims, other insurance policies may provide additional coverage for business interruption if a worksite or work area must be quarantined for disinfection or closed to reduce exposure. Also, travel insurance may apply if business travel is canceled related to the illness. To determine what additional coverages may be afforded, employers should immediately reach out to their insurance carriers in the event of a pandemic exposure or confirmed illness.
Taking some commonsense steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus can combat further transmission of the illness. Frequent washing of hands or use of hand sanitizers is recommended to help avoid the spread of the illness, as is regular disinfection of the workplace and maintaining good indoor ventilation.
Find more tips on how to protect your workers during a pandemic here.