Bradley attorney Will Manuel was quoted in the Mississippi Business Journal on how employers can prepare for issues that are likely to arise from the coronavirus outbreak, which continues to spread throughout the U.S.
“Most of what has been talked about in the press is how to keep yourself from getting it,” said Manuel. “News stories about the spread of an infectious disease can affect a workforce in many different ways. Employers should come up with a consistent and effective plan for a possible epidemic.”
Manuel expects employers will have to deal with the issue in a number of ways. Hero employees may want to show up for work even if they are very ill. That behavior known as presenteeism can be a real problem because sick workers could end up infecting the entire workforce, as well as any customers the workers come in contact with.
“Tell sick employees to stay home and the keep rest of the workforce healthy,” Manuel said. “To do that, you may have to be more flexible with sick leave policies. Obviously, be consistent. Don’t give one employee a break where you wouldn’t give another one the same break.”
“Every employer has employees who might take advantage of it,” Manuel said. “This is not a get-out-of-work free card for employees. If they are not sick or taking care of sick family members, they shouldn’t just be able to stay home. They can take paid time off, but they shouldn’t be able to shut down the business because they are afraid of getting sick.”
If illnesses become widespread, it could have a dramatic impact on staffing. Manuel suggests if that happens, employers consider whether or not to cut extra shifts and\or pay overtime.
“If 70 percent of employees can’t come for work, you will have to shut down certain parts of operation,” Manuel explained. “Communicate decisions to everyone. It is important all managers know how to handle it. It is vital to have a plan rather than dealing with a situation you didn’t think of on the front end. It causes confusion and angst among employees if they think you don’t care about their safety.”
Workers without sick leave days might feel they can’t afford to stay home sick. Manuel said employers may be able to do things like sick leave banking where healthy employees donate sick leave to employees who are ill.
“For some people’s jobs, that is impossible,” Manuel said. “And the way this information is coming out is difficult to manage. How are we going to know if this hits Mississippi? The symptoms so similar to regular flu that it is hard to distinguish from run-of-the mill flu.”
The complete article, “Employers Should Come Up with a Consistent and Effective Plan for a Possible Epidemic,” first appeared in the Mississippi Business Journal on March 6, 2020.