Coronavirus (Covid-19) HR Guidelines That You Need to Know

Without a vaccine against coronavirus (Covid-19) in the near future, businesses may need to adjust to a “new normal”. Here are some guidelines that can help.

Coronavirus (Covid-19) was first identified in Wuhan, China last December 2019. Almost six months since the first few cases were reported, the virus has spread to over 185 countries affecting more than 2.7 million people and claiming close to 200,000 lives.

Aside from the loss of lives, the impact of the virus in the world economy is harrowing. Businesses shut down, oil prices plunge to the negatives, and economies falling down — all of these will have long-term implications that will affect us for years to come.

How Companies Modified their HR Policies to Protect Their Employees and Businesses

Companies around the globe are scrambling to respond to the coronavirus. HR policies were updated to accommodate telecommuting and remote work, HR guidelines on sick leaves were modified to give employees more leeway, bonuses were rushed, and relief funds were established to aid distressed workers.

Below are some examples of how top companies modified their HR guidelines in response to coronavirus (Covid-19).

🏟 Sage (Meditation)

Sage colleagues now have free access to Headspace, one of the world’s most popular mindfulness training apps. Every Sage colleague can download and sign up to Headspace for free. Once they are ready to use it, Headspace is here to help them all get better at being in the moment. Happier and healthier colleagues lead to a more compassionate and collaborative culture.

🏟 Walmart (Emergency Leave)

Walmart has over 1.4 million hourly workers in the US, making it the country’s largest private employer. To help prevent the spread of the virus, the company updated its HR policies involving emergency leaves. The new policy allows its workers to take time off without any penalty if they are concerned about the virus while providing them with some additional support in this crucial time.

🏟 Starbucks (Therapy Sessions)

To help quell some of the anxiety its workers feel during this pandemic, Starbucks partnered with Lyra Health Inc., to revamp its mental-health benefit plans. Under this new HR guidelines, Starbucks employees (full time or part-time) will have access to 20 free in-person or video chat therapy sessions a year and unlimited access to self-care apps.

🏟 Amazon (Employee Relief Funds)

Last March 11, Amazon launched a $25 million relief fund to help its seasonal employees and delivery drivers. The aim of the fund is to help ease the financial burdens faced by its employees because of the virus. Under this new HR policy, affected employees can apply for a grant equal to up to two weeks of their pay.

🏟 Twitter (Remote Work)

Twitter encouraged its employees to work remotely as early as March 2 — making it the first major U.S. corporation to promote telecommuting during this pandemic.

🏟 EY (Virtual Hiring)

EY is one of UK’s Big Four accounting offices. The firm made some news after they have gone virtual on some parts of their student recruitment process as a way to limit the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).

🏟 Google (Travel Bans)

Google’s biggest conference for developers, I/O, was cancelled in response to the novel coronavirus. This three-day event draws over 7000 people each year. The tech giant will not be holding any I/O conference this year, even a virtual one.

“Out of concern for the health and safety of our developers, employees, and local communities — and in line with “shelter in place” requirements by the local Bay Area government — we sadly will not be holding an I/O event in any capacity this year.”

HR Guidelines on How to Update Your HR Policies in Response to Coronavirus (Covid-19)

The following guide may help prevent or limit your employees’ exposure to Covid-19. It is based on what we currently know about the coronavirus. Since this is a rapidly evolving situation, we will update this guide as more information becomes available.

1️⃣ Preparing Your Workplace for a Coronavirus Outbreak

Business and employers can help prevent and slow the spread of Covid-19. Managements should plan to respond to the virus in a flexible way — refining practices as needed. In preparation for a possible widespread outbreak, businesses are encouraged to work with state and local health officials for timely information and advice.

Employers must consider how to best decrease the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) and lower its impact in their respective workplaces. In this guide, we will look at three key areas:

  • Reducing virus transmission among workers
  • Keeping your business running
  • Maintaining a healthy workplace

How to Reduce Virus Transmissions Among Workers

The coronavirus (Covid-19) needs a host (humans) in order to survive and travel. Staying at home can greatly reduce one’s risks of acquiring or transmitting the virus. In the workplace:

Encourage your employees to stay at home.
  • Employees experiencing flu-like symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, and fever, should stay at home and notify their managers.
  • Sick employees should follow these guidelines. They should not return to work until the criteria for ending a personal quarantine have been met and upon the advice of doctors or local health officials.
  • Employees who are well but have family members with flu-like symptoms should stay at home and notify their supervisors. They should follow these guidelines.
Identify high-risk areas or job roles.

