PROTECTING YOUR EMPLOYEES DURING A PANDEMIC
Updated: Jul 22
To help protect employees and customers, it is essential to establish strict guidelines to reinforce safe practices such as proper handwashing and social distancing by employees and customers.
The most important part of pandemic planning is to work with your employees, local and state agencies, and other employers to develop cooperative pandemic plans to maintain your operations and keep your employees and the public safe. Share what you know, be open to ideas from your employees, then identify and share effective health practices with other employers in your community and with your local chamber of commerce.
For most employers, protecting their employees will depend on emphasizing proper hygiene (disinfecting hands and surfaces) and practicing social distancing. Social distancing means reducing the frequency, proximity, and duration of contact between people (both employees and customers) to reduce the chances of spreading pandemic influenza from person-to-person.
Work practice controls include:
Providing resources and a work environment that promotes personal hygiene. For example, provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectants and disposable towels for employees to clean their work surfaces.
Encouraging employees to obtain a seasonal influenza vaccine (this helps to prevent illness from seasonal influenza strains that may continue to circulate).
Providing employees with up-to-date education and training on influenza risk factors, protective behaviors, and instruction on proper behaviors (for example, cough etiquette and care of personal protective equipment).
Developing policies to minimize contacts between employees and between employees and clients or customers.
Engineering controls include:
Installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards.
Installing a drive-through window for customer service.
In some limited healthcare settings, for aerosol generating procedures, specialized negative pressure ventilation may be indicated.
Administrative Controls: Includes controlling employees' exposure by scheduling their work tasks in ways that minimize their exposure levels. Examples of administrative controls include:
Instruct employees to avoid close contact (within 6 feet) with other employees and the general public. This can be accomplished by simply increasing the distance between the employee and the general public in order to avoid contact with large droplets from people talking, coughing or sneezing.
Some organizations can expand internet, phone-based, drive-through window, or home delivery customer service strategies to minimize face-to-face contact. Work with your employees to identify new ways to do business that can also help to keep employees and customers safe and healthy.
Communicate the availability of medical screening or other employee health resources (e.g., on-site nurse or employee wellness program to check for flu-like symptoms before employees enter the workplace).
Employers also should consider installing physical barriers, such as clear plastic sneeze guards, to protect employees where possible (such as cashier stations).
Developing policies that encourage ill employees to stay at home without fear of any reprisals.
The discontinuation of unessential travel to locations with high illness transmission rates.
Consider practices to minimize face-to-face contact between employees such as e-mail, websites and teleconferences. Where possible, encourage flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting or flexible work hours to reduce the number of your employees who must be at work at one time or in one specific location.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
While administrative and engineering controls and proper work practices are considered effective in minimizing exposure to the virus, the use of PPE may also be indicated during certain exposures. If used correctly, PPE can help prevent some exposures; however, they should not take the place of other prevention interventions, such as engineering controls, cough etiquette, and hand hygiene.
Personal protective equipment or PPE is specialized clothing or equipment worn to protect someone against a hazard. It can range from just a mask or a pair of gloves to a combination of gear that might cover most or all of the body. Examples of personal protective equipment are gloves, goggles, face shields, surgical masks, and respirators (for example, N-95).
Masks: People with respiratory infection symptoms should use a disposable surgical mask to help prevent exposing others to their respiratory secretions. Any mask must be disposed of as soon as it becomes moist or after any cough or sneeze, in an appropriate waste receptacle, and hands must be thoroughly washed and dried after the used mask has been discarded.
Protective Barriers: Protective barriers (i.e., glass or plastic) may provide useful protection for people such as front-counter staff or public transport drivers, whose duties require them to have frequent face-to-face contact with members of the public where social distancing is either not possible or not practical.
Gloves: Appropriate selection of gloves is essential for protecting hands from germs or chemicals. Gloves should only be used under the specific conditions for which they are designed, as gloves are not resistant to all chemicals. It is also important to note that gloves degrade over time, so they should be replaced as necessary to ensure adequate protection.
Selecting the right PPE is important for your business and should consider many factors
Employees living abroad and international business travelers should note that other geographic areas have different influenza seasons and will likely be affected by a pandemic at different times than Canada. an employer cannot restrict what an employee does on their own personal time, and therefore, cannot restrict an employee from traveling outside of Canada despite the Government directive, nor can an employer restrict domestic personal travel. However, should employees travel internationally for personal reasons, employers can suggest that they follow Government of Canada Travel Advisories, and that there are risks that they may not be permitted to return to Canada if they fall ill while abroad. Employees should also be reminded that the spread and location of COVID-19 is changing daily. Further, employees who do travel should be advised that their ability to return to the workplace will be assessed upon their return to Canada, and that prior to an employee returning to work, they will have to ensure that they have no symptoms of illness.
Employers should be taking steps now to develop a plan and communicate to employees that their employment and pay may be impacted by a requirement to self-isolate, or any other delay that may result in an extended leave from the workplace, such as the quarantines we have seen with cruise ship travelers. For example, if an employee still elects to travel to an affected area for a vacation that was scheduled prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, despite travel advisories recommending otherwise, it would be appropriate for the employer inform the employee in advance of their departure that a self-isolation period post-vacation may be mandatory, and ensure the employee is aware of whether that period of time away from work would be unpaid. This allows the employee to understand the potential workplace consequences if they chose to continue with their personal travel plans.
Work from home policies
Several companies have chosen to continue operating by allowing work-from-home opportunities OR at least by moving all positions that are able to work from home to home offices, closing their offices to outside visitors or suspending all in-person contact until the public health risk reduces.
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