At the time of writing, the Coronavirus has begun to make an impact in Ireland with 24 confirmed cases in the Republic, and 12 in Northern Ireland. But what does the health crisis caused by the virus’s spread mean for your organisation and its HR Department? We share 6 key points you need to know.
There have already been an estimated 100,000 cases globally, and over 3,000 people have died. However, according to Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan, the risk of getting Covid-19 from within your own community is ‘very low’, and the spread of the disease across Europe has been following an expected pattern.
Nevertheless, it is clear that every workplace needs to play its part in fighting against the spread of coronavirus. So, what do you need to know, and what actions should you take?
- How It Spreads & Its Symptoms
The principal symptoms of the virus are similar to those of the ‘flu. It is believed to spread just like it too, which means chiefly through respiratory droplets expelled through coughs and sneezes.
It also means that touching a contaminated surface (like a tabletop, phone receiver, computer keyboard, stapler) and then touching your own nose or mouth could result in infection. But bear in mind that it can take 14 days before any symptoms set in.
Sufferers may have:
- a cough
- shortness of breath
- breathing difficulties
- fever (high temperature)
HR will know if any company representatives have been to infected areas of Europe, Asia or the rest of the world. But it would be a good idea to find out where employees absent since the start of February have been. This is especially true for employees who were on holiday.
In Europe, Northern Italy has been identified as a red zone, and evidence suggests the majority of Ireland’s cases have a direct link with travel in that region.
Key areas of concern include: China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Iran, Italy, Germany, UK
- Check on employee travel patterns
- Ask employees that were at a high-risk area to report to HR
- Reduce non-essential business travel
Under the Safety, Health and Welfare Act (2005), employers have a legal obligation to ensure the wellbeing of their employees while at work. So, HR needs to make every effort to ensure the workplace is safe from a coronavirus outbreak.
However, under the Act, employees are also responsible while at work and must notify you if they become aware they’re suffering from any disease or physical or mental impairment which affects their performance or could cause risks to colleagues:
- Do a risk assessment
- Introduce procedures
- Regularly reassess and review
- Update existing policies, including sickness, absence and remote work
Employees who have Coronavirus symptoms should immediately self-isolate by staying at home and interacting with no-one. HR should also place them immediately on sick leave, so they should not do any work at all.
Whether this employee is entitled to sick pay depends on your company sick pay policy. In Ireland, there is no legal obligation to pay an employee while on sick leave, but allowances could be made:
- Check on sick pay policy
- Consider hindrances to sick leave procedures
- Check on illness benefit or supplementary welfare allowance status
What To Do:
- Wash your hands properly and often
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing and sneezing
- Put used tissues into a bin and wash your hands
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
- Avoid close contact with people who are not well
- Introduce regular cleaning and disinfection touched surfaces (2-3 times daily)
- Provide disposable wipes for employees to clean these surfaces before use
- Discourage basic physical contact – handshakes, hugs etc
What Not To Do:
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
Lower the chances of infection at work is to allow employees who can to work from home. If interaction with others is a way to spread the Coronavirus, then working remotely has also become an excellent workplace health option too.
In the US, 46% of employers have already increased employee work flexibility, while a further 13% are planning to.
- Introduce morning check-ins
- Use video and phone conferencing
- Check on employee’s health daily
For more information, advice and steps to take on the Coronavirus, visit:
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