“In assessing potential hazards, employers should consider if and when their workers may encounter someone infected with SARS-CoV-2 [Covid-19] in the course of their duties. Employers should also determine if workers could be exposed to environments (e.g., worksites) or materials (e.g., laboratory samples, waste) contaminated with the virus.” – Occupational Safety and Health Administration

  • Employers should be aware that some employees are more at risk of contracting the virus than others. Usually, these are older adults and workers with face-to-face contact with other people. You can limit their exposure by giving them a different responsibility or by remote working, if feasible.
Separate sick workers.
  • Employees who become sick while at work must be separated from workers, customers, and visitors right away. Arrangements must be made for the employee to be sent home.
  • If an employee is confirmed positive with coronavirus (Covid-19), the employer should inform his workers of their possible exposure to the virus while maintaining the identity of the infected individual confidential.
Educating employees about Covid-19.

HR should be responsible for educating workers about Covid-19 and its associated risks. Some points of discussion include:

  • Older people and those with underlying health conditions are more at risk of developing complications from coronavirus (Covid-19).
  • Stay at home if you are sick.
  • Inform your supervisor if you have a family member who is sick.
  • Practice proper hygiene. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as often as possible. If soap and water are not available, alcohol or hand sanitizer with latest 60% alcohol is recommended.
  • Avoid touching nose, mouth, and eyes with unwashed hands.
  • Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing. Throw the used tissue into the bin right away and wash hands with soap and water or sanitizer. If a tissue is not available, use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects like phones, tables, doorknobs, and workstations.
  • When possible, avoid using other employee’s desk, equipment, or tools.
  • Practice social distancing by maintaining a distance of at least 2 meters from other employees.

2️⃣ Keeping Your Business Running

The HR may pick a workplace coordinator who will be responsible for enforcing these HR guidelines.

Implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies.

  • Those who follow advice to stay at home and who cannot work as a result will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they are not themselves sick.
  • Employers must ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with the public health guidance released by the government.
  • Giving advances to future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leaves to others may also be considered.
  • Employers should not require a doctor’s note or a positive Covid-19 test result to validate a time-off request. Clinics and hospitals may be extremely busy and may not be able to provide such documents in a timely manner.
  • If available, connect employees to employee assistance programs and other physical and mental health resources as needed.

Assess how your business will function in the middle of a pandemic. 

If needed, be prepared to change some of your business practices to maintain critical operations. For example, suspending some of your operations.

  • Some goods or services may become unavailable or are in high demand. Identify alternative supply routes for goods and services that are critical to your business operations.
  • If you are working with companies that provide you with temporary or contractual employees, talk to them about the importance of sick employees staying at home. If they don’t have leave policies in place, encourage them to draft a non-punitive HR sick leave policy.
  • Share your plans with other businesses in your community, industry, or associations.

Identify how you will operate in a skeletal workforce.

If absenteeism spikes because of sick leaves, you must be prepared to operate your business on a skeletal workforce.

  • Monitor absenteeism in the workplace.
  • Develop plans on how to continue essential business functions in case you will have a shortage of employees.
  • Cross-train employees across various essential functions so your business can still operate even if key employees are on leave.

Establish policies for social distancing.

Social distancing means avoiding large gatherings and maintaining at least a 2-metre distance from other people when possible.

  • Consider telecommuting or remote work for applicable job roles.
  • Implement staggered shifts
  • Increase physical space between each worker
  • Downsize operations
  • Postpone or cancel non-essential travels
  • Take advantage of technology (e.g. virtual meetings)

If your business has more than one location, consider authorizing your local manager to develop a coronavirus (Covid-19) HR policy based on local conditions.

3️⃣ Maintaining a Healthy Workplace

Consider improving your workplace’s ventilation system. 

  • Increase the percentage of outdoor air circulating in the workplace.
  • Increase ventilation rates of HVAC systems.

Support proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette in the workplace.

  • Install no-touch rubbish bins.
  • Provide an adequate supply of tissues, soap, water, alcohol, and hand sanitizers in the workplace.
  • Educate employees about proper hand hygiene and place hand sanitizers in multiple areas.
  • Discourage handshakes. Instead, encourage the use of non-contact greetings (e.g. bowing, waving, etc.)
  • Place posters and signages encouraging employees to practice proper hand hygiene and coughing etiquette on key areas of the workplace. Here’s a poster that you can use.

Perform regular disinfection and cleaning.

  • Routinely disinfect frequently touched surfaces like handrails, doorknobs, telephones, and workstations. Only use disinfectants that are marked effective against coronavirus (Covid-19).
  • Discourage employees from using other’s phone, tools, or workstation.
  • Provide disposable wipes for employees to use on their respective workstations.
  • If there’s a confirmed case of coronavirus in your workplace, routine disinfection may not be enough. Coordinate with your local health authorities and ask for their help or advice regarding this matter.

To prepare your business for further outbreaks, you may also consider making a communicable illness policy that covers not only Covid-19 but also other transmittable illnesses.


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Written By

Lenmark Anthony Baltazar

I have been living a life of HR for as long as I can remember. My experiences helped me realize that true happiness comes from being a blessing to the lives of others. I hope my skills and talents will be a blessing to you as well.