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COVID-19 Employers Guidance

Presented by the Oklahoma State Department of Health

The following interim guidance may help prevent workplace exposures to acute respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, in non-healthcare settings. The guidance also provides planning considerations if there are more widespread, community outbreaks of COVID-19.

To prevent stigma and discrimination in the workplace, use only the guidance described below to determine risk of COVID-19. Do not make determinations of risk based on race or country of origin, and be sure to maintain confidentiality of people with confirmed COVID-19. There is much more to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features of COVID-19 and investigations are ongoing. Updates are available on CDC's COVID-19 web page.

Recommended strategies for employers to use now: 

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home:
    • Employees who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness are recommended to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever (100.4 F or greater using an oral thermometer), signs of a fever, and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing or other symptom-altering medicines (e.g. cough suppressants). Employees should notify their supervisor and stay home if sick.
    • Ensure that your sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of these policies.
    • Talk with companies that provide your business with contract or temporary employees about the importance of sick employees staying home and encourage them to develop non-punitive leave policies.
    • Do not require a healthcare provider's note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory illness to validate their illness or to return to work, as healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely way.
    • Employers should maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member. Employers should be aware that more employees may need to stay at home to care for sick children or other sick family members than is usual.
  • Separate sick employees:
    • CDC recommends that employees who appear to have acute respiratory illness symptoms (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) upon arrival to work or become wick during the day should be separated from other employees and be sent home immediately. Sick employees should cover their noses and mouths with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or an elbow or shoulder if no tissue is available).
  • Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees:
    • Place posters that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.
    • Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
    • Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
    • Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning:
    • Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow label directions.
    • No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
    • Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
  • Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps:
    • Check the CDC's Traveler's Health Notices for the latest guidance and recommendations for each country to which you will travel.
    • Advise employees to check themselves for symptoms of acute respiratory illness before starting travel and notify their supervisor and stay home if they are sick.
    • Ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice needed.
    • If outside the United States, sick employees should follow your company's policy for obtaining medical care or contact a healthcare provider to assist them.
  • Additional measures in response to currently occurring sporadic importations of the COVID-19:
    • Employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and refer to CDC guidance for how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.
    • If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure but maintain confidentiality.

Planning for a Possible COVID-19 Outbreak in the U.S.

The severity of illness or how many people will fall ill from COVID-19 is unknown at this time. If there is evidence of an outbreak in the U.S., employers should plan to be able to respond in a flexible way to varying levels of severity and be prepared to refine their business response plans as needed. For the general American public, such as workers in non-healthcare settings, the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is low.

Planning Considerations

All employers need to consider how best to decrease the spread of acute respiratory illness and lower the impact of COVID-19 in their workplace in the event of an outbreak in the U.S. They should identify and communicate their objectives, which may include one or more of the following: reducing transmission among staff, protecting people who are at higher risk, maintaining business operations, and minimizing adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains. Some of the key considerations when making decisions on appropriate responses are:

  • Disease severity in the community where the business is located
  • Impact of disease on employees that are vulnerable and may be at higher risk for COVID-19 adverse health complications.
  • Prepare for possible increased numbers of employee absences due to illness in employees and family members, dismissals of schools:
    • Employers should plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace. Implement plans to continue your essential business functions in case you experience higher than usual absenteeism.
    • Cross-train personnel to perform essential functions so that the workplace is able to operate without key players.
    • Assess your essential functions and the reliance that others and the community have on your services or products.
    • Employers with more than one business location are encouraged to provide local managers with the authority to take appropriate actions outlined in their business infectious disease outbreak response plan.

Important Considerations for Creating an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan

All employers should be ready to implement strategies to protect their workforce from COVID-19 while ensuring continuity of operations. During an outbreak, all sick employees should stay home and away from the workplace, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene should be encouraged, and routine cleaning should be performed regularly.

Employers should: 

  • Ensure the plan is flexible and involve your employees in developing and reviewing your plan.
  • Conduct a focused discussion or exercise using your plan, to find out ahead of time whether the plan has gaps or problems that need to be corrected.
  • Share your plan with employees and explain what human resources policies, workplace and leave flexibilities, and pay and benefits will be available to them.
  • Share best practices with other businesses, chambers of commerce, and associations to improve community response efforts.

Recommendations for an Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan:

  • Identify possible work-related exposure and health risks to your employees.
  • Review human resources policies to make sure that policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations.
  • Explore whether you can establish policies and practices, such as flexible worksites (i.e. telecommuting), and flexible work hours. For employees who are able to telework, supervisors should encourage employees to work from home.
  • Identify essential business functions, essential jobs or roles, and critical elements within your supply chains required to maintain business operations.
  • Set up authorities, triggers, and procedures for activating and terminating the company's outbreak response plan, altering business operations, and transferring business knowledge to key employees.
  • Plan to minimize exposure between employees, as well as between employees and the public, if public health officials call for social distancing.
  • Establish a process to communicate information to employees and business partners on your response plans and latest COVID-19 information. Anticipate employee fear, anxiety, rumors, and misinformation.
  • In some communities, K-12 schools may be dismissed. Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes. Employers should prepare to institute flexible leave policies for these employees taking care of children at home.
  • If there is evidence of a COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S., consider canceling non-essential business travel to additional countries.
    • Travel restrictions may be enacted by other countries which may limit the ability of employees to return home if they become sick while on travel status.
    • Consider canceling large work-related meetings or events.
  • Engage state and local health departments to confirm channels of communication and methods for dissemination of local outbreak information. When working with your local health department, check their available hours.