April 27, 2020 By SmartBiz Team

During an infectious disease outbreak, such as the outbreak of COVID-19, known also as coronavirus, small business owners must prepare their business and protect the health and safety of employees in the workplace.

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread easily from person to person if precautionary measures are not taken. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, which may appear 2-14 days after exposure. It’s important to keep yourself, your family, and your employees safe during this time. Employees need to feel supported so here are steps you can take.

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Understanding health plans and coronavirus

Depending on your plan, medical coverage might include out of pocket expenses. A good strategy is to understand your own insurance plan and help your employees understand theirs. Explain deductibles and maximum limits for out of pocket expenses. Call your provider if you need clarity.

Here are details to explore and understand:

Out of pocket costs: When individuals receive care for coronavirus, they can face out-of-pocket costs that come in the form of a co-pays, deductibles, or coinsurance before coverage kicks in.

Lab work & diagnostics: All COVID-19 testing is considered an essential health benefit and will be covered.

Telehealth: Telehealth services can include health education services, monitoring vital signs remotely, ECG, or blood pressure and online doctor-patient consultations.

Many health insurance plans partner with Telehealth services (call your provider to check). A teleheatlh provider means you never have to leave your couch to get vital information – keeping potential harmful germs at home as well.

Open enrollment: According to a study about medical coverage during the ’07 – ’09 recession, a whopping 5 million Americans lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. If employees do lose their employer sponsored health insurance, eleven states have agreed to let laid off uninsured individuals sign up for the Affordable Care Act, instead of waiting for open enrollment. States include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Health insurance strategy and COVID-19

  • Choose one employee to act as a point person responsible for COVID-19 issues and the impact on the workplace.
  • Review policies for leave, remote work, and employee compensation.
  • Policies covering work leave should be flexible and non-punitive, and allow sick employees to stay home and away from co-workers. Leave policies should also be in place for those who need to stay home with children if there are school or childcare closures, or to care for sick family members.
  • When possible, allow employees to work remotely with flexible hours. Especially if social distancing is recommended by state and local health authorities.
  • Review leave policies with employees and give information about available assistance services. Share information on steps they can take to protect themselves at work, at home, and in public spaces.
  • Identify essential employees and business tasks that are needed to keep your business healthy.
  • If you need raw materials, supplies, freelance services/products, and logistics, explore ways you can continue business if there are disruptions.
  • Prepare business plans accounting for absenteeism, supply chain disruptions, or changes in the way you need to conduct business.
  • Establish an emergency communications plan with key contacts and processes for tracking and communicating about business and employee status that will impact operations.
  • Share your plans with employees and communicate expectations. Your team needs to know plans and expectations if the coronavirus hits your community.

Top 10 Tips to Protect Employees’ Health

Healthy employees are crucial to your business. Here are 10 ways to help them stay healthy.

  • Develop policies that encourage sick employees to stay at home without fear of reprisals, and ensure employees are aware of these policies.
  • Have conversations with employees and their concerns. Some employees may be at higher risk for severe illness, such as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions.
  • Develop other flexible policies for scheduling and remote work if possible. Create leave policies to allow employees to stay home to care for sick family members or care for children if schools and childcare close.
  • Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about their plans. Discuss the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive “emergency sick leave” policies.
  • Promote etiquette for coughing and sneezing and hand washing. Provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, soap and water, and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Plan to minimize face-to-face contact between employees if social distancing is recommended by your state or local health department. Actively encourage flexible work arrangements such as remote work or staggered shifts.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning. Routinely clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces, such as workstations, countertops, handrails, and doorknobs. Discourage sharing of tools and equipment, if feasible.
  • If an employee becomes sick while at work, they should be separated from other employees, customers, and visitors and sent home immediately.

For more tips and information See the CDC's Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers and the OSHA Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19.