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Business continuity put to test by coronavirus

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As the spread of the new coronavirus continues across the United States, local employers are looking to their business contingency plans and sick leave policies.

Karen Shannon, vice president of business consulting at Ollis/Akers/Arney, said hundreds of business leaders have reached out to the insurance and risk assessment firm on what to do next. Shannon said many employers have created a contingency plan to some extent, but many in the area haven’t considered alternatives such as telecommuting or sick leave policies during a pandemic.

“This has just been so quick that many businesses have not had that continuity plan in place,” she said. “The decisions to be made are consistent across every business; some of the solutions and adjustments in workflow can change based on the type of industry.”

Shannon suggested business leaders put a sick leave policy in place, determine a telecommuting method and take into consideration employees who do not have internet at home.

Ollis/Akers/Arney has prepared questions for employers to ask when creating a contingency plan for pandemics.

The planning steps include answering:
• Can our company operate with 25% or greater absenteeism? Are employees able to perform multiple duties?
• What are the disruptions to our customers and employees, and how do we communicate those disruptions?
• Can our employees work remotely, and how do we monitor that?
• How do we respond to employees who do not want to come to work due to a confirmed exposure or potential of exposure?
• What infrastructure support is needed to maintain a workforce from home? What are our technology resources, and how do we best manage this situation?
• Should our company restrict business travel?
• What procedures are in place to disinfect our workspaces?
• What are our resources for pandemic facts, and do we have a point person or emergency task force for the situation?

Shannon also suggested employers keep a close eye on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for further suggestions and information on COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

“Following the CDC guidelines on communicable diseases is going to be really important. A lot of the guidelines are things we should be doing to prevent the spread of influenza and others,” Shannon said. “I think this is creating awareness of good safety workplace practices that people have become lax on.”

The CDC recommends that anyone who may feel sick should stay home, which puts employer sick leave policies and contingency plans to the test. Pew Research Center reported this month that 24% of the U.S. workforce – or 33.6 million people – do not have access to paid sick leave, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Thomas Douglas, CEO of JMark Business Solutions Inc., said employers also should be aware of scams regarding the coronavirus. He said scammers have started creating fake emails that appear to be from the CDC or World Health Organization, urging people to click on links for additional information. Douglas said he was unaware of any local victims to these scams so far.

The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency suggests using government websites for COVID-19 information and to avoid clicking on links in unsolicited emails.

Three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Greene County by Monday morning, according to the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. As of 11 a.m., the CDC reported 1,629 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 41 deaths nationwide. The respiratory virus is confirmed in 46 states and the District of Columbia.

SBJ is providing coronavirus coverage for free so that all readers have access. It is our desire to keep the business community informed of the most important news and guidance on the outbreak. Complete COVID-19 coverage can be accessed here.

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