Preparing your organization to deal with COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

What do employers need to know and prepare for?



March 19, 2020 (will open PDF in new window)

March 18, 2020 (will open PDF in new window)

March 16, 2020 (will open PDF in new window)

With so much media attention surrounding the outbreak and spread of COVID-19, commonly referred to as the Coronavirus, it can be challenging to sort through the useful information and what may just be noise.

What do we know?

Coronavirus is a respiratory virus that appears to have originated in or around Wuhan China in late 2019. It is a contagious illness and is fatal among certain vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with weakened or compromised immune systems. It has spread to dozens of countries across the world, including the United States. Coronavirus appears to have an incubation period of seven to fourteen days, which is the time between when a person is infected and when symptoms appear.

What are the symptoms?

For most people who become infected it appears that the symptoms range from moderate to mild symptoms that include a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing.

What limits the spread of Coronavirus?

Regular handwashing for a period of at least twenty seconds is one of the most effective steps you can take to limit the spread of Coronavirus. You should also cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing. Likewise taking steps to disinfect or sanitize objects like door handles, your mobile phone, and other objects or surfaces subjected to frequent touching, can also reduce the risk of becoming infected.

What do I need to know as an employer?

One of the first things to establish is the level of risk you face. Certain risk factors, like having an employee, vendor, or customer, who has recently traveled to areas already impacted, may raise the risk. Monitor the news media to see if there have been confirmed cases in your area. Talk with your employees about any expectations and concerns before there is a problem.

The Centers for Disease Control has put together a resource page for businesses that can help you prepare for a possible Coronavirus outbreak and assist you in creating a plan.

Can I send an employee home if they exhibit symptoms or if I suspect they have been exposed to the Coronavirus?

If an employee has outward symptoms an employer may send them home, provided this is the practice whenever an employee exhibits signs of illness. If an employee has been exposed but is not exhibiting symptoms you should request that they take time off and get screened for the virus.

Are employees who become ill or are caring for someone who is ill eligible for any leave?

If an employee contracts Coronavirus or has a member of their immediate family who becomes infected, they may be eligible for job protected leave under your disability plan, New York Paid Family Leave, or under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If an employee contracted the illness as a result of work they were performing for the organization (such as on business related travel) it could potentially result in a workers’ compensation claim.

Check the various leave policies in your employee handbook for how you handle job-protected leave situations. Does your policy require employees to exhaust any paid leave benefits? Will the organization continue paying for their employee benefits during their leave? You should be familiar with the answers to these questions.

Additional Ways to Prepare

Wash Hands

There are a few best practices that will serve your organization well even if it ultimately remains unaffected by the Coronavirus:

  • Encourage regular handwashing and good hygiene among employees (if using hand sanitizer, the CDC recommends it have at least 60% alcohol);
  • Regularly clean and disinfect work areas, particularly surfaces that are subjected to lots of regular hand contact like door handles, counter tops, faucets, etc.;
  • Cross train employees to reduce the impact of having increased employee absences;
  • Invest in technology that allows for working remotely and allow more flexibility for those positions where teleworking is possible;
  • Establish communication procedures with employees in the event of an emergency;
  • Review your emergency closing policies.


The best way to approach an event like an outbreak of Coronavirus where there are many unknowns is to prepare without panic. Follow reliable media sources for updates, especially any guidance issued that could impact your organization or your employees. If you encounter a situation where you’re unsure of your obligations as an employer, contact HR One. We are here to help you navigate this uncertainty.