Businesses need a COVID plan

Communication is key when anticipating employee absences
Carol Ryczek

Have a plan.

That’s the best way to cope with the news that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Melissa Olson, the human resources expert for KerberRose, SC — a northeast Wisconsin accounting firm.

Olson, who also serves as a consultant for other businesses, said that a strategy with a strong communications focus will help businesses best prepare for bad news.

The plan is important because each business will have its own needs and challenges, she said. For example, at KerberRose, an accounting firm with 10 locations, a designated person was selected to handle internal communications. That person has access to home phone numbers and can be trusted with confidential information about the infected person, she said.

Should the firm receive news of a positive test, an internal text-messaging system sends announcements to all employees. The message can be sent at times when not everyone is sitting at a desk receiving emails, Olson said. That is what works for their firm, but each company — large or small — needs to determine its own best system.

“You need one point of contact and multiple communication channels,” she said.

Olson also recommended letting employees know about the plan ahead of time, and letting them know they may not get the name of the person who has COVID-19.

Employers can’t release the name of an infected employee without permission, though in a small company, it may be obvious who is not at work, she said.

Employers can go to the infected employee’s close contacts and let them know they have been in close contact with an infected person. This will make them eligible to get a COVID-19 test.

It may not be easy to do, but this step is important for keeping everyone protected, she said.

“There is a moral responsibility to make those calls,” she said. “You certainly don’t want other people in the workforce to become infected or infect others.”

She said she has not heard of anyone who didn’t want to share the names of their close contacts.

When employees test positive, health care officials will ask them to spend two weeks in quarantine. This is another possibility to plan for, Olson said — not just for the company, but for the employee.

Most people have not gone to the store to stock up on two weeks’ worth of groceries ahead of time. Olson suggested that employers check in to make sure the employee has the resources to get necessary supplies.

Once the notifications have been made, the business has other decisions to make, Olson said. One infected person does not mean a business has to close, she said.

She recommends working with the local health department.

“The health department can help businesses decide if they can remain open and what they have to do to make it safe.” Olson said. “It depends significantly on the type of business. ”A restaurant, for instance, will have different issues than an office business where most employees are already working from home.

“It’s certainly not one size fits all,” she said.

Other options include working remotely, changing hours and rearranging the work space. Cleaning procedures should be included in the plan. At KerberRose, for example, each location has a cleaning service with plans for in-depth cleaning made early on in the pandemic.

Olson also recommended that managers and owners stay aware of other issues that can impact employees. In addition to health issues, employees may be concerned about child care availability, whether schools will reopen and what their company benefits will cover.

That takes the conversation back to planning ahead and communicating.

“The biggest impact has to do with business culture,” Olson said. “If you have great culture, it puts people leaps and bounds ahead.”

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KerberRose provides support through its human resources consulting division at 715-526-9400